Solar monitoring has moved into a new era. Gone are the days when monitoring consisted of a simple hourly graph showing how much energy your solar system is generating, leaving you to work out what the information meant.
With the surge in solar system installations over the past five years, there is growing interest in performance and system quality. As a result, new monitoring systems are entering the market but, just as the quality of solar panels varies, monitoring systems range from cheap gimmicks to highly advanced product offerings.
Choosing an advanced monitoring system gives home owners peace of mind and will save them money year after year, while retailers can offer maintenance support, energy efficiency, and system upgrades.
What should you be looking for in monitoring solutions? Here are five things your active monitoring should offer…
1. Live data – what is happening right now?
Advanced monitoring systems deliver live energy updates to a real-time dashboard every few seconds, while entry-level monitoring systems will only keep track of a solar energy system’s performance in 15- minute intervals. With live monitoring, you can see how much energy your solar system is generating right now. It also allows you to see how your energy use changes as you turn on and off your home appliances, detect faulty appliances and determine exactly when you are using more energy than you are generating.
2. Performance check – how much energy your PV system should produce?
This is where active monitoring really distinguishes itself.
Passive monitoring relies on you, or on basic performance checks. It might allow you to set a default alert level that is a function of your systems rated power. It will then alert you if your system produces at this low level, but passive monitoring is inexact and will trigger falsely alerts on cloudy days, and will never detect faults that cause smaller amount of degradation.
Active monitoring does the thinking for you. The Solar Analytics Smart Monitor uses local weather data to know exactly what your system should be doing and identify when you system is underperforming, even if only by a small amount.
3. Useful information in the event of a fault
Active monitoring does not simply send alerts saying a solar energy system is not working or produced only 3 kWh today. Instead active monitoring provides a precise comparison of a system’s expected versus actual energy generated on a particular day, and details the reason for any underperformance.
The best active monitoring goes a step further by analysing the fingerprint of the underperformance and providing step by step instructions to help the householder get the issue fixed as quickly and painlessly as possible.
This can help reduce the downtime of your system from months to days, making a significant difference to quarterly power bills.
So whether your DC isolator has tripped, an earth fault has occurred or voltage overloading is bringing down your solar system’s energy output, active monitoring takes the guesswork out of fault diagnostics and ensures your solar system is operating at peak efficiency.
4. Useful data on energy usage and savings
The best designed monitoring will display easy to read live graphs that provide a full understanding of how and when you are using your electricity.
With live monitoring, users can log in to their monitoring dashboard and see exactly how much energy they are consuming compared to how much they are generating. With useful data, homeowners can align the operation of high-consumption appliances, such as pool pumps or hot water services to match their solar generation.
A good active monitoring service will tell the homeowner how much money their solar system is saving them each week, and provide recommendations on how they personally can save even more money on their electricity bill.
Finally, an active monitoring service will be backed up by real people who care about helping you to maximise the value of your solar system. No matter how smart the monitoring is, there are always times when you have a question or need further support.
An active monitoring service provides this additional support to ensure that your solar system is working at optimal efficiency.
The table below shows the key monitoring features of available solar monitoring packages.
Stefan Jarnason is CEO of Solar Analytics, an Australian developed advanced monitoring solution that offers live monitoring of energy generated and consumed and smart analytics that will assess performance against expected and let you know if your system is underperforming.