Is My Solar System Working?
So...you've made the decision and committed your money to going solar. Congratulations on making a great choice and taking control of how you get your electricity. Now comes the important part - "Is my solar system working?" A broken solar electric system is a new and definitely not improved way to waste energy. The good news is that learning how to tell if your solar panels are working is not difficult.
The first step is to determine the type of inverter upon which your system is based. The inverter, which converts the DC electricity produced by your solar panels to AC electricity for use in your home, comes in two main flavors- string and micro inverters. While micro-inverters (Enphase, Solar Bridge, etc.) are located under each solar panel and are not readily accessible, they usually come with sophisticated, electronic monitoring systems that provide users an electronic window into the energy generation of each panel and the system as a whole.
Your installer should have finished the project by setting up the monitor and showing you how to access it via the Internet. Log in to your monitoring portal regularly, at least once per week, to ensure that energy is being produced by each panel. Don't worry if all the panel/inverter combinations are not producing exactly the same amount of kilowatt hours (kWh). Assuming an un-shaded array where panels are all facing the same direction, it's normal for panels to have an up to 5% difference in energy harvest due to module age, manufacturing tolerance and even module position in the array. Also, you can and should, set up your monitor to email you if the system goes offline.
String inverters also come with electronic monitoring systems, but you can also just go look at it to see if it's on. First, find your inverter! It's a microwave-sized box usually near your electric meter or perhaps in your garage. Most string inverters have red, yellow and green LED lights to provide system health at a glance. Anything other than a green light may indicate a system fault.
One thing to note is that your system will go into sleep mode when the sun is not strong enough to power up the inverter. A yellow light on a string inverter is normal at night and very early or late in the day. For a detailed view of your string inverter's health, activate the display by pushing the button or, for SMA inverters, knocking on it like your are knocking on a door. The LCD will light up and display system data such as 'kWh today' and 'kWh lifetime'. Many solar system owners check their system often enough that they become accustomed to the daily expected energy and notice if the system produces significantly less energy than other recent days.
Remember, check your micro-inverter monitor at least once a week and set up the email alerts to ensure your solar array is working. If you have a string inverter, learn how to read the LED lights and work the display. Then just relax and let the Sun and your solar electric system generate clean reliable renewable energy for decades to come.
So..now you can answer the question..."Is my solar system working?"
EVP Engineering and Operations, Helio Energy Solutions