For anyone interested in installing a new solar system, or if you already have one in place, there are likely still some questions about how your system will perform once it’s actually up and working. You might not have heard of solar monitoring before, but it will help you answer questions like:
Because solar power is a huge investment it is important to make sure that you are getting a good return on this investment. Many people are also interested in how solar power works and to see exactly how their system is performing.
Let’s check out some of the main advantages you’ll have by adding solar monitoring to your home system:
It’s possible that a small monitoring panel came with your system by default, but the most basic systems do not provide the best data. One great feature of an advanced system is that you’ll often have access to live data about your performance. This means that instead of seeing updates every 10, 15, or 30 minutes you’ll see updates every few seconds.
Once you’re able to see these frequent updates, you’ll be able to clearly see how things affect your system by looking at shade during the day, turning off appliances, and seeing the real-time effects of rain and snowfall.
More frequent data also smooths out your data reports and means that the analysis will be more meaningful because it will have access to many more data points.
When you are picking out your solar panel system it will likely have some amount of expected solar production attached to it. Your installer will use averages from your area or actual sunlight readings along with your system size to determine how much energy it should be producing on an average day. The number that they arrive at is extremely important because it will determine how much you will be saving with your system on a monthly and yearly basis.
Depending on how you structured your contract, your system’s production may even be guaranteed. In this situation, it would be extremely important for you to know exactly what your system is producing to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth!
If you have access to the complete details of your solar system then you will be able to see ways to improve your performance. Say, for instance, that you see a couple of the panels on the left side of your roof are starting to produce less power during certain parts of the day.
You could use this real-time data to check and see what the cause might be. Perhaps some tree limbs are starting to grow over your roof. Maybe they are getting dirty for some specific reason. Either way, a monitoring system will allow you to capture these performance increases in your system.
With any solar system, your production will be highest during the times of day in which the sun is brightest and aiming directly at your panels. It is during this time that you’ll want to time any high-consumption activities, such as pool pumps or recharging an electric vehicle, to coincide with your peak energy production. On the other side of the coin, you’ll be able to see when your production is lowest and try to avoid high-energy activities during that time of day.
Most systems come with advanced troubleshooting and diagnostics features. These will show you when a piece of equipment has failed, possibly avoiding a long period of time with lost production. Something as simple as a pest chewing through your wires could take ages to diagnose and locate without some type of solar monitoring software.
As we begin to look at different options in the solar monitoring space, we’ll see that there is a huge amount of variation in what exactly each company is offering. Some systems want to maximize the amount of customizability while others want to offer the simplest process possible and everything in between. Here are a few ways in which your solar monitoring systems could vary:
There are lots of companies in the solar industry that offer some type of monitoring service. These services are either built into their own hardware, offered as an add-on piece of hardware, or simply plug into existing systems to provide information. Because of the wide-ranging differences between the systems, they all offer something a little different in terms of features, pricing, and convenience.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular options for solar monitoring companies:
SolarEdge has been around since 2006 and was founded and incorporated in Delaware, going public in 2015. They exist primarily as a secondary equipment provider for solar panel systems by selling power optimizers and inverters. Their SolarEdge PV Monitoring Platform is built into their hardware and it is offered along with the others as a complete package. This would allow you to take solar panels from other companies and couple it with the unique features of the SolarEdge system.
This company has put a lot of effort into creating an optimized, all-in-one type of solution for your monitoring needs. Just keep in mind that you will need to be using their other equipment to effectively use their monitoring system. Let’s take a look at the major feature set:
Take a look at a home owner’s experience and review with a SolarEdge system:
Enphase has been around since 2006 and has proven to be a major player in the solar energy space. In 2008 they actually introduced the world’s first microinverter system and since that time the technology has been an integral part of their total energy strategy. They go one step farther than SolarEdge by seeking to offer a complete, all-in-one package that includes everything you need to create an efficient and tightly monitored system for your home.
