Explained: What does 'behind the meter' (BTM) mean?


A row of electric meters on a wall
We all know what an electric meter is, but what does it mean to be behind the meter? Image source: Hedgehog Electric

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    What is behind the meter (BTM)?

    ’Behind the meter' is used to describe the power that is produced and consumed on-site. A common type of behind-the-meter system is a residential solar system: solar panels on the roof generate electricity, which is then fed into the home below for use.

    ‘In front of the meter,’ on the other hand, describes the power that is generated off-site, away from the point of consumption. An example of this is a utility power plant, the power from which is distributed over a wide area for use by electricity consumers.

    Behind-the-meter power generation is also known by several other names: distributed generation, local generation, and embedded generation. They all refer to the same thing.

    But why is it called behind the meter?

    That is because the meter - the same one in your home that measures your utility power purchases - symbolizes your connection to the grid.

    So when we say a system is behind the meter, we mean that the power it generates can be consumed without having to pass through the electric grid, and a meter, to get to you.

    When systems are in front of the meter, on the other hand, that means they are located off-site, and their power does have to pass through your electricity meter to reach you.

    Electric meter on a pole

    Examples of behind-the-meter systems

    Behind-the-meter systems can be divided into two categories: power generation systems, and energy storage systems. 

    Behind-the-meter power generation systems

    The power that is generated on the premises is considered to be behind the meter. While the term is commonly used to describe renewable energy technologies, the term actually applies to any on-site power generation source.

    Here are examples of behind-the-meter energy generation systems:

    • Solar panel systems
    • Wind turbines
    • Hydropower
    • Biomass generators
    • Diesel and gasoline-powered generators

    Traditionally, the most common behind-the-meter system was the gas or diesel generator, which offered an easy way to generate power when the grid was down or unavailable. In recent years, however, generators have been falling out of favor because they are expensive to operate, noisy, and run on polluting fossil fuels.

    These days, the fastest-growing behind-the-meter system is a home solar power setup. Solar panels have a number of unique features that make them superior to other types of behind-the-meter systems: they are relatively cheap to install, generate large financial savings, and can be installed pretty much any place with access to the sun

    If you are interested in getting a solar system for your home, check out our solar calculator to see how much solar costs in your area.

    See the cost of behind the meter solar panels for your home

    Behind-the-meter energy storage systems

    Energy that is stored on-site is also considered to be behind the meter. This is because the stored power does not need to pass through the meter to be used. Here are some examples:

    • Solar batteries
    • Lead-acid batteries
    • Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) systems

    Lithium solar batteries are gaining in popularity as they are more powerful and efficient than older energy storage systems.

    Examples of in-front-of-the-meter systems

    Power is most commonly generated off-site, and this is considered to be in front of the grid. Here are a few examples:

    • Utility-scale power plants
    • Grid-scale battery storage
    • Power transmission systems

    Most of the country's usable energy is actually generated by big, utility-sized, in-front-of-the-meter power plants. The power produced at these plants first passes through the electric grid and is then sold to consumers via their electric meter.

    An often overlooked example of ‘in front of the meter’ is the power transmission system, which distributes energy across the grid. Electricity poles and cables play a crucial role in transferring the energy from in-front-of-the-meter power plants to the end consumer.

    Benefits of behind-the-meter systems

    Here are some of the benefits of owning a behind-the-meter system:

    You will save money

    The biggest benefit to behind-the-meter systems is the financial advantage you gain from owning one. By owning a rooftop solar system, for instance, you can easily wipe out the majority of your monthly energy bill. Instead of purchasing expensive utility power, you will instead be able to use the sun to generate power for your home, and can even export your surplus energy to the grid through net metering.

    You will reduce your reliance on the grid

    With the installation of solar panels, paired with a solar battery, you will be able to dramatically reduce your reliance on the grid. In such setups, the power produced by the solar system can cover daytime usage and also be stored in a battery, such as the Tesla Powerwall, for nighttime consumption.
    You can even set up your system to run independently in the event of a grid outage.

    You can reduce your carbon footprint

    The generation of clean energy drastically reduces your carbon footprint. The clean power you generate and consume on-site helps prevent the burning of fossil fuels (and the resultant emissions) at off-site utility power plants. As such, installing a behind-the-meter renewable energy system is directly beneficial for our planet.

    Installer crouched on solar panels

    Wrapping up: The best way to go behind the meter is with solar panels

    To recap, behind the meter describes the energy that is generated and consumed on-site.

    Meanwhile, anything that is generated off-site and passes through the meter to reach you would be considered to be in front of the meter.

    The most beneficial thing you can do for your home would definitely be to install a behind-the-meter system by buying your very own solar system.

    By generating your own clean solar energy, you will save money, reduce your reliance on the grid and slash your carbon footprint.

    To see how much solar costs in your area, check out our advanced solar calculator below.

    See live solar panel prices in your area

    Key takeaways

    • Behind the meter describes the energy that is generated and consumed on-site.
    • Meanwhile, power that is generated off-site and passes through the meter to reach you would be considered in front of the meter.
    • A behind-the-meter energy generation system like a solar system is very beneficial when it comes to saving money, reducing reliance on the grid, and reducing your carbon footprint.


     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Joshua Panuccio

    Blog Author

    Joshua serves as a blog author and content advisor for SolarReviews.

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