Monitoring your solar - Get the most out of your rooftop solar
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Whether you already have solar or are thinking about it and wonder what’s the best way to optimise your solar investment, you’ve come to the right place. This step-by-step guide will give you the ins and outs of solar monitoring, and equip you with the tools you need to make sure your solar system is performing at its best.
What is a solar power monitoring system?
How does it work?
First of all, let’s start with the basic components of a traditional solar system, which consists of your solar panels and your inverter.
Solar panels are the panels that sit on top of your roof and capture raw solar energy from the sun via photovoltaic (PV) solar cells, and convert this energy into electricity (Direct Current (DC) electricity). Your solar inverter is an electrical box that sits on the side of your house or garage, and which converts the DC electricity generated by your solar panels into Alternating Current (AC) electricity that is used in your home. This AC electricity is exactly the same as the electricity that comes into your house from the main electricity grid. The solar inverter is usually located near your main electricity switchboard.
Image source: Solar Choice
Still with us? Great! If you are interested in a more in-depth explanation of how solar energy works, click here.
Most solar inverters come with basic monitoring software or an app that measures how much solar electricity you generate each day. This monitoring software typically needs to be connected to your home WiFi to provide you with access to the information.
There are also more advanced solar monitoring systems available that provide you with more in-depth data about your solar system, savings and home electricity consumption.
What do they monitor?
First and foremost a solar monitoring system tracks how much solar electricity your rooftop solar is producing. In doing so, your solar monitoring system can tell you if your rooftop solar is producing the amount of energy you would expect, or if it is producing less than expected (this could mean something is wrong with your solar system, but don’t worry we’ll get to that soon).
Home electricity consumption
A solar monitoring system should also tell you how much of your solar electricity your home is using, how much electricity you are exporting (or selling) back to the main grid, and how much electricity you are importing (or buying) from the grid. However, to do this your solar inverter needs to have a consumption meter¹. Consumption meters monitor all electricity used in the home, not just the solar electricity produced.
We highly recommend having a consumption meter so that you can track your solar savings, understand variations in your electricity bill, determine your solar electricity independence, and make an informed decision about future energy item purchases. Even more valuable, is the ability to use a service like Solar Analytics Plan Optimiser to find the best retail electricity plan for you (which can save you an extra $400 pa).
Appliance level consumption
Have you ever wondered which appliances use the most electricity in your home? Sure, we’ve all been told that appliances like your air conditioning (read more about how to reduce electricity bills using aircon and solar) and your clothes dryer are especially electricity hungry, but wouldn’t it be great to be able to see how much electricity each of your home appliances use and when? Appliance level consumption monitoring allows you to do this, so you won’t just be telling your kids to turn off the lights as they leave the room, you’ll be able to actually see if they do it or not, even if you’re out of the house.
¹ The inverters consumption meter is sometimes called a smart meter. This is very confusing because a Smart Meter is the common term for the main household electricity meter that is supplied and owned by your electricity provider, eg Ausgrid. Both of these meters are located in your switchboard.
How do you know if something is wrong with your solar system?
Without a solar monitoring system, it can be tricky to determine if your solar system is performing as it should be. It is even harder to know what is wrong with your system if you do find that it is producing less electricity than expected.
There are many factors which can impact your solar system’s performance and it is important that your monitoring system can factor in these changes to let you know if something is wrong, and what you can do about it.
According to Ausgrid data taken from 8,000 home solar systems approximately 51.8% are not performing as expected. Without a solar monitoring system that alerts you when your solar system is underperforming, you could be part of this statistic and not even realise.
In 2020, Solar Analytics saved their solar customers $9.1 million through rapid fault identification and rectification (usually under warranty at no cost).
What can go wrong?
There are a few things that can go wrong with your solar system hardware, either from slow degradation over the lifespan of the solar system or from immediate weather damage.
Inverters typically have a 5-to-10-year warranty, and a failure rate of 2-6% pa depending on the quality of the inverter². These failures vary from a slight decrease in electricity produced to complete failure. This is the most common point of failure, so it pays to buy a reputable solar inverter.
These typically have a 10-to-20-year product warranty on workmanship, plus a 25-year electricity production warranty to generate at least 80% of their rated power after 25 years - pretty impressive. But there are many things that can go wrong, e.g. by-pass diodes, hot-spots, cracked cells, solder joints, delamination, and so on. Good news is that good quality solar panels in fact last even longer than 25 years.
This is a safety switch located either next to the solar inverter or on top of the roof. If they have not been correctly installed, they can fill with water and fail, causing part or all of the solar system to stop producing electricity
This is where moisture causes a short circuit within the equipment or to an externally accessible component. In this event, your solar system will shut down to ensure safety.
If your solar system gets a lot of shading from trees or other structures, this will cause a reduction in your solar production. This is absolutely fine, but it is good to understand so you know the impact (and if you should do some tree pruning).
All things get dirty, and the sun can’t penetrate as effectively through a dirty solar panel. While your solar panels are mostly cleaned by the rain³, this is less effective if they are installed flat or on a low tilt (less than 10 degrees). So does cleaning your solar panels make a difference? Generally, solar panels don't need cleaning, however if they are installed where they get build-up of dirt from birds, or grease or dust, you might need to intervene.