Their hardware solution consists of Enphase microinverters that will connect to each solar panel in the system. All of those modules will then connect to an Enphase Envoy – basically, the hub used to combine the data from each panel and feed it to the monitoring system and the Enphase AC Battery. From that point, you can access system data from your home or over their cloud-based software called MyEnlighten. Let’s take a look at MyEnlighten’s feature set:
If you are looking for a complete, easy-to-use system that allows for great mobile access to advanced monitoring features, Enphase’s MyEnlighten looks like it could be a good option.
Below is a video of an Enphase customer going through the software and experience:
As opposed to the two companies we’ve looked at so far, Locus Energy doesn’t produce its own proprietary inverters, batteries, or optimizers. Instead, they produce a piece of equipment that can tie-in to a variety of other installations and provide data on their output. The main drawback to sourcing data in this way is that there is no way to monitor performance from individual modules from their products alone. Their solution is meant to provide general data on your system and doesn’t dig too deeply into the finer details. Let’s look at a few features:
Here’s a video of the software in action:
Founded in 2007, AlsoEnergy is another company that focuses on providing a tie-in solution to either previously installed systems or to compliment a new build. They developed their own software, PowerTrack, and then added DECK Monitoring to their product line after acquiring the company that created it in 2013. This allows for both an option between advanced-level and an essentials-only software for your installation. Here’s what both options offer:
In addition to this, their individual options offer:
After looking at some of the most popular options, it’s easy to see how much variation there is in the solar monitoring market. Your final choice will depend on exactly what it is you’re looking to get out of your system, but we think that SolarEdge takes the win here for their overall feature set and convenience. Although there will be more equipment to get up and running, having access to all of the information that their system provides could be worth it to many buyers, enabling your system to perform at its expected level.
With SolarEdge, you’ll get a complete system to couple with the solar panels of your choice and you won’t have to worry about assembling a hodge-podge of different options. You’ll get access to live, visual data, historical analysis, troubleshooting alerts and diagnostics, and much more.
SolarEdge looks to be a great option for anyone looking into maximizing their solar panel system.
Images courtesy of SolarEdge; Enphase; Locus; AlsoEnergy.
Well, yes… and no. Ask yourself this:
If you won’t be the actual owner of your solar system – but merely benefit from the solar power itself through credits that reduce your utility bill – then there is really no reason for you to have to monitor its performance.
Fossil fuels normally run around the clock by combusting carbon like gas or coal – assuming you will be able to keep shipping a steady stream of gas or coal by pipeline or rail to the power plant and keep on throwing fuel on the fire, of course.
This is a great question, but the answer depends on several factors: the amount of sunlight that hits the panel, the size of the panel, and the efficiency of the panel at converting sunlight into electricity.
We’ll cover the details of each factor listed above, but first a little more about solar panel ratings and how to calculate solar output where you live.Continue reading
Here are your most common questions answered. Feel free to submit more and we’ll add them to the list!
Roof Related Questions
Prices, Savings, Incentives
This is the question, but it’s the same as asking “how much do cars cost”? What kind do you want? How much do you want to save?
There are numerous factors that go into the cost of a solar array for your home, including the state you live in, the size of your electricity bill, the direction your roof faces (South vs. North), and so on.
But this is the primary reason why solar calculators have limited value: every additional factor that gets added in the calculator can dramatically change its accuracy. In many cases it’s going to be far more effective to get a qualified solar installer to review your details to come up with a hard cost estimate.
See our post: How long do solar panels last?
Many customers wonder about ‘new solar technology’, but actually the technology was developed in the 1950’s, and has been consistently improved upon. Initially solar panels were mainly used by NASA, so the fundamentals are strong enough to support satellites and astronauts.
Solar panels like the ones that will go on your roof are designed, tested in labs and real life to withstand rain, snow, hail, wind and of course the sun. The predecessors of modern solar panels made in the 1970’s are still producing power. Today’s panels also benefit from 60+ years of development and improvement!
