solar energy monitoring systemsIf 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, according to Will Shortt, CEO of Deck Monitoring.  
 
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.
 
All California installers are required to give a 10 year warranty, but this might compel them to give even longer warranties. Similarly, it may motivate installers to offer warranties in other states. 
 
Combine a warranty with monitoring systems and I can see how a solar installer could proactively call a homeowner to say that they’re going to drop by to clean the panels when they see the productivity drop rather than the other extreme of having a system fail for some reason, then have a furious customer calling because their $20,000 solar energy system has not been producing electricity for the past month.  I'd much prefer to read stories on yelp about how great an installer is because they called a customer to say there was a problem that they were going to come out to fix before the customer even knew there was an issue.  
 
Thomas Dinkel, CEO of SunReports said that SunPower, SunRun, Solar City and Sungevity all offer monitoring with any systems they install, and therefore to be competitive with them other installers will likely start offering monitoring as well. 
 
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. 
 
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.  
 
So when you get a free solar energy quote from an installer, be sure to ask what they offer in the way of monitoring! 
 
By David Belden 
 
*Clean Power Finance recently hosted a webinar with SunReports and Deck Monitoring, which is where I learned much of what I just reported. However I’m sure there are other monitoring solutions out there, and I’d be interested in hearing about them too.