How to monitor solar power usage and production at your home
If you’ve invested in solar panels for your home or business, it makes sense to learn more about solar energy production and the best time of day to use electricity with solar panels.
The world of solar analytics has come a long way and it's now easy to monitor how your solar panels are performing. You could use the data and insights about the solar power produced by your panels to make changes to your energy usage habits, which could then have an impact on your electricity costs.
Here are some tips to help you learn more about your solar power generation and your electricity usage with the help of a solar power monitoring system.
Start with the basics: Tracking your solar production and consumption
Solar power monitoring systems will generally show you how much electricity your solar panels are producing in kWh and also record the total amount of solar power your solar PV system has generated. This may help you to monitor the historical performance of your solar panels by comparing previous readings to track any variation in generation from one period of time to another.
All solar inverters in solar PV systems should have a built-in production monitoring function and many also have a downloadable mobile application so you can track your solar power production from wherever you are.
Some inverters will also include basic electricity consumption monitoring – although many don’t.
Consumption monitoring features allow you to see whether you are using the solar power your solar PV system is generating or it is being exported to the grid. This can help you to track your solar power production and consumption over the course of the day and adjust your consumption habits based on the best time of day to use electricity with solar panels.
If your solar inverter doesn’t include consumption data, or you’d like access to more in-depth data or solar analytics, you could consider investing in a “solar smart meter” or an advanced solar power monitoring system that integrates with your inverter. It’s important to note that a solar smart meter is not the same as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), which are also known as smart meters, but they have similar benefits, providing increased data and information allowing you to learn even more about your solar power production and usage.
The benefits of solar power monitoring systems
When you invest in a solar PV system, the inverter has built in monitoring capabilities that will generally give you basic data to help you track your solar energy production, but for more detailed data and information you might choose to add on one of the solar power monitoring systems available on the market. With a dedicated solar power monitoring system in place, you could benefit from:
Early detection of abnormalities in solar power production:You could learn when your solar PV system isn't producing power as expected and take action to rectify the issue faster.
Increased solar power self-consumption:to make the most of your solar PV system it’s important to maximise your self-consumption of the solar power it generates. A good solar power monitoring system should alert you to the best time of day to operate energy-intensive appliances like your washing machine to help you use more of the solar power generation from your panels rather than drawing electricity from the grid.
Understanding fluctuations in your electricity costs:if you receive an unexpectedly high electricity bill, your first thought might be that your solar panels or aren’t working properly. While that may be the reason, it could also be a number of other factors including consuming more electricity, changes to your tariff or electricity prices, or potentially even a billing error. A solar power monitoring system may be able to help pinpoint the reason for fluctuations in your electricity costs. If the cause of the fluctuations in your electricity costs is within your control, the information provided by your solar power monitoring system could assist you to identify what action you could take that could to help you to manage the cost of your electricity bills.
If you’re looking for how to get the most out of solar panels for your home or business, a solar power monitoring system could help you to take advantage of what your solar PV system has to offer, making data about the generation of solar power and your electricity use easier to access and understand.
Learn about the features of solar power monitoring systems
A dedicated third-party solar power monitoring system can generally provide an in-depth analysis of your solar PV system’s functionality and performance, which can help you track the performance of your inverter and solar panels more closely.
Depending on which kind of system you choose, these solar power monitoring systems could help you to measure:
- Your electricity consumption
- Your solar power generation
- How much solar power you have exported to the grid
- How much electricity you have drawn from the grid
- Your battery charge and discharge power, if you have one
The solar power monitoring systems and apps use advanced algorithms to interpret and deliver your energy consumption and solar PV system performance data in an easy to understand way.
What are the different types of solar power monitoring systems?
There are two main types of solar power monitoring systems:
System Level Monitoring (SLM):With this type, you receive data on the performance of your solar PV system components and forecast your consumption patterns. This could help you to work out if you should make some changes in your electricity usage. SLM devices may be sold as part of your solar PV system installation or may be purchased separately.
Panel Level Monitoring (PLM):With PLM, you receive data on the performance of each of your individual solar panels. This can be really helpful as it shows you how much solar power each panel is producing, so you or your solar PV system can recognise any issues or abnormalities. For example, if there’s an issue with the direction of your solar panel, shading or perhaps your solar panels need to be cleaned.
If you’re looking for how to get the most out of solar panels for your home or business, a solar power monitoring system could provide valuable insights. Below are some examples of the advanced features solar power monitoring systems can include:
- Circuit level monitoring: This takes SLM one step further, allowing you to see how much power individual appliances draw from your solar PV system . As an example, you could use this level of solar analytics to monitor your electricity usage from your hot water system, the granny flat, lights, the air conditioning or upstairs floor separately. Not all SML systems have this feature, but it is worth investigating if you love going in-depth with your data.
- Performance and fault alerts: Unlike the data that comes from most inverters, third-party solar power monitoring systems can generally detect when your solar PV system’s output has dropped considerably or ceases each day, and provide you with an alert by email or SMS.
