Is your solar panel system working well?

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When you get your new solar power system installed, most times you are unaware about the fact that it is working at its best or not. There have been cases when people reported that the system wasn’t producing as much energy as was told by the installer.
Here are a few ways with which you can determine whether your system is working properly or not.

Don’t depend on your electricity bills for detecting a problem

Most people rely on their electricity bills for checking if their solar PV system is functioning well. This is highly unreliable as your electricity bill will only tell you about the electricity you fed into the grid or the electricity taken from the grid.
Electricity bills do not give you a measure of how much electricity your solar power system generated. So, it is not the ideal way to determine the efficiency of your system.
Sometimes, when the inverter has an error or something else goes wrong and the system stops functioning, your house will draw electricity from the grid straight away. Few homes get their electricity bills every three months, and in this case, it will be too late before you detect the problem and lose quite some money.
Also, with changing seasons, hours of sunshine vary and so does the electricity usage. In this case, quarterly bills will not be helpful.

Look out for shading or dirty panels

Shading and dirty panels too affect your system’s output. Do keep a check on your panels from time to time whether they are dirt free. Look out for tree sap, twigs, leaves, or bird droppings. Although dirty panels are not a big problem as rain usually washes the dirt off. But it’s always good to have them cleaned. Shading, on the other hand, can cause a significant reduction in output. In fact, it may happen that your panels are now more shaded than when they were initially installed because of a new building that’s come up or a tree that has grown big or a roof antenna.
Some installations have the panels connected together. In this case, if one panel is shaded, and the output is reduced, the output of all other panels will also be reduced. It may happen that one of all the panels is shaded at some part of the day. So keep an eye out for shaded panels. This will affect your system’s overall efficiency.

Keep a check on the inverter’s warning signs

Most people don’t check their inverters regularly. How can you know if something is wrong with your inverter?
The easiest way is to look at the color of the lights on the inverter when it’s working during the daytime.
If there is a red or orange light, it’s best to check for an error code on the display monitor. You could also check for the cause, on the internet through the inverter’s user interface.
Inverters can fail due to too high or low voltage from the grid. Or if there’s any earthing problem with the system. Another thing that could happen is circuit breaker tripping.

Check the system’s data

There are two ways to do this. You can either check your inverter’s display panel if it has one or, you could access this data through your inverter’s online account.

Reading your inverter screen

Your inverter screen usually gives the following three details:

  • Amount of kilowatts (kW) being provided to your house and/or the grid at a particular point in time.
  • Amount of kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy generated so far that day.
  • Total kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy produced since installation.

Accessing the online data

Good quality inverters will provide you with graphs and other data about your electricity production. These could be daily, monthly or annual numbers.
You can access this data by setting up an account online through an app or a web portal.

Determining if your system is producing as much power as it should

At the time of installation, you are provided with an owner’s manual that has likely solar production figures expressed as average kilowatt hours daily or monthly.

Compare this with the actual output data from the web portal.

There is no such thing as 100% efficiency. There are energy losses in every system. This could be through the inverter and cabling. Another factor is solar panels- which could account for reduced output depending on seasons, shading, climate conditions, angle and direction of panels.
Even if the system is very well installed, there will still be energy losses. It’ll just be a minimum.

You can install a third party monitor for more data

This has its own perks as you get quick access to a lot more correct data. A solar monitor will send you an email or SMS in a few days after the detection of a problem.
In fact, if you call an installer to fix your system they will take you more seriously as you have a third-party solar monitor.
Factors affecting solar output
Heat: Too much heat minimizes the efficiency of panels.
System losses: During energy conversion from DC to AC, an inverter may lose 3-4% and cables lose about 2% of the power produced.
Panel orientation: North-facing panels work the best. Any other orientation will result in lesser output.
Seasons: In summer, energy production will be more than that in winter.
Time of the day: When the sun is at its best position, at midday, energy generation is at its peak.
Shading: Shading reduces the output. In order to get the best of your system, avoid shaded panels.
Cloud cover: If the weather is hazy, and the sky isn’t clear, output decreases with less solar radiation.

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