And of course, your main electricity grid sometimes has issues such as too high or too low voltage, which will cause your solar inverter to shut down to comply with regulations. The primary remedy here is to inform the electricity network company who should rectify the issue.
So, what can you do about it? Installing a solar monitoring system that alerts you to any faults or underperformance of your solar system is the number one thing you can do as a rooftop solar owner to not only ensure your system is functioning properly, but also to prolong the lifespan of your rooftop solar, saving you time and money in the long run. And giving you peace of mind that you won’t get a surprise electricity bill chock.
² Fun fact, some super cheap solar inverters have failure rates over 20% pa, and one that is no longer available has greater than 100% failure rate since even the replacement units failed. This particular brand, and most of the dodgy brands, have now been hounded out of the industry
³In a typical climate, soiling will cause 2-5% loss of electricity. This is fine and nothing to worry about as it does not increase significantly over time.
What else influences your solar system's performance?
Did you know that the path of the sun each day varies across the year? This is why we see differences in solar energy output at different times of the year. In winter, the sun is lower in the sky and the days are shorter, resulting in lower solar power generation from your solar panels. Where you live in relation to the equator also impacts energy output on a daily basis, depending on the season, so you would expect different results if you lived in Brisbane versus Melbourne, even if both places are experiencing an equally sunny day. Your solar monitoring will take into account where you live and the tilt and orientation of your panels to predict their energy output.
Who rained on my parade? Most solar owners also wonder how much cloudy and rainy days impact the performance of their solar system. While local weather and shading can affect the amount of solar energy your system is producing, a solar monitoring system like Solar Analytics analyses local weather data to calculate exactly how much your solar system should be producing on a specific day. It’s a lot more powerful than basic monitoring services as it factors in the actual expected performance of your solar on any given day, as opposed to an estimated average. One of our solar retailer partners found something even more unexpected thanks to Solar Analytics’ powerful alerts tool.
Did you know that even on an overcast and rainy day your solar system will still be producing electricity? It makes sense since the sun is still shining, it has just been partially shaded by the clouds. Even on a heavily overcast and rainy day your solar system will still produce about one-fifth of the electricity it does on a perfectly clear and sunny day.
A good quality solar system is designed to last decades; however, they still require a little care to keep them functioning properly and prolong their lifespan so that you can get the most out of your investment. A solar monitoring system that alerts you to any issues as they occur is the best way to prevent any significant damage to your solar. Generally, we recommend you have your solar system professionally inspected and cleaned every five years.
Understanding your energy consumption
But wait, there’s much more that a solar monitoring software can do.
For example, do you see fluctuation in your electricity bill but are unsure why it’s changing month to month?
To make the most of the solar electricity your system is producing, it is essential that you can see when you produce solar electricity and how it aligns with your home electricity consumption. When you can understand those patterns and realise which appliances in your home use the most electricity, you can change when you run these appliances to make the most of your solar energy, thereby lowering how much you draw from the grid and overall reducing your electricity bills. This shifting of energy usage to the sunniest parts of the day is called load shifting.
An example of a household that has not optimised their electricity usage. This house is running almost all of their energy hungry appliances in the evening, instead of when their solar system is producing the most electricity.
Verses a household that has optimized their household energy usage to make the most of their solar energy system. Their energy load has shifted to maximizing the energy produced from their solar system.
With energy prices higher than ever, it’s even more essential to monitor how your home uses electricity and optimise when to use those energy hungry appliances to reduce your electricity bills. A solar monitoring system is your key to keep your money in your pocket and have a summer so cool you won’t even break a sweat.
How much does it cost?
Now you’re probably thinking, solar monitoring sounds like a great idea, but how much does it cost? If you already have rooftop solar for your home, the first step is to find out what solar inverter you have, as this will determine which solar monitoring will integrate well with your system, or if you need to purchase any additional hardware for your desired level of monitoring. If you’re unsure what solar inverter you already have, contact your solar system retailer for help.
If you have a Fronius, Sungrow or Goodwe solar inverter and a consumption meter already installed in your home, a solar monitoring software subscription can cost as little as $4/month. That’s less than the cost of your daily coffee!
However, if you don’t already own a consumption meter, installing one will cost between $200-$800.
The long-term savings of a solar monitoring app will far outweigh its cost, especially if you use an advanced software like Solar Analytics which is all about maximising your savings.
With its smart performance monitoring alone, Solar Analytics has helped residential system owners save an additional $107 per year through quick fault diagnosis and rectification. On top of this, the ability to shift your household energy load to take advantage of the solar power your rooftop solar generates and find the best electricity plan for your home can save you hundreds of dollars on your energy bills.
Money back in your pocket means you’ll have more to spend on the things you enjoy, instead of worrying about costly energy bills.
Get a quote
If you’re new to the solar world and are looking to install rooftop solar on your home, Solar Quotes is a great place to start.
If you already have solar and are considering a solar monitoring system for your home, try it for free with Solar Analytics.