Bottom line: All panels are guaranteed to be producing power in 25-years, and most installers will offer a 10-25 warranty on workmanship and a power production guarantee.
There are indeed some ways that a ‘ball-park’ price can be given through an online tool, however these are often not accurate because no two homes are the same. If you answer 5-10 questions, and you’re guessing at some or all of them, then the answer you get back is going to be very wrong. Reputable solar companies use sophisticated software, years of experience and take into account the complicated utility bill structures, finance options, etc. to give you a customized proposal that is specifically tailored to your home.
Given the complexity, wouldn’t you rather have an expert’s opinion? We recommend speaking with a couple of installers to make sure that you understand your options. All good solar companies will happily take the time to answer your questions.
You may be surprised to learn that some states – not especially known for the amount of sun they get – have the best payback rates for solar panels due to the presence of local incentives.
Solar panels don’t necessarily work better in sunnier areas (hotter panels can be less efficient). The largest factors in determining the payback of a solar array is the cost of electricity in your area and the presence of incentives, tax credits, or other programs designed to make solar more affordable.
About 60% of roofs are suitable for solar. If your roof is not suitable, you might be able to place the solar installation elsewhere on your property.
There are many variables in determining if a roof is suitable for a solar system, but the three main ones are: orientation, shading and roof condition.
Orientation: your roof should be facing South, West or East.
Shading: solar panels need direct sunlight for best performance, but some shade during parts of the day is OK.
Roof structure and condition can be hard to assess, but generally speaking if your roof is in good condition and your home is less that 25 years old you should be fine.
On average, you’ll need at least 300-500 square feet of roof space that is facing the correct direction, gets good sunlight and is in good condition.Complex roofs may require a more custom design, however current micro-inverter technology should allow for a successful design and installation. A qualified installer will be able to help you with the specifics of this.
Check out our post on the topic: how does roof position affect solar panels?
Current solar mounting hardware and techniques should cause no more harm or risk to your roof than any other ventilation duct or roof penetration.
You can ask local installers: ‘what is your method of waterproofing any penetrations you make?’
When you install a solar array it does add quite a bit of equipment on top of the roof: the entire scaffolding for the panels, wiring, etc. This means that any roofing projects should be taken care of before the panels go up, if possible.
Having solar panels installed raises the value of your home, saves you money, and gives a modern look to your house.
The effect of the installation to the roof is minimal and when installed, panels don’t create noise, not even in windy conditions.
Besides the traditional blue color, there is a possibility to choose black panels for those who desire an appealing technological look while maximizing efficiency.
In a word: no. Solar is quickly becoming mainstream technology and over the last 7-years or so, the price of solar panels has fallen by 80%! The biggest benefit of solar is that you can lock in years of predictable and affordable power (the sun’s energy is free after all), and the biggest hurdle has been costly equipment.
While it is likely that prices will continue to decline slowly, a much bigger impact on the final price you pay are the incentives. The biggest and most effective incentive is currently available only until the end of 2018.
Thought you’d never ask! The main savings from installing solar is replacing your expensive and volatile electricity bill with a new source of more stable and cheaper power. Your power bill is rising each year (and sometimes by large amounts!), and most estimates calculate that your bill will be 2-3x more expensive in 20-years. So when you install solar you are signing up for cheaper power for a 20-year period. You are eligible to receive incentives to help reduce the initial cost (see below) and then solar power off-sets the bulk of your utility bill.
This off-set is known as “Net-Metering.” You receive a credit for power produced from solar, typically during the day when prices are high. Then at night, when we are using most of the electricity you are charged normal retail rates. During the course of the year you will average out that your credit offsets the most expensive parts of your bill – saving you money!
This is a great question, and definitely a concern for most homeowners that go solar. There are two sides to this question:
– Firstly you’ll want to make sure that you go solar with an experienced and reputable company that will properly install the solar panels on your roof. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Solar installations do not cause any long-term damage to your roof when properly installed.
