DIY Solar Monitoring
So you have all the solar panels installed on your roof, your wiring is completed and the system is powered on but are you done yet? No, there is one more important thing to do. You have to hook up the PV system monitoring.
You solar will work without monitoring but the monitoring is how you know it is still working. In general, solar doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, but once in a while, things go wrong. A breaker could trip, someone could turn off the solar disconnect by mistake, an inverter can have a fault that prevents it from working until it is reset, a squirrel could chew through a wire on the roof – you get the idea. Without a monitoring system, you may not realize you have a problem until you get an electric bill as high as they used to be before you installed the solar. With monitoring, you can catch a problem and fix it well before you rack up a high bill with the electric company.
To install the monitoring, the first step is to get your solar hooked up to the internet. Fortunately, most solar monitoring is pretty easy to install these days so you don’t have to be an IT genius to accomplish this. When purchasing your inverter (or microinverter) equipment make sure the distributor knows you intend to install the monitoring so they can make sure they include all the parts you will need. These parts will also include instructions and if they don’t you can easily find them on the manufacturer’s website.
The one thing you will want to do during the installation process is capture the serial numbers of each microinverter or DC optimizer in your system before you install the solar panels over them. They usually have stickers that you can pull off and stick to the layout in your solar plans (or any piece of paper). This creates a map so that if one of these devices fails, you know right where it is. Without this map, you can spend a lot of time hunting through your system trying to find the optimizer or microinverter has failed.
The rest of the magic happens after the system is installed. One of the biggest challenges can be that your wifi signal is too weak at the inverter or system monitor location. This can be easily solved by purchasing a wifi extender and installing it between the router and solar device. Many of these just plug into any outlet between the router and the solar monitoring device and boost the wifi signal so that it will be strong enough in the location you need it.
Most solar monitoring installations are now done through smart phone apps. You can download the app that is specific to your inverter manufacturer from the same app store you get all your games from. You will follow a simple set of instructions are likely to include entering your wifi username and password. If you don’t know those, they are probably on a label on your router. Just take a picture of that label or write the information down so you have it handy before you start. You also may be able to make the connection using the WPS feature on your router (this generally means you will push a button on your router and it will look for new devices and allow them on the network). All of this will be in the instructions so don’t panic if you haven’t done this sort of thing before.
Once you have your inverter system talking to the internet, you will have to log in to the inverter manufacturer’s website and set yourself up with an account. This is as simple as hitting the “create new account” button and following the instructions. You will have to enter the serial number of your inverter or monitoring device so it matches your user account with your solar power system so you aren’t monitoring some the solar on some other random person’s house in a different state. Just take a picture of that serial number or write it down before you go online so you have it ready when you are prompted for it.
The final step to actually monitor the system. Most manufacturer’s have a way for you to set up an email alert if your system isn’t producing the expected amount of power or an individual DC optimizer or microinverter stops working. You should still log in and look once in a while, but if you have the email alerts, you don’t have to log in as regularly.
If you get stuck at any point in the process of installing the monitoring, there is help. The inverter manufacturer will have technical support or if you purchase from a good distributor like Gogreensolar.com, they can also help you get set up.