Tips To Help You Monitor Your Home Solar Systems Performance
Whether you already have rooftop solar panels or are considering going solar, youll want to make sure your panels are working at their full capacity. While solar panels are incredibly durable and are designed to offer many years of worry-free performance, there are ways to make sure youre getting the most out of your panels.1
Here are five things you can do to ensure your home solar panels are functioning as they should so you can keep running on the sun:
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How Much Will Solar Panels Save Me
The exact amount you could save depends on several things, including the size of your solar installation and the way you use the energy you generate.
Calculations can be a bit tricky but lets assume that the average UK home has a 3.5kW installation on its roof. This will cost around £4,8005 . We estimate that a 3.5kW panel in southern England will return about £290 to your hip pocket in the first year, and deliver an approximate 5% rate of return over the 25 year lifetime of the installation.
The amount you save will depend on where you live in the UK , how much generated electricity your home uses, and how much you pay for electricity. Many suppliers offer calculators to help you do the maths. Just remember, solar panels last for 25 to 30 years, so theyre a great investment!
Typically, the more electricity the system can generate, the more it costs but the more it could also save. Larger systems are usually more cost-effective than smaller systems, generating up to 4kWp .
How Does A Solar Panel System Work
Here’s an example of how a home solar energy installation works. First, sunlight hits a solar panel on the roof. The panels convert the energy to DC current, which flows to an inverter. The inverter converts the electricity from DC to AC, which you can then use to power your home. It’s beautifully simple and clean, and it’s getting more efficient and affordable all the time.
However, what happens if you’re not home to use the electricity your solar panels are generating every sunny day? And what happens at night when your solar system is not generating power in real-time? Don’t worry, you may still benefit through a system called “net metering.”*
A typical grid-tied PV system, during peak daylight hours, frequently produces more energy than one customer needs, so that excess energy is fed back into the grid for use elsewhere. The customer who is eligible for net metering may receive credits for the excess energy produced and can use those credits to draw from the grid at night or on cloudy days. A net meter records the energy sent compared to the energy received from the grid. Read our article on net metering and how it works.
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Common Factors That Will Reduce Your Solar Power Output
Heat High temperatures reduce the efficiency of solar panels. Peacock says a system can lose about 10% of rated power on a 25 degree day, and more if it’s hotter. A breeze cooling them down will improve it.
Solar panel orientation and tilting Panels facing due north will generate more than those facing east or west, and they should be optimally tilted. A well-designed and installed system will minimise these losses.
System losses Cabling loses about 2% of power while the inverter can lose 3-4% of power in the conversion from DC to AC power.
Clouds, haze Output drops with reduced solar radiation.
Dirt, shading Tree sap, bird droppings, shade, dust and grime can reduce output.
Season It goes without saying that there’ll be more production in summer with more available sunshine hours and less in winter.
Time of day When you measure the solar power makes a difference. Midday is when it’s highest.
How Does A Solar Energy System Work At Night
Solar panels need sunlight to generate electricity, but we all know that the sun doesn’t shine at night. To service your electrical loads after dark, a grid-tied solar panel system – the most common type of solar system – relies on power imported from your utility company.
Thankfully, theres a good chance you wont have to pay for much, or any, of the electricity you import at night. This is the case if you live in a state with 1:1 net metering, which is currently 38 out of 50 states. Here, the surplus power your system exported during the day is used to cancel out the cost of your electricity imports at night.
This video explains how a grid-tied solar system works by exporting energy during the day and importing energy at night.
Learn more:What is net metering and how does it work?
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Extreme Hot Or Cold Temperatures
Solar panels work by absorbing the light from the sun not the heat from the sun and turning it into usable electricity. PV Semiconductors offer more resistance in extreme heat, making them less efficient when the modules should be most efficient. Thankfully, the amount of resistance is small, at most, reducing efficiency by about 10 percent. As for cold weather, solar panels will function normally as long as they are receiving the proper amount of sunlight.
Which Side Of The Panel Faces The Sun
In order for your solar panels to work as effectively as possible, they should face south so that sunlight hits them from a 90-degree angle. This helps ensure maximum efficiency and power output, even if your panels are located in a place where sunlight is only available at certain times of the day.
