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How to monitor solar panel performance

Francisco CastroMay 24, 2019700

Once the solar panels go on top of the roof, all the permits are secured and your utility company gives the go-ahead to turn on your residential power system, you begin to save money by generating your own electricity.

Those photovoltaic (PV) modules should be working hard transforming sunshine into power for the next 25 years and more. The panels are reliable and efficient, able to withstand many harsh weather elements. 

But how do you measure their performance? How do you make sure they are efficiently giving out the power you need to keep your appliances working and charged?

There are a lot of solar monitoring systems in the market that keep you informed 24/7 as to how much energy those panels are providing. You’ll also gain the ability to view how much money your solar system is actually saving you in electricity costs. Solar monitoring gives you real-time visibility into the number of kilowatt hours of electricity your solar panels are producing at any given moment.

In case of a problem with the system, it also allows you to easily pinpoint the specific issue so you can resolve it quickly. 

Information in the palm of your hand

The type of solar monitoring software installed will depend on your solar panel system and the type of inverters it uses. Two of the most popular monitoring systems come from SolarEdge and Enphase that allow access to information to help you to track all that you want to know about your system’s energy production. One of the main differences between the two systems is the type of inverters used. Enphase employs microinverters located at each individual solar panel in your system, which communicate wirelessly with a central device that provides data to their mobile application. SolarEdge uses power optimizers wired to a central inverter, which connects wirelessly to the internet, and in turn to a mobile application.

Enphase

With the Enphase Enlighten mobile app, you can check your system’s status at-a-glance without scrolling and still dive into the details of your system’s health and performance, per-panel production all while on-the-go. You can view overall energy and per-panel energy production data within a single click as well as overviews of your energy consumption and storage (if applicable). Get it at the App Store or Google Play Store, reads a description of the monitoring system.

Enphase Enlighten solar monitoring software also comes with a system status indicator, which offers a quick way to make sure everything's running smoothly and properly within your system. In the event a mechanical issue occurs, the Enphase system indicator pinpoints the source of the problem and provides troubleshooting tips. Since Enphase is a microinverter system, each solar panel in the array has its own micro inverter. This allows for module-level monitoring. 

SolarEdge

If your system uses SolarEdge power optimizers and string inverter, then your solar system monitoring software will also come from SolarEdge. 

The system provides automatic alerts on system issue, remote troubleshooting and access to real-time system data and guided root-cause fault analysis, high-resolution data, data presentation at the module level, string level and system level and it’s completely free for 25 years.  

Fronius

Another inverter manufacturer, Fronius, has also come up with its own monitoring system called Solar.web. 

Fronius Solar.web also provides users with an overview of their system including features such as real-time and archived performance data, analysis of their energy consumption (with use of the Fronius Smart Meter), and other features. 

“With Solar.web, you can always keep an eye on your electricity consumption. All the information you need is available anytime, anywhere and you will be notified of any important events,” Fronius explains on its website.

SMA

SMA came out with the Sunny Portal, which promises “easy-to-understand reporting” and features total yield graphs measured by day, month, year, and total, as well as a “plant profile” with information about the entire solar power system. The Plant Profile page includes a system photo, location, PV system power, annual production, CO2 avoided (in tons), and information regarding the modules, inverters, and communication mechanism.  

Peace of mind

The idea behind these monitoring systems is to give you peace of mind that the investment you made in solar is paying you dividends. Your electric bill will be the clearest evidence that your solar panels are generating energy, but it doesn’t tell you the entire story. It doesn’t tell you how much energy was produced by the domestic solar power system on any given day or the entire month. 

Also, domestic solar power systems can work quietly for years without any problem, but in the rare case that an issue arises, you’d want to know right away so you can solve it. Any fault in the system can cost you money and when you switch to solar energy, the idea is to save it. 

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