The best solar monitors on the market today will provide an unparalleled level of operability and reliability at the same time. But what are they and how do they work? Simply put, solar monitors keep an electronic eye on your solar power setup and report back key statistics. This will allow you to ensure that all of the individual devices in your solar power arrangement are working properly and at their full potential.
How Do Solar Monitors Work?
Most photovoltaic power generators work by generating energy in the form of direct current (DC), converting it to alternating current (AC), and then serving that power either to a storage battery or an existing electrical grid. This is because the standard home electricity setup is designed to use AC power. It’s called AC because the direction of the energy flow changes (alternates) at periodic intervals.
A solar monitor sits between the direct current generator and the alternating current storage system near the site of the inverter. In this way, it can monitor the characteristics of the direct current generation and the alternating current transformation.
What Do Solar Monitors Measure?
Solar monitors can measure and track all sorts of electrical phenomena and anomalies. In addition to measuring the actual power flow through the solar power system you have set up, and allowing power to flow cleanly to your solar-powered cameras and solar gate openers, many solar monitors can also measure outdoor temperature, barometric pressure, sunlight strength, and humidity.
The measurement of these additional variables allows you to track correlations between certain environmental conditions and electrical performance. So, for example, you can make note of whether the performance of your solar power system suffers in conditions of high humidity, for example. That would allow you to take appropriate action to ensure the quality and performance of your solar power generation system.
How Do I Read Solar Monitor Data?
Solar monitors collect a large amount of data, but how do you go about obtaining and reading it? Most solar monitoring systems are cellular or Wi-Fi-equipped with apps that accompany the monitors themselves. Frequently, the company that sells the solar inverter will include a monitor as well and, with it, the monitoring software. The software is frequently installed on one’s smartphone in the form of an app, although laptops and other computers might be used for this as well.
Once installed, the monitoring app should allow you to view, read, and interpret data about environmental conditions, power levels and fluctuations, and generating and storage efficiency. Additionally, most apps will allow you to store this data over time and generate reports that will allow you to spot trends in the data. So, for example, gradual reductions in power generation might alert you to a problem with the solar panels collecting solar energy.
Why Do I Need a Solar Monitor?
Your photovoltaic energy creation and storage system can be a complicated and tricky animal. Powering everything from solar trail cameras to solar driveway alarms, and because a typical home solar setup involves multiple components and electrical devices, a lot of different things have the potential to go wrong. Between the solar panels absorbing sunlight, to the inverter converting DC to AC current, to the batteries storing excess charge, any number of things can happen to impair the functionality or efficiency of your green energy kit.
Additionally, the fact that your solar energy setup, or at least your solar panels, are exposed to the elements can make them more vulnerable to damage and disrepair caused by rain, sleet, snow, hail, or other inclement weather.
Solar monitoring systems will help to spot changes and trends that indicate when one or more components of your carefully constructed solar energy setup are not working at peak efficiency, or is broken altogether.
What Kind of Errors Might I See When Connecting a Solar Monitor?
A few kinds of problems are common to see in solar power generation, and none are more frequent than issues with the solar panels themselves. If you’re having a solar panel issue, you’re going to notice it in the form of decreased DC power generation. This reduction in power generation will affect the ability of the entire solar generating system to create and store enough energy to power your home devices and appliances.
A solar monitoring system will assist you in noticing such an issue before it becomes severe enough to cause major problems during an emergent situation, like a blackout or brownout.
Solar panel problems can include a wide variety of issues that are beyond the scope of this article. But, generally speaking, they’re usually things like hot spots on the panels, snail or slug trails, micro-cracks, and “potential induced degradation.” Whatever the ultimate or root cause is, a solar monitor will reveal that there’s an issue with your solar panels before you’re able to notice it by way of obviously reduced performance.
Problems with the inverter, the device that converts DC to AC (direct current to alternating current), have been known to happen as well. Depending on the cause of the problem, this could manifest in a number of ways. Unusually high AC voltage readings and the battery not charging are some common symptoms of inverter problems.
As an aside, you should keep in mind that it is in the nature of solar energy collection to be highly variable. So, for example, you wouldn’t expect to be able to extract peak energy collection from your solar panels on a cloudy day. Nor would you expect to see your solar panels lying dormant when the sun was at its highest. Any data you collect with respect to efficiency and power collection should be compared to weather data indicating how much the sun was shining that day or hour in order to get an accurate picture of your solar power system’s efficiency.
Do Solar Monitoring Systems Require Technical Knowledge?
In a word, yes. Solar monitors will require that you have some familiarity with the basics of electrical engineering. Understanding concepts like voltage, amperage, polarity, and the difference between alternating and direct current will come in extremely handy when trying to read the report coming from a solar monitor.
Odds are that you already have this knowledge if you built and installed your current solar power setup and related accessories (like solar floodlights, solar security lights, and the like). If you didn’t create that setup, or if, for whatever reason, your electrical and solar knowledge isn’t up to snuff, you may still want to buy and install a solar monitor anyway. If only to allow any person you hire to repair or maintain your system access to data they are going to need to do their job.
Now, keep in mind that the best solar monitors create reports that are designed with readability and usability in mind. They are meant to be read on smartphone screens and are supposed to translate complex data in functional charts and graphs that a user can translate into actionable advice. So it’s not like you’ll just be getting a huge data dump of random-seeming numbers and be expected to do something about it. You’ll be seeing graphs and charts which you’ll then need to interpret and understand in order to take the appropriate actions. The level of difficulty is about equal to the installation of a solar electric fence charger.
What Types of Solar Monitors Are There?
There are a number of different types of solar monitoring systems on the market. They differ primarily by the type of inverter they connect to. One sort will connect via what are known as microinverters, the other sort by a power optimizer. The former are attached to each individual solar panel and communicate with a central device, while the latter are found near the generator. Whichever kind of device you happen to have, you’ll want to ensure that you purchase a solar monitor that is compatible with your solar power system.
Solar power systems can be a fantastic and environmentally-friendly addition to any home electrical setup. But, because of their inherent complexity, a lot of different things can go wrong with a lot of different components. When this happens, you’ll want to know what’s going on as soon as possible so that you don’t miss out on power and energy generation you could otherwise be utilizing.
Solar monitors are the solution to this problem. Rather than continuing to limp along with a solar power system operating at less-than-peak efficiency, a solar monitor will allow you to identify, isolate, and solve a myriad of electrical generation and storage problems at their source as soon as they happen. You’ll save money, time, and energy by ensuring that you’re extracting as much solar power as possible with your setup at all times.
While some people might be intimidated by the electrical and engineering knowledge required to install and understand solar monitors and their data, there is no reason to fret. The data is designed to be organized, readable, and actionable. If you were able to install your solar power system, you’ll be able to understand and install your new solar monitor without any issue.