You have the power: Tracking solar production with monitoring systems

October 13, 2015
Joule Solar Commercial Installation Rustin Water Tower

So you've gotten your solar panels installed and your net meter hooked up, but what's next? You could sit back and wait until your first electricity bill to calculate the savings from your solar system, or you could take a look at your handy monitoring portal and get the information in real time! However, these platforms often have a lot of information to sift through, so it's important to learn how to get the most out of your monitoring system.


We have used a few different monitoring systems in the past, but for the purpose of this post we will focus on the SolarEdge portal. If you’re an avid Joule blog reader, you’ll remember that SolarEdge is our favorite inverter brand. In addition to all the SolarEdge benefits we’ve already shared with you, the optimizer brand comes with a slick monitoring interface.


How slick, you ask? For one, the system is entirely cloud-based, so there’s no software to download onto your computer. All you have to do to see your data is log onto their online monitoring portal from any device.


Second, the portal includes module-level monitoring, so you can see whether a problem is due to one solar module (panel) malfunctioning or the whole system. Because sensors have already been built into each optimizer and at the main inverter, you won’t need any additional hardware or wiring to get this granular data. The virtual site map also makes it easier for us to find and fix any faulty equipment quickly.


Third, there are built-in alerts at each level that will automatically trigger in response to a malfunction. In most cases, you shouldn't have to decipher a confusing graph in order to diagnose your solar system. If you do see any alerts appear on your portal, just reach out to us via email or call the office and we'll take care of the issue from there. Often, we can log into the monitoring system on our end to provide a quick diagnosis.


What else does the monitoring system provide? We talk about its value and answer some of your burning questions below.


What does the monitoring portal provide?


There are a lot of different visuals all packaged into one platform, so it helps to know which features are the most helpful for you. When you first log into your SolarEdge account, you will see a menu that looks like this:


Solar Monitoring System Navigation


Through the Dashboard, you can evaluate your system's production at a glance with weekly, monthly, or yearly energy data. There are also widgets that include weather data and that calculate your system's cumulative environmental benefit in metrics such as the equivalent number of trees planted. The Layout tab shows a diagram of your solar system that mirrors your specific panel layout.


You also have powerful tools for downloading and manipulating data. Through the Chart tab, you can create personalized graphs based on data from multiple sources such as your inverter and local weather databases. You can also save or export this data to go back to later. Through the Reports tab, you can export data over a custom time interval to Word, Excel, HTML, or PDF formats, in case you later feel like bragging about how much energy your system has produced.


The portal also gives you access to manage and update your account. With Alerts, you can see every issue or system update that the monitoring system has detected, as well as track and update the status of these issues as they get resolved. The Settings tab allows you to view and change the metadata related to your system, such as the site name and installation date.


For a more in-depth look at the portal, view SolarEdge's software demo video below, or on YouTube.




How do I know I have a problem from looking at my production?


A weird-looking graph could point to a problem with your solar system, or everything could be working just fine. That's why it helps to first understand the breakdown of how energy flows throughout your system, keeping in mind that some energy is consumed onsite and some flows back into the grid via your net meter. With a well-functioning solar system, your production could look like this over the course of a few weeks:


Solar Monitoring System Normal Production


However, if your output looks like the graph below, your monitoring equipment may have become disconnected from the portal. Your solar system will still produce energy, but you will no longer be able to see the readout through the portal. The fix? In this case, a quick powercycle of the system disconnect got the monitoring system back to functioning normally.


Solar Monitoring System Disconnected


But what if there is a readout, and it says 0 kW? Well, there may be something else out of whack. In this case, the flatline was due to an inverter malfunction, which we then replaced. These sorts of equipment malfunctions don't happen often, but it's better to catch them quickly by routinely checking the monitoring portal.


Joule Solar Monitoring Systems


Can I check my solar system’s performance from anywhere?


Absolutely! SolarEdge has come out with an iPhone Monitoring App (available for free on the App Store and on Google Play) with an at-a-glance dashboard to help you quickly determine your energy production and check it against the built-in weather forecast. We even have one client who periodically checks his system’s production from the boat he pilots! And if you're active on social media, you can also share your solar production data with your friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter.


How often should I check my monitoring portal?


We have some clients who log into their portal every day, and others who have barely glanced at it. While the decision to check your monitoring system ultimately rests in your hands, we recommend that you log in about once per week. That way, if one of your solar panels, or the whole system, malfunctions, you will be able to tell right away, rather than a month later when you get your next utility bill. If something looks particularly weird, give us a call at 504-586-0625 or contact us by email.


My solar company never set me up with a monitoring portal. How can I install one on my solar system?


You're in luck! Joule now services clients of other solar companies that have gone out of business or are otherwise unresponsive. This includes installing monitoring systems, but can also include related services like production troubleshooting and panel cleaning. Whether or not you think there is an issue with your system's production, it's worth giving us a call to see what we could do to optimize your solar system.

Interested in saving energy or have questions about our services? Click below or call us at 504-586-0625 to find out if solar or LED lighting is right for you.