Solar Analytics is a compact add-on monitoring device that allows you to closely monitor both solar generation and electricity consumption in real-time. The system uses a small electronic module which is installed inside the switchboard and uses highly accurate sensors (CT clamps) to measure solar power generation and electricity consumption. The data is sent to a mobile App every few seconds via the onboard 4G transmitter and analysed by the smart algorithms developed by the solar analytics team to provide an abundance of useful information such as:
- Your electricity usage and consumption patterns
- Overall solar system performance
- How much electricity your system should be generating vs actual generation
- Net electricity bought and sold
- Alerts and faults diagnostics
- Grid voltage and frequency monitoring
- Estimated savings and credits
THE SOLAR ANALYTICS MONITORING PLATFORM
By closely analysing the consumption and solar generation data, the patented solar analytics algorithms can accurately detect and diagnose faults, as well as identity under-performance due to a number of reasons which will be explained in further detail below.
The solar analytics system is also unique in the way it uses satellite and BOM data to report on the system performance relative to the actual irradiation levels at your site. They also compare solar generation to other nearby systems in the area to help verify or identify performance issues. This way if all the systems in an area are behaving similarly due to atmospheric interferences like smog and smoke, this can be accounted for and not raise unnecessary alarms or warnings.
Grid issues: The system can also measure grid voltage and frequency on 1, 2, or 3-phase systems using a ‘Class A’ meter which logs data with an accuracy of +/- 0.5%. This is especially useful for diagnosing grid-related issues such as high grid voltage, which is a common reason for under-performing in many areas due to causing inverters to shutdown or de-rate power output.
SOLAR ANALYTICS VS INVERTER MONITORING
Most solar inverters come with built-in WiFi and app-based monitoring platforms which let you monitor the solar generation and can notify you of any system faults. Many of these systems can also provide consumption monitoring with the installation of an additional ‘energy meter’ which is connected to the solar inverter. Like the solar Analytics module, the additional energy meter must be installed in the main switchboard, but it also needs to be hard-wired to the solar inverter. This can be problematic if the inverter is located a long way from the switchboard as data communication over long distances can become corrupt and drop out due to interference. Physically running the cable can also become difficult to impossible, especially if the roof or underfloor access is unavailable.
(The solar analytics system doesn’t require a connection to the solar inverter so it can be much easier to install or be retrofitted to any household or business with an existing solar system).
The biggest issue with solar inverter monitoring is that it is dependent on the stability of the local WiFi network. Solar inverter monitoring requires WiFi connection to transmit data to the cloud. However, if the signal is unstable or drops out, the connection is lost along with the monitoring. This can be avoided if the inverter is hard-wired to the modem with a dedicated communications cable. Another issue that relies on WiFi is if the modem is replaced or reset, then the inverter needs to be reconfigured by a technician to re-establish communications.
ADVANTAGES OF SOLAR ANALYTICS MONITORING
- Consumption monitoring of individual power circuits
- Uses satellite and BOM data to analyse system performance
- Provides an accurate estimate of electricity costs/credits
- Simple, easy to use and understand
- Alerts owners of any performance issues
- Not reliant on local WiFi – built in 4G communications
ADVANTAGES OF SOLAR INVERTER MONITORING
One area that the solar analytics system really excels in is reliable communications due to having an onboard sim card and 4G connection. If there is mobile reception in the area, then the solar analytics system will not drop out.
- Dedicated platform designed for specific solar inverters
- Provides battery information and state of charge (SOC)
- Can provide individual string (solar) voltage/current data
- Alerts of any earth faults
- Lower cost – many inverters now include a basic energy meter
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONSUMPTION MONITORING
Electricity consumption patterns can vary wildly between different households and most owners are completely unaware of how much electricity is being consumed at any point in time, or which appliances are consuming the most power. For example, most people do not realise that heating (of any kind) can be responsible for up to 80% of all energy consumption during the winter months. Electricity hot water systems alone can be responsible for as much as 40% of total electricity consumption.
(This is one area where the solar analytics system really shines by providing detailed consumption data, plus the ability to monitor individual power circuits like hot water or heating systems).
The more you understand about your consumption patterns the more electricity you can save. For example, most homes use small compact electric fans thinking they are energy-saving appliances, when in fact they are extremely inefficient compared to a modern reverse cycle split system. Both appliances draw the same amount of electricity – approximately 1500 watts continuously, but the split system provides 4 to 5 times the heat energy compared to a little fan heater. Using a consumption monitor or energy meter, the owner can clearly see the consumption levels when different appliances are turned on and off.
EARLY DETECTION OF FAULTS
Detecting a fault early is the best way to reduce the risk of system failure and potential equipment or property damage. Solar systems are generally very reliable, but over time extreme weather conditions can result in problems like water ingress and accelerated panel degradation. A good example of this is due to the overly stringent regulations in Australia all rooftop solar installations are required to have a rooftop isolator installed. This is basically a plastic box with a special DC isolation switch inside. Being located on the rooftop under extreme weather conditions for many years can result in deterioration, water ingress or overheating which can cause a catastrophic failure. (Nor surprisingly, this is currently one of the leading causes of system failure in Australia). However, this type of serious fault can often be prevented early on, before things get bad, by detecting and alerting the owner about a reduction in system performance due to possible short circuits or arcing inside the isolator.
PROBLEMS WITH SOLAR – FAILURE MODES
- Panel earth leakage – PID
- Cell hot spots and micro-cracking
- Rooftop isolator faults – water ingress
- High grid voltage causing inverter shutdown
- Inverter overheating
Earth leakage is a common problem with older solar panels which can be caused by a number of factors, the most common being what is known as PID or potential induced degradation. Most grid-connected solar panels are linked together in strings which operate at high voltages from 300V to 600V. Panels operating at these elevated voltages over many years can in come cases develop a current leak or earth leak through the cells to the aluminium frames of the solar panels, which are grounded via an earth cable for safety.
Solar systems have no moving parts and are generally very low maintenance. However, over time many factors can reduce performance and dramatically decrease power output including; dirt built up and mold growth, shading from trees (which can grow surprisingly fast in spring), and inverters overheating. Without addressing these issues, over a few months generation can be reduced dramatically, and in turn, electricity savings can plummet, meaning bills go up.
During the first few weeks after installation, the solar analytics system will learn the power generation profile of your system and will take into account drops in output due to shading from trees or rooftop obstacles like chimneys. The Solar Analytics system will also be able to compare the power output to other systems in the area to determine if there is a problem which might need to be addressed. Additionally, if your solar output changes dramatically during the day, and other systems in the area don’t have a similar problem, then you may be alerted of a possible issue with your system.
The Solar Analytics unit itself is not overly expensive at around $300 for the base unit and a little more for the 3-phase unit. However, since the module and CT sensors must be mounted inside the main electrical switchboard, installation must be done by a qualified electrician which will add around $100 or more to the cost, depending on the complexity of the installation.
Once installed, the system can be activated by the installer and a subscription option must be chosen. Since the unit required mobile data to operate a small fee is required as is the case with any mobile device. There are monthly, yearly, and lifetime subscription options with the $250 lifetime option being the best value for money.
If you are interested in the benefits Solar Analytics provides. Contact Westsun Solar today to find out more!