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Step : The Converted Electricity Powers Your Home
Once the solar energy has been converted from DC to AC electricity, it runs through your electrical panel and is distributed within the home to power your appliances. It works exactly the same way as the electrical power generated through the grid by your electric utility company, so nothing within the home needs to change. Since you still remain connected to your traditional power company, you can automatically draw additional electricity to supplement any solar shortages from the grid.
View Your System’s Data
There are two ways to access the information about a modern solar PV system’s output from the inverter on the digital screen if it has one, and through an online account connected to your inverter.
The online data and graphs are more detailed and easier to understand and compare with your systems’ expected performance. They may give you monthly and annual kWh output.
What do those numbers on the inverter’s screen mean?
The data on the inverter’s screen isn’t as useful, but it should be able to give you three figures:
- The amount of kilowatts of power being supplied to your house and/or the grid at that point in time .
- The amount of kilowatt hours of energy it’s produced so far that day . You should check this when the sun goes down.
- The amount of kilowatt hours of energy it’s produced in total since it was installed .
TIP: Power or energy? Power is measured in watts or kilowatts . Energy is measured in kilowatt hours . If your solar panels continuously output 5kW of power for a whole 60 minutes, you will have produced 5kWh of energy.
Accessing your solar output data online
Most good quality inverters offer easy-to-read graphs and data about your system’s daily, monthly and annual energy production by logging into an app or web portal. However, it won’t tell you about you energy consumption on site.
We found that 32% of people track the performance of their system using the online interface for the inverter.
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How Do Solar Panels Cells Work
A solar panels photovoltaic cells are sandwiched layers of semi-conducting materials, usually made of silicon. Each layer has different electronic properties, which energise when hit by photons from sunlight, to create an electric field. This is known as the photoelectric effect, and this creates the current needed to produce electricity.
One solar panel typically consists of around 30 cells . It can generate around 300W of power in full sunlight, depending on brightness, size of panel and other things like temperature.
The panels generate a direct current of electricity, which then passes through an inverter to convert it into an alternating current. This charge can then be funnelled into the National Grid, or used by any home or business with solar panels.
The Path Of Current Without A Battery Bank
Without a battery bank, the AC current will flow to your homes electrical panel and then to the rest of your home as you need it. Any extra electricity will be sent to the grid where it can be used by your neighbors. The biggest advantage to the electricity being sent back to the grid is net metering. We talked about it above, but net metering is when your electric company meters the amount of electricity that you give back to the grid and deducts it from your electric bill. In the best-case scenario, youll receive a slight refund for the electricity you provide to the grid in surplus.
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Solar Batteries For Off
A home wouldnt be able to be off-grid without a solar battery, but you also wouldnt be able to use your solar energy at night if you dont install a solar battery bank. So, while most homes arent able to go completely off-grid because of restrictions from city zoning laws, they can essentially be off-grid by relying almost entirely on the solar energy created by their solar panels and not the power company.
But, if your home is out in the middle of the desert or in the mountains, then solar batteries will allow you to take your home completely off-grid. It is, however, important that homeowners in this situation limit their use of electricity. If you drain the battery too far down, you could run out of power until the sun comes back out again.
Step : A Net Meter Measures Usage
On cloudy days and overnight, your solar shingles or panels may not be able to capture enough sunlight to use for energy conversely, in the middle of the day when nobody is home, they may collect surplus energymore than you need to operate your home. Thats why a meter is used to measure the electricity flowing in both directionsto and from your home.Your utility company will often provide credits for any surplus power you send back to the grid. This is known as net metering.
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Option : Solar Battery System
A solar battery bank consists of lead acid or lithium batteries that are used to store your excess solar electricity. The system includes a charge controller that monitors your batteries and charges them at the correct rate, preventing them from overcharging.
If your batteries are full, the excess electricity will be sent into the grid .
For a long time, lead acid batteries were the preferred choice of solar homeowners because the technology of lead acid is mature and the products are widely available, which helps to bring down the cost. Itâs used in many applications, such as car batteries, deep cycle marine and RV batteries, and golf carts.
