Solar Energy Monitoring

If micro-inverters are the current craze in the solar industry, then solar energy monitoring systems will be the next big thing.

Micro-inverters (and other parallel technology) were given lots of attention because they can increase the efficiency of a system by up to as much as 10%-20%. Similarly, solar electricity systems that are hooked up to monitoring systems have a 10% energy production increase over systems that are not hooked up to monitoring systems.

PV solar panels last at least 25 years, where as inverters only come with an 8-10 year warranty. That means that sometime in the 8-10 year range the inverter will die and the system will stop producing energy. With a monitoring system in place the installer or homeowner will know immediately that the system has been compromised. Otherwise it could be weeks or months before the home owner looks at their energy usage statement from their utility company and realizes that their solar electricity system is not longer producing energy.
With monitoring systems costing around $1,000 that seems like a small price for installers to be able to ensure that a homeowner’s system is working properly. With a monitoring system in place an installer could offer a “performance assurance”, and that may be just the differentiator needed to be chosen to do the installation.
The most compelling feature of monitoring systems is the ability to measure performance against what was promised and what is expected of the system. Not only is it fun to see, but it also serves as a great indicator if something goes wrong with the system.

Solar electric systems are virtually maintenance free, since there are no moving parts (exception: some inverters have fans to remove heat). However, monitoring solar energy production is desirable to insure your system is working properly. For example, shade from new sources such as vegetation growth, dust or debris affects solar energy production, sometimes significantly.

•Built in inverter display.
Today’s grid-tied inverters display solar output production, including instantaneous AC output, cumulative daily kWh and cumulative lifetime solar production. Depending on the inverter there is other information displayed such as DC voltage, DC amperage and AC voltage, etc.

Most people find the built-in inverter display adequate for determining system performance. Monitoring a solar electric system is one of the few maintenance tasks involved in owning a solar system, the other is cleaning your solar panels.

•Remote inverter monitor.
A wired or wireless remote interior monitor display, shows solar electric production in a convenient location inside your home.

Lastly, when home owners are able to view their solar energy production or energy usage in a clear, easy to view fashion, they inevitably will adjust their behavior and start using less energy, which is as good of a side-effect as you can ask for.

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