- Cost tracking: Some very advanced solar power monitoring systems even allow you to input your daily supply charge, and time-of-use tariff information, including weekday vs weekend tariffs, your solar feed-in tariff and more. With this kind of information, it could provide you with a detailed breakdown of what your electricity costs are likely to be for a specific period.
Not all solar power monitoring systems offer the same features. As with any investment for your home or business, it’s important to do your research and compare the products available that can provide the features and benefits you’re looking for. Speak with your solar installer about what data or information you can view and would like to have access to in relation to your solar PV system, and they should be able to recommend the best solar power monitoring system for your requirements.
Consult your dashboard for solar analytics
Whether you use your in-built solar power monitoring system or have invested in a more advanced dedicated solar power monitoring system, it pays to learn how to use that data.
Generally, solar PV systems come with an app you can download to your phone or other device. You will usually have a dashboard of data available where you can keep track of your system including:
- How many kilowatts are being supplied to your house at the time you're looking
- How many kilowatt hours of energy your solar PV system has generated that day
- How many kilowatt hours of energy your solar PV system has generated since it was first installed
Depending on the type of solar PV system and meter you have, you could also see how you're using electricity across the day – and how much of that electricity is generated by your solar PV system or supplied by the grid.
If you have a battery storage system, you may be able to use your dashboard to track how much energy your battery is storing. You may also be able to track when you are using this stored electricity and when you need to draw electricity from the grid.
Access your solar dashboard by downloading the relevant app from the App Store or Google Play store, or by visiting the website of your inverter manufacturer or the website of the manufacturer of your dedicated solar monitoring system.
Know the best time to use electricity with solar panels
Solar energy is produced when the sun is shining – and between 11am and 3pm is generally the best time for solar panels to generate electricity and produce solar power. After around 3pm, your solar PV system's production will slowly drop off until it stops when your solar panels stop receiving sunlight.
Here in WA, in most cases north-facing solar panels will drop to generating 50% of their capacity by around 4pm and down to 30% capacity by 5pm as the sun is going down.
Keep this in mind if you tend to switch your heating or cooling on after work hours – as you’ll likely be drawing electricity from the grid rather than using your solar power, unless you have a battery installed.
Understand your solar power generation
The amount of solar power your solar PV system generates will depend on a number of factors, including:
- The size and type of solar PV system you have
- Which direction your panels are facing
- Whether shading or dust might be blocking your panels from capturing sunlight
The amount of solar power generated will also change at different times of the year. Our solar analytics show that solar output tends to peak in December and January, when WA has the longest and usually least cloudy days. After summer, solar output declines steadily over the cooler months but tends to pick up again in October as the sunnier weather returns.
If you invest in a solar monitoring system, this could help you track the performance of your solar PV system and link this with the direction and angle of your roof and the local weather, to alert you to any performance issues.
Use your solar analytics to discover the best ways to use solar power at home
Once you know how and when you're using your solar power and any stored energy from a battery (if you have one), you might be able to make changes or experiment with different ways of using electricity at your home or business.
You might already use tools such as Synergy My Account to work out your electricity usage patterns. The benefit of using data from a solar power monitoring system is that you can generally view your electricity use and solar production data in real time along with your historical data and trends.
Here are some ways you might use your solar analytics to change your electricity usage habits:
- Your ‘always on’ power is generally the minimum amount of power your home or business draws from the grid – often this is what your home uses in the middle of the night. This is the level of power consumption that you never drop below and reveals how big your ‘standby loads’ are, helping you to identify appliances that draw lots of power even when you’re not using them. After seeing this data, you might be inspired to switch all of your unnecessary appliances or office equipment off at the end of each day.
- You could discover which appliances you might be able to start using in the daytime so they use solar energy if its available instead of grid power, increasing your self-consumption ratio. For example, you might switch to using your washing machine, dishwasher or other large appliances during the middle of the day, when your solar PV system is likely to be generating the most electricity. If you're not usually home during the day, you may be able to use a timer feature on your appliances to tap into the solar power your solar PV system generates.
Using your solar data can help you to become a solar super user and really make the most of the solar power your solar PV system generates.
Get expert help with any solar power generation issues
If you think there's an issue with your solar panels, inverter or battery system, based on what your dashboard data is showing, always call your supplier for advice. Don't take on the problem yourself. It's much safer to stay off the roof, away from your solar PV system and enlist the help of qualified solar technicians; trying to fix any issues with your solar PV system yourself may cause issues with product warranties or damage to your system, so best to leave it to the professionals.
You might also find that your product warranties or performance guarantees include this kind of technical help for a certain period after your solar PV system has been installed.
Using solar dashboard data from a solar power monitoring system is just one way that you can use technology to make smarter energy choices. Explore more ways that you could take advantage of the latest tech to make the most of your solar panels.