However, the price of lithium batteries has plummeted in the past decade. Lithium ion batteries are used in laptops, cell phones, electric cars, and are now being deployed in massive battery banks by electric utilities. These utility-scale batteries are cost-effective enough that they are now competitive with natural gas, and are starting to displace gas turbine peaker plants.
Because of these market forces, lithium ion is now often lower cost and the preferred technology for home solar batteries. Still, lead acid batteries remain popular, especially among the DIY crowd who often seek out cheap deals for golf cart batteries and other types of deep-cycle batteries.
One reason that lead acid is still attractive is because the upfront cost is lower than lithium-ion. However, lead acid has a number of disadvantages:
Solutions For High Levels Of Solar Power
Getting to high levels of PV usage is desirable, given all the benefits that solar offers, but it also presents challenges. Those challenges are not insurmountable, however upgrades to technology and updates to how electricity is bought and sold can help make increasing levels of solar penetration possible.
One challenge for rooftop solar is that having power flowing from customers, instead of to them, is a relatively new situation for utilities. Neighborhoods where many homes have adopted solar can approach a point at which the rooftop systems can produce more than the neighborhood can use during the day. Yet feeder lines that serve such neighborhoods customers may not be ready to handle flows of electricity in the opposite direction.
Large-scale PV projects face their own challenges in that they can be located far away from urban centers, often requiring transmission lines to carry the electricity to where it will actually be used. This requires investment in building the lines themselves and results in line losses as some of the energy is converted into heat and lost.
Conversely, on particularly sunny days with high amounts of solar on the grid, if the output from non-renewable energy power plants is not reduced to allow for the solar generation, electricity supplies could exceed demand. Both situations can lead to instability on the grid.
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So How Do Solar Panels Work To Generate Electricity
Ready for your second science lesson? Each PV cell is basically a sandwich made up of two slices of semi-conducting material such as silicon. When light interacts with a silicon cell, it prompts electrons to be set in motion which initiate a flow of electric current known as the photovoltaic effect.
You got distracted thinking about BLTs, didnt you? Dont worry, it happens. Lets get back on topic and break down how it works:
Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel
Image source: Renogy
This flexible solar panel is both durable and affordable. Claiming to weigh less than 70% of a conventional solar panel and only a tenth of an inch tall, it will not weigh down your RV, camper, or motorhome at all.
The 100-watt, 12-volt panel can withstand snow and wind and can be easily installed with adhesives or screwed into a roof if necessary. It weighs a mere 4.2bs and has an efficiency of 14.9%. Renogy recommends contacting a local contractor for installation ideas.
Renogy offers a competitive 25-year power output warranty and a 5 year and 10-year efficiency rate at 95% and 90%, respectively. The material and workmanship warranty is only 5 years, due to the high-stress situations that flexible panels endure. Because of the way theyre typically used, theyre more likely to break – whereas rigid solar panels generally have a 25-year workmanship warranty because they are built to last.
All of this means that if your Renogy panels make it to 25 years, their power output and efficiency will be covered, not the material. Because flexible panels are so cheap, we would not even bother calling in about a material warranty. Some reputable companies, like those listed below, should make it an easy process.
But most of the time, the hoops you need to jump through to prove that you deserve the warranty is not worth the cost of simply buying a new panel.
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Excess Solar Power Is Exported To The Grid
If you have solar panels installed, its common to generate more solar power than your total electrical loads require . When this happens, the excess energy flows out from the home to the electric grid via your utility meter.
The utility meter will need to be a special net meter, which can keep a separate record of what electricity you export to the grid and what you consume from the grid.
Find out how much you can save with solar
Choosing Solar Panels For Your Home
There are many different options when it comes to what panels or solar energy systems you choose to install on your home. The first thing to note is that solar installers only offer specific amounts. In most cases, this means that your choices will be limited, making it even more important that you choose a reputable solar installer for your home.
When you choose solar panels for your home, what you should look for most is the efficiency rate and life expectancy. You want the panels to produce a high amount of electricity and also to continue producing a high amount of electricity for several years. In some cases, the panels production will decline rapidly as they age, making them less effective and valuable. At Sun Badger, we only install solar panels that are guaranteed to produce at 80% of their capacity after 20 years. That means your solar investment will last for years to come, and even after a longer period of time, youll still be getting electricity from the panels.
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