– Secondly, now that we know the solar will be properly installed, there have been many studies, by the National Appraisal Institute, Wells Fargo and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs that suggest solar adds significant value to a home – often the added value in equity is more than the cost of installing solar in the first place!
So in simple terms, solar increases the value of your home and can help reduce the time to sell your home.
The 30% solar ITC (Federal or Investement Tax Credit) has been extended till the end of 2018!
The ITC will now continue at 30% untill the end of 2018 for both homeowners and businesses, and then step down over the next three years to 25%, then 20%, then 15%, until it is just 10% in 2022. The ITC is essentially a 30% discount on the cost of going solar.
See our full article on the extension of the solar Investment Tax Credit.
Like everything else in solar, it depends on you circumstances – credit score, available cash, size of solar array, and the specific financing options available to you.
It also depends on whether you want to save more money now or over the lifetime of the system. Buying outright can earn you a lot more if you’re willing to wait for it, but both options will save you money.
We’ve written a full article on this, please take a look: Advantages of Paying Cash for Solar Systems
There are three major types of incentives: Federal, State and Utility/Local:
– The main Federal incentive in the 30% Investment Tax Credit. If you lease your solar system, this is factored into your lease payments, so you take advantage of the savings from day one. If you own your system, then 30% of the value of the system will be credited as a tax incentive (e.g. you system has a value of $30,000, then you will receive a $9,000 tax credit, which means you must have at least that much eligible tax liability after all of your other deductions!* Speak with your accountant to understand how this could benefit you and if you qualify.)
– State incentives vary from up front rebates to additional tax incentives. Currently many states offers both up front incentives and additional tax incentives.
– Some Utilities, Counties or Cities offer rebates as well. This will vary greatly from region to region, so it’s best to ask your local installer, although there is some information here.
Ah, to lease or buy a solar system – this is a great debate. Ultimately both have their pros and cons, and here we try to break this down for you. If you choose to own a system, it will likely require $20,000 – $50,000 up front (you’ll get 30% back as a tax credit on the current tax year) and you may have more long-term financial benefits, but the risk and cost are yours to manage. With leasing a system you will have more immediate benefits, including immediate savings and no maintenance worries, but you will forgo some of the long-term financial benefits of ownership.
OWN/SOLAR LOAN: If you can afford to a own a system (either cash or loan) and your simple-payback is shorter than the period of workmanship warranty, and you don’t mind concerning yourself with maintenance issues, then ownership might be a good option.
LEASE / SOLAR PPA: If you like the idea of 15-30% savings on your electricity costs for years to come without the risk or complications of ownership, or you don’t want to invest the money or don’t have the tax liability, then leasing might be a good option.
BOTTOM LINE: Most reputable installers will be able to talk through a couple of solar financing options with you, so you can see in more specific details the cost-benefits of both models.
There are four general requirements for a lease program, and there may be some specific requirements from your local utility that you will need to clarify with your local installer. That being said, generally speaking:
– Leases are offered in these states (* denotes broad lease coverage): Arizona*, California*, Colorado, Connecticut*, Delaware, Hawaii*, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland*, Massachusetts*, Missouri, Nevada*, New Jersey*, New Mexico, New York*, Oregon, Pennsylvania* & Texas
– Typically you must have an average electricity bill of $100 or more.
– You must own your home, and plan on living there for at least 2 more years.
– You must have good to excellent credit. Most programs require a FICO score of at least 650.
And of course you have to want to go solar!
In many of the above states with Leasing or PPA programs, it is very likely that you will be able to go solar with $0 down. You will need to speak with a solar installer to confirm this.
Roughly speaking, most people see about a 15-30% savings per month on average as compared with their electricity bill. This amounts to an average of roughly $40 in savings per month.
Great question. Most providers offer essentially the same three options:
– You can buy the system at ‘fair market price’, which would theoretically be pretty low at that point.
