How do Solar PV Systems Remote Monitoring Work?
A solar PV remote monitoring system keeps track of your solar panel system operation by capturing the power production and consumption data from the inverter and transmitting it via the cloud.
You can access this vital data remotely on your computer, either on a solar monitoring website or on a solar monitoring app.
As a solar power consumer, it's crucial to know what your solar photovoltaic modules output is and, more importantly, what your real-time solar power consumption looks like.
A solar power monitoring system gives you these stats, making it easier for you to understand the performance and cost-effectiveness of your solar power system even better.
In this guide, we'll discuss solar remote monitoring systems in detail and cover some of the common questions you may have about this solar power technology front.
Ready to get started?
Ok, we'll start with an introduction to what solar remote monitoring is.
What is Solar PV system Remote Monitoring?
Solar remote monitoring is keeping track of your solar PV system from the comfort of your computer or mobile phone.
A solar monitoring system informs you of the amount of solar energy your solar panels harness, your system’s conversion efficiency of the solar energy to usable power, the energy stored in your batteries, and how you consume this power.
Not only that, solar power monitoring equipment will let you know when your photovoltaic modules, inverter, and batteries are working and when they're not.
Well, this is not all a solar monitoring system offers:
In the unlikely event that your solar energy system stops working or suffers a malfunction, you’ll get the information and hence work around it immediately.
Are you still wondering if you really need solar remote monitoring? Follow through to find out.
Do you need Solar Remote Monitoring?
No serious solar power consumer should miss a monitoring system. In fact, you should embrace the idea of keeping track of your power system even if you're connected to the grid.
Let me explain why.
With a solar PV remote monitoring system, you're able to:
- Monitor your solar power consumption in real-time.
- Analyze your solar power consumption for a specific period in the past.
- Determine if your solar PV setup is producing power as expected.
- Evaluate the amount of power you feed into the grid.
- Know what amount is offset from your electricity bill by the solar PV system.
- Identify the time you're producing more solar during the day so that you can find ways to use it more efficiently.
- Set power goals and learn how you're achieving them with the existing trends.
All this capability translates to streamlined control of your entire solar PV system and the devices connected to it.
Solar PV systems remote monitoring and SREC access
Solar power users often overlook the crucial role power monitoring plays in solar credits access.
Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SREC) indicate how much electricity you produce with your PV setup and the amount of carbon emission you cut down in the process.
In order to earn and sell SREC, you need to know the amount of power your solar energy system is producing, and that’s where solar monitoring comes in.
Of course, this is not to say that people who’ve not installed solar remote monitoring don’t offset carbon emission.
Basically, they do, just that their impact is unquantifiable, and so they are not eligible to access these energy credits.
Solar Remote Monitoring is not for Consumers only
When data is collected from your solar energy systems, it’s delivered to the manufacturer’s database so they can access it too.
So, whenever you receive a notification alert that your solar production has halted or dropped significantly, your solar installer is also updated.
It's the duty of the installer to respond and work around the problem immediately.
How does a Solar Remote Monitoring System Work?
A solar remote monitoring system works hand in hand with a solar inverter to measure operational data about your solar PV system.
Usually, there 3 levels of solar remote monitoring as indicated in the table below:
|Levels of solar monitoring||Description||Monitoring equipment||Collected data/ stats||How do you access the data?|
|Production monitoring||Determines how much solar power your solar panels are producing. It's the standard form of monitoring.||Can be handled by most solar inverters in the market.||KWh||You can view the stats on your phone or computer.|
|Consumption monitoring||Shows you how much power you're using, then goes a notch higher to compare it with the solar power your system is producing.||Battery and solar panels sensors.||KWh||Meter to the switchboard, app, or website.|
|Solar expenditure monitoring||This level of remote solar monitoring determines what your overall solar power consumption– in monetary terms–looks like.||An inverter-software integrated solar monitoring system.||Dollars per kWh||A website or app.|
Nowadays, you should get a solar energy monitor that can do these 3 levels of monitoring, plus alert where there're operational problems.
For all these levels, the monitoring process occurs in these 5 steps:
- Monitoring- This is the base level tracking process of everything that's happening on your solar PV system without collecting any data.
- Data capturing- Sensors integrated into the system start capturing crucial data such as PV and batteries' voltage current and temperature.
- Data collection and merging – The individual sensors send the data to the main sensor device then merges and consolidates it for transmission.
- Data transmission- The sensor device sends the information to a cloud-based monitoring system where it's stored. An internet connection is needed for this transmission to occur.
- Access and interpretation- The data is accessed by a solar consumer via an app or website on a device such as a computer or mobile phone.
To understand this even better, let's briefly discuss the sensors:
Main sense device
The primary sensor is the device that connects to your inverter and to your internet router and transmits stats about your solar energy system to the cloud.
But this device is not just a data collection and transmission point– it also combines and correlates other sensors’ data before transmitting it.
According to this solar power wireless sensing experiment, the important sensors needed for a solar remote monitoring project are:
- Current sensors- Measure solar and battery terminal voltage
- Voltage sensors- Measure solar current and current to the inverter
- Temperature sensors- Measure the temperature of the power transistor
A tilt angle sensor can also be integrated into the sensor network if the PV modules have an automatic tilt to monitor their best tilt angles at different times of the day.
