Advice for monitoring your system

Make sure your solar panels are doing their job with some preventative monitoring. We asked solar industry veteran Al Rich of ACR Solar for some tips. Here’s what we learned:

1. Why is it important to learn how to monitor your own system?

Even though many solar installers have a monitoring service, they usually can only look for “red flags” that indicate a major failure. Smaller problems are sometimes not noticed by the installer because they are likely monitoring hundreds of systems. Sometimes the red flag doesn’t even show up to the company when there is a significant problem. It’s your system: no one will care about it as much as you do.

2. What is a monitoring system and how do I access mine?

Your monitoring system is a part of the component of your solar system called an “inverter”. It’s a device that keeps track of the amount of energy your solar panels are producing.

Newer systems will provide you with a personalized website and a smartphone app, where you can log in and check your system’s performance whenever you like.

Your installer should be able to tell you who what company made your inverter, and what kind of monitoring system comes with it. Some of the larger inverter companies are SolarEdge, Enphase and SMA. If you’ve forgotten how it works, give your installer a call.

Once you know how to access your monitoring system, go to your inverter company website and watch their monitoring videos to learn how to use the system.

3. Does my system monitor each individual panel, or the system as a whole?

Many of the newest systems have a monitoring system that allows for individual panel monitoring, such as those made by SolarEdge and Enphase. These systems make it pretty easy to spot a problem solar panel because its output will be significantly lower than the others.

Other systems, especially older ones, only indicate total system performance, not the performance of each individual panel (this technology is called “string inverters”). Sometimes these older systems don’t have a user-friendly monitoring system. These systems make it much harder to spot a problem, so we recommend keeping a close eye on your bill. Occasionally compare your monthly electricity bill to last year’s bill. If there’s a sharp spike in the bill, you might have an issue.

4. Is it always problem if I see a drop in my solar system’s energy output?

No. System performance always goes down in winter months due to the sun being lower in the sky and shorter days so please take that into consideration.

In addition, there will always be small differences in output performance from one panel to another. That alone is not a cause for concern. Chances are if the panel is at the same output during a sunny day as the other panels, the panel is fine.

If your monitoring system indicates that a panel is underperforming, look at the panel during different parts of the day. Sometimes a small shadow from a vent or other cause can make a dramatic output drop in the panels affected by the shadow. Sometimes these problems are fixable depending on the issue. Usually the shading is only for part of the day and will not significantly effect savings.

5. When in doubt, give your installer a call. 

Your monitoring system is a tool you can use to spot potential problems, and possibly solve them on your own. But if you’re unsure if you have an issue, or need some help using your monitoring system, give your installer a ring.

Got additional tips or feedback on this article? Email info@solarrights.org. We are always adding information based on your experiences.