– You can have the system removed by the original installation company
– You can extend the term of the lease period.
It’s always nice to think of a ‘silver bullet’ technology, or massive short-term improvement, but solar technology is actually pretty established (and boring), so massive changes in the short-term are unlikely.
The cost and efficiency improvements are incremental, and mainly do to small efficiency gains and manufacturing improvements.
After all, there are lots of PhD’s in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering and Industrial Design working on this all the time!
Add to that – your technology has to stand the test of time, so any ‘revolutionary’ new technology will have to be proven before you want to take the chance on it.
Solar panels are already revolutionary technology that is ‘better technology.’
Solar panels do require sunlight to make energy, however with light or intermittent clouds, your system will continue to produce energy. If there are thick, dark clouds, your system might still produce energy, but it may also temporarily shut down and automatically turn on when their is adequate sunlight.
Solar energy has been massively adopted in Germany (not your sunny vacation destination) and also US states like New York and Massachusetts (even more than Florida!).
Solar energy works great when there are cold or crisp sunny days. Of course, there are fewer hours of sunlight in the winter, but winter can be just fine for producing solar energy.
Which brings us to the question of snow. Snow does affect solar production when the panels are totally covered, however there are two factors that make this only a minor issue:
1. Most installations are installed at an angle, so the snow will melt and slide off.
2. Because the solar panels are dark, and snow actually allows a lot of light to pass through it, the snow will melt quickly off your panels (think about how a sunny patch of your driveway or the road is quickly free of snow.
All solar panels that will be offered to you work in essentially the same way: they all convert the sun’s rays directly into DC power. Solar panels consistently make small improvements in efficiency, but the biggest benefit of solar technology is that it’s time-tested and proven; that the technology lasts and continues to produce power for 25 years at least.
There are three main categories of Solar PV panels (or modules):
1. Mono-Crystalline: These are the most ‘efficient’ at turning sunlight into energy. These panels will require the least amount of roof area required to produce 1000 kWh. They are often a darker blue, and are also typically used to produce the effect of an ‘all black’ solar panel. They are also the most expensive.
2. Poly-Crystalline: These panels are very similar to Mono-Crystalline panels in their basic form, but are slightly less efficient. The cells are often a brighter blue, and may appear more ‘speckled’, although they are also often available with a black frame or black background (technical term ‘back-sheet’). These are the most widely used solar panels as they have a good blend of efficiency and affordability. They are less expensive than mono-crystalline panels.
3. Thin-film: These panels are often not made with silicon wafers, but made by applying a very, very thin layer of a special ‘paint’ of very fine particles of specific metals. This technology is the relative ‘new-comer’ on the block and has the benefit of a very even coloring. Often the cost of the panel is the lowest, but the most amount of roof space is required and sometimes installation labor can offset the savings. These panels have some additional benefits, but are least widely used in residential applications because they require more roof area.
Check out our post on the most efficient solar panels.
This is a great and relevant question and topic. Solar, like many of industries, has become a truly global industry, and like many other manufacturing industries, China has taken a general ‘lead’ in terms of volume of products manufactured. Take a look at your phone, your computer, your clothes, etc. So, while I support the growth of the American economy as much as anyone, it’s difficult to say that you should purchase American made solar panels.
In terms of job creation, installing solar and helping your friends go solar will create far more jobs than simply purchasing American made solar panels – so that’s the good news!
Then there is the complication of how solar panels are made and understanding global corporations. Some companies used to manufacture a small percentage of their product in the USA, but were Chinese corporations. There are “American” companies, with headquarters in the USA that manufacture in Asia. There are German companies that manufacture in the USA.
Ultimately whether you decide to purchase American Made solar panels or solar panels manufactured elsewhere in Asia, you can rest assured that your decision to go solar has a positive impact on American job growth! Plus you’ll benefit financially, create a cleaner, safer and more robust energy system for the whole country, contribute to cleaner air for your children and community… the list goes on!