The Role of an Internet Connection in Solar Online Monitoring
The internet connection enables the transfer of the data harnessed by sensors to your computer. With an internet connection, you also get the luxury to access the data remotely– anytime, anywhere.
So you may ask, won’t remote monitoring immensely increase my data usage and add a huge cost to my Wi-Fi connection bills?
Not at all. Solar remote monitoring data usage is often negligible. So worry out, as you won't have to pay a ton on top of what you're used to paying for Wi-Fi.
Point to note: In most instances, the alerts from your solar PV remote monitoring system will be sent out when the problem is sustained. This is because inverters will sometimes fix the problem after a recycle.
Software Integration in Solar Remote Monitoring
You now know what a solar remote monitoring system is, why you need it and how it works.
Now let's get to the good stuff:
The smart side of remote PV monitoring.
A solar power monitor software can be added to the setup to make the data transmission and access a breeze.
Popular solar monitoring companies such as Arduino and Enphase have inverter-software integrations that form a platform where information can be transmitted, shared, and accessed remotely.
The endpoint of software solar monitoring is usually an app or a website.
Side note: An excellent example of a PV solar monitoring system with a good monitor app is Sense. Sense is a cloud-based monitoring system with a companion app that displays all the collected data from your solar power system.
When working with a solar monitoring app or website, you only need an internet connection and a device such as a mobile phone or computer.
Most solar monitor apps and websites come with well-laid out guidelines about navigating, accessing, and interpreting the solar power data, so there shouldn't be a challenge here.
And now comes the best part about software integration in solar remote monitoring:
Thanks to machine learning, the monitoring system, and software can identify devices in your home and monitor:
- When they're turned on and off
- The amount of solar power they consume
- How much it costs to run the devices on solar power
To put it briefly, software intelligent monitoring systems for solar projects automate the whole process of keeping track of your solar PV system. They eliminate the nail-biting task of manually checking your solar system’s performance.
Solar remote monitoring system price
When it comes to solar monitoring system price, you got 3 main options:
- Free solar monitoring
- Mid-tier monitoring
- Full remote monitoring
Free solar monitoring
This is when a monitoring system is integrated into your initial solar PV installation.
Companies such as SolarEdge offer free solar monitoring with their inverter- software integration.
In most cases, the free monitoring is usually production monitoring. So, if you also want consumption monitoring, you should ask for the optional add-ons on the standard offer or opt for this second option.
This option basically includes a switchboard meter as the real-time solar generation monitor.
You should spare around $400 more on what you spend on your solar PV system for a switchboard meter monitoring system.
With this option, you may get cellular/online data access or not, depending on the brand.
Full remote solar monitoring
If you want to have a more detailed energy consumption/ expenditure monitoring with full cellular and wireless access, you should go for this option.
Here, the monitoring system should come with sensors, a switchboard meter for manual checking, and a variety of remote data access options (app or website).
Not only that, you get a hybrid monitor that can give you net solar power usage data (production minus consumption) and alerts about any technical issues.
Full remote solar monitoring may cost you anywhere from $1000 to around $3000.
Price tip: A good solar monitoring system should perform its task effectively while not being financially burdensome. Similarly, it shouldn’t be overly cheap that it fails to perform its role. Aim at striking a balance between price and performance.
Remote Monitoring for a Commercial Solar PV System
A commercial solar monitoring system is no different from a home solar monitoring system. However, there’re some crucial factors you need to consider when choosing remote monitoring equipment for your commercial solar system:
- First, the system should be sturdy. A commercial solar remote sensor should have a sturdy build. For instance, the sensor’s casing should be made of a strong material such as aluminum.
- Second, it should tolerate a wide range of operating temperatures. The temperature sensors should handle the temperature fluctuations likely to occur in a commercial setting. The desired temperature range for a commercial solar PV remote monitoring system is -40°C to 75°C.
- Last but not least, the system should include high current and voltage sensors. Similar to temperature, commercial PV systems produce high voltage and current, so ensure that the solar energy monitor can tolerate the temperature that your solar PV system operates at.
In a nutshell, most commercial solar PV systems are subjected to tough environments, so the monitoring system you choose should be up for that.
Pro tip: Always discuss with your solar monitoring system installer the scope of your project so that you can get advice on the most suitable equipment to go with.
Can a solar PV remote monitoring system be DIY?
Installing a real-time remote monitoring system should be straightforward, especially if you already have a PV system up and running.
But, this depends on the solar PV remote monitoring system you're dealing with.
So, here's some expert advice on a DIY for this project:
If you have some background in electronic stuff and can follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter, then you should go for it.
Otherwise, just request an installation from your solar remote monitoring system manufacturing.
Remote Monitoring gives you Full Control over your Solar PV System
When you encounter a problem with your solar power system, you don't want to go to the place where it's installed to check it out.
Instead, you want, with just a tap on your mobile phone or computer, to browse or check remotely the health and state of your solar PV array, inverter, and batteries.
This way, you or your installer can take the necessary safety actions promptly.
And it’s not just about the technical issues. With solar monitoring, you can check your solar power production/ consumption trends and the impact this has on your energy bills.
Well, if you are looking for this kind of control and convenience with your solar power system, then solar remote monitoring should be top on your to-do project’s list.