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March 16, 2022

Solar Monitoring: A Feature That System Owners Cannot Live Without

A guide to understanding monitoring so that you can enhance your solar experience and increase your return on investment
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Blog - Solar Monitoring: A Feature That System Owners Cannot Live Without

Investing in solar is a big step towards increasing your home’s value, lowering utility bills, and reducing your carbon footprint. Solar monitoring is your window into your investment 24-hours per day, 7-days per week. The only way you can guarantee that you get every single penny out of your investment is with monitoring. Let’s talk about how and why.

What is monitoring?

As the name implies, monitoring allows you to view a software, typically an app or website, that gives real-time visibility into how your solar system is performing.

Monitoring solar installations come in many different forms and levels and it is typically determined by the hardware that your installer uses.

System-level monitoring:

The most basic level of monitoring offered today is system-level monitoring. With system monitoring, homeowners can view energy production data from the inverter. This is useful for determining total energy output over time as well as real-time power production.

While system-level monitoring is great to get a simplistic view of what is occurring at your site, if a site is performing below its optimal level, it can be hard to determine what the cause may be. For example, the whole array could be a little dirty or one module might not be performing, and you couldn’t tell the difference. That’s where module-level monitoring comes in.

Module-level monitoring:

Module-level monitoring systems include all the benefits of system-level systems, but they provide details of how each individual module is performing on the roof. Using Tigo Energy Intelligence (EI) software as an example, you're able to view the total electricity your system is producing, measured in watts (W), all the way down to each individual solar panel (see Figure 1). You're also able to diagnose which solar panels have shading or if a panel is underperforming. Module-level monitoring is enabled by Module Level Power Electronics (MLPE) - such as the Tigo TS4 family - which are connected to each module in your array.

Figure 1 Tigo Energy Intelligence (EI) monitoring software

Enhancements:

Connecting more hardware. Typically, major components such as batteries and home energy meters can be included in the monitoring portal to view the key metrics for each one. With Tigo, your installer can connect a huge number of 3rd party devices to track weather, charging, and more all under 1 application.

Reclaimed Energy. If you have Tigo optimizers, you're also able to see the additional energy production that is enabled by Tigo optimizers – at Tigo we call it Reclaimed Energy. As you can see in the bar graph in Figure 2, the green tips are the Reclaimed Energy Tigo enabled by the optimizers.

Figure 2 Tigo Energy Intelligence (EI) platform

Alerts. Monitoring systems can notify you and/or your installer when the system is not performing as it was designed. The sooner the issue is remedied, the sooner the system can be producing the most savings for you. The more granular the data, the better the notifications are going to be at diagnosing specific issues. In the next section, we’ll lay out a few examples of how module-level monitoring can directly save you money.

Why it’s important

Monitoring is vital to ensure your system is operating at its best potential and to gauge the overall lifetime value of the system. Typically, the only way to see your system performance is when you get your monthly utility bill. If the savings is low for a particular month, it could signify that something is negatively impacting the system such as damage, shade, or dirt.

The downside to this is that the system damage could have happened at the beginning of the month meaning you missed out on valuable energy production. To fix the low performance, you'd have to call your installer to examine the system which can take a couple of days to schedule meaning you’d have lower energy production for a longer period of time.

With module-level monitoring, you and your installer can see hourly energy production and get alerts when something has gone awry so you can get your system up and running as soon as possible. Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios where monitoring can save you money.

Scenario 1: Shading or dirt

With real-time monitoring, you can see hourly energy production and better understand how your solar system works. For example, you can see how shading affects your solar system on a typical day. If you notice a solar panel that usually doesn’t have shade, the solar panel could be affected by dirt, debris, or snow allowing you to know if you need to contact your installer for maintenance work.

This allows you to have your system up and running in tip-top shape to get the most out of your system.

Scenario 2: Diode issues

A diode is an electrical component that is used in all solar systems that allow current to flow in a single direction. To put it simply, it’s like a one-way street for electric currents that allows all the energy produced by the solar panels to flow to an inverter to convert into useful forms of energy.

Although rare, diodes can occasionally have issues or fail to work which can result in a loss of around a third of solar panel production. Assuming your electricity rates are $0.22 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), and you had a failed diode for about 15 years, that could amount to $935 in a potential loss in energy.

But the bigger problem is diode issues can be hard to catch without monitoring. Fortunately, Tigo EI software can detect when a diode has failed and pinpoint the exact location in the system where the issue is occurred (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 Diode outage example

To see the Tigo EI software in action, check out the demo here using a real-life, live site.

Summary

Bottom line: adding monitoring to your solar system is an important step to save money and ensure your investment will pay off. You can increase system uptime with early detection when issues arise improving performance. Monitoring enhances reliability to help relieve some safety and financial stress so you can focus on more important things.

If you have comments or concerns about solar, post them here. Follow us on social media to stay up to date with solar and be notified when a new blog comes out.

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To Learn More

About the timeline of solar: https://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/pdfs/solar_timeline.pdf 

U.S. solar capacity data: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/solar-energy-united-states 

Environmental benefits of solar: https://www.seia.org/initiatives/climate-change#:~:text=Through%20Q2%202020%2C%20the%20U.S.,tons%20of%20carbon%20dioxide%20emissions

Global solar capacity data: https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/features/solar-power-countries-installed-capacity/ 

TED-Ed: How do solar panels work? https://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-do-solar-panels-work-richard-komp#watch

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