Ah the image of the cabin in the woods with a solar panel! This is what most people think of when they think of going solar.
You will most likely be installing what is called a “grid-connected” solar system, so no you will not be “off the grid.” This means that you will continue to draw power from the power lines at night, but during the day you will use your solar power, or “spin the meter backwards” and you will get a credit for what you produce that offsets the cost of buying electricity at night. This is called net-metering.
Net-metering is one of the most important concepts of saving you money with solar panels. The basic concept is that your energy meter looks at the ‘total net production/consumption.’ So you will receive a credit for all the energy you produce from your solar panels that you don’t use (think during the day, solar panels are making electricity, but no one is home (and the lights are off, right?)). Then at night, when everyone is home, the lights are on, etc. you will be charged for the power you use. So you get a credit during the day, and you use that credit to offset the power that you purchase at night. That’s the basics: charged for power you use – credit for power you produce = total amount you own. And that accounting process is called “net-metering.”
No, you will not need batteries for storage. However, as the price of batteries comes down, and their benefits are better understood, batteries will likely become a more affordable and mainstream technology. So go solar now, and add batteries later!
Caveat: if you live in an area with frequent blackouts, or having power is critical, you can speak with your local installer about battery back-up systems. Batteries do add a significant cost in materials, installation and ultimately maintenance, so you’ll want to be sure about your options.
No, your solar system will shut off automatically if the power goes out to protect maintenance crews that might be working to fix the problem. If power goes out regularly in your area, you can discuss options with your solar installer, as there are ways to add batteries and specific products that can help you have at least some basic power during power outages.
Short answer: probably not.
Most solar arrays are grid-tied meaning they have no batteries and simply feed energy into and out of the grid.
There are major cost and maintenance advantages to not having to deal with batteries. See our full article here: how does grid-tied solar work.
Great question. Obviously any physical obstruction to light is going to keep solar panels from producing electricity, and one important thing to keep in mind is that if one panel in a solar array is significantly covered with snow or debris, then it compromises the output of the entire system (think Christmas lights). This can be circumvented with panels that carry their own microinverters, but that’s another topic.
There’s only one way to know if solar will work for you: get an estimate from a professional. The reason is that each system is unique, and the costs of installation depend on your geographic location, incentives, roof shade, among other factors.
We’re big fans of having options and our goal is to get you at least a few different solar quotes to evaluate. Once you have a few proposals you can decide which one is right for you.
We feel that solar panels are the next refrigerator: at some point we’ll wonder how we lived without them. As solar becomes cheaper than traditional electricity in the US and other parts of the world, this trend will only become more obvious.
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By filling out the signup form on the site we’ll help you get in touch with solar installers in your area who can answer questions and provide a specific estimate. Our goal is to get several estimates in your hand that you can use to compare options. With a little additional research you should be able to determine the best solution for your needs.
Great question, as we know now that solar leases last around 20 years, and solar panels at least 25 years… and there is a good chance we’ll move in the next 20-years!
Of course each market will be slightly different, and it depends if you own or lease, but here’s the simplistic answer:
If you lease your system, you have a couple of options:
– Your buyer will need to assume your lease, although if this is still a good option for them, as it likely will be, they will be interested in assuming the lease.
– You can also buy-out your lease from the provider at that point, and this should increase the sale price of your home.
If you own your home, it’s pretty simple:
– Solar installs increase the value of homes and reduce the time on market. So as long as your solar system is in good shape, this should make it easier and more profitable to sell your home.
Of course you will hear horror stories of things gone wrong in selling a home with a solar lease or solar panels. However, if you have a marketable home and reasonable sales expectations and a good real estate broker, solar will be an asset, not a deterrent. This is the case in the vast majority of home sales. What is certain is that you will need to be aware of the solar, just as you would be prepared about questions regarding a pool or a recent remodel.
Photo Credits (all CC license via Flickr):