What is the difference between panel and system level solar monitoring?
While there are multiple choices when considering which a solar monitoring system, there are to main types: panel level monitoring and system level monitoring.
Installing a PV system is not only about placing solar panels on your roof and hoping that your home battery is saving you money, but it is also about making sure the investment you expended on solar was worth it and that your system is performing as expected. The only way to do this is to install a solar monitoring system.
Besides, you can take a look at some interesting facts like how much CO2 was avoided with your solar production and how much money are you saving.
A solar monitoring system is a set of electronic devices that allow you to interact with your PV installation to check daily production and consumption of energy. There are multiple choices when considering which monitoring system to install. However, they can be divided into two principal types: panel level monitoring and system-level monitoring.
System Level Monitoring (SLM)
An SLM allows you to check the performance of your array but also lets you visualise your consumption patterns and helps you determine if you need to make some changes in your use of electricity.
These solar monitoring devices are often sold as part of your PV installation, but can also be purchased as third-party products that focus only on providing monitoring services to solar systems.
One great brand that sells this feature integrated with your inverter is Fronius. The brand includes the Fronius Datamanager 2.0 as part of its SnapINverter solution, which is the centre of communications for several applications.
The device connects the inverter to the internet via LAN or WLAN and sends information registered and measured by the inverter to the Fronius Solar Web online portal which can be accessed from any computer.
The Fronius Solar Web is a complete resource that allows the customer to check energy balances of the inverter, considering PV, grid, and batteries.
For installers, it is also useful since they will be able to check multiple installations, download monthly reports and check interesting electrical parameters like currents, voltage, DC and apparent power, as well as battery state of charge. You can take a close look at the Solar Web by taking a demo here.
The other option for SLM is a third party and Solar Analytics is a great choice.
The brand sells a small device known as the Solar Smart Monitor that is connected in your meter box right next to other circuit breakers.
The hardware is connected via 3G and can monitor single-phase or three-phase installations, redirecting all the information from the PV system to their website.
Solar Analytics has a user-friendly interface that allows you to easily navigate through multiple features. Access with your account and you will be able to watch:
- Live Monitor: Instantaneous solar production (30 seconds)
- Consumption Page: With solar energy self-consumption and energy imported and exported to the grid across the day.
- Performance Page: As a third-party company they have their own solar estimations based on their own algorithms, and they let you know if your system output is corresponding with your PV array data. Very interesting feature!
- Battery: Maybe a unique feature of Solar Analytics is that based on your monthly consumption and production of PV energy, the software calculates how much energy capacity in batteries should be installed to cover the remaining energy needs, along with estimated costs for battery. Amazing function.
You can learn further details here.
Panel Level Monitoring (PLM)
Also known as module-level monitoring, PLM is directly related to module-level power electronics (MLPE) solutions of the solar industry.
The Enphase solution is known as ‘My Enlighten’ and represents a cloud where all information is uploaded via WLAN using the Envoy device, which is the centre of communications in the Enphase system.
My Enlighten shows instantaneous and historical energy outputs, power ratings and the current weather.
It also shows 15-minute intervals of production across the day and allows the addition of system details like data and photos that can be shared via social media.
The software shows a calendar over the year with production patterns based on darker or brighter blue colours that make reference to lower or higher solar production respectively.
Another amusing feature is that the software shows fun energy equivalents like how many hours a refrigerator could work with PV production, or how many trees you would have to plant to offset the same amount of CO2.
Maybe the most interesting feature and also the principal difference between a PLM and an SLM is that the PLM shows values and data for each individual panel in the array.
With PLM you are able to check the performance at a module level, which easily allows you or your solar installer to rapidly detect any possible failure in the PV array and to check if any new shade is affecting your PV production on some modules.
This feature is incomparable and priceless when compared to SLM and is perhaps one of the biggest advantages of installing an MLPE solution. The PLM can do everything that SLM does, but on a module, string and system level. So really, there’s no comparison, especially for the solar installer.
However, if you chose not to install an MLPE solution there is no need to worry, system monitoring like Solar Analytics often presents everything that typical homeowners would need or care to know about their PV system. Simply, if your SLM detects any failure, call your solar installer and let them do the rest.
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