Obviously, we love solar. It’s green, efficient, free energy straight from your own rooftop. But, even we can admit that most solar products don't have the same appeal as the latest Iphone. Design and usability often lag behind a rapidly improving technology, but solar is finally showing signs of catching up.
Solar power is often compared to the tech industry, and there is many reasons why this makes a tonne of sense. Both fundamentally require silicon to function, the technology is rapidly improving year over year as the price drops equally as fast, and we even have our own tech billionaire making shiny new products that are garnering the attention of the mass market aka Elon Musk and Steve Jobs.
However, while the Tesla Powerwall attracted a lot of attention from the mass media, which subsequently shone a light on the renewable industry as a whole, it wasn’t quite the revolution Tesla hoped it to be. In fact, despite the spaceship design, functionality it wasn't much better or worse then most of the energy storage solutions on the market (see our detailed breakdown of Tesla going head-to-head with LG Chem's own battery banks). What the solar industry needs is a combination of good design, usability and actual advances in the way we use renewables.
The battery revolution is still on it’s way. Until then, there is another tech disruption going on within the renewable sector, albeit a smaller one, but it’s a step towards the creating the type of products the modern consumer expects and deserves nonetheless.
The name of that disruption is solar monitoring, and its taking the industry by storm. To give you an idea why this is so important, one must first understand the predicament of many solar owners. Until recently solar monitoring consisted of walking out the back to check the text based interface on your inverter, or simply comparing your latest bill with your pre-solar expenses.
Since then, many companies have attempted to create Web Apps which allow users to interface with their solar systems through the internet, checking their usage as they go. Unfortunately however, beyond measuring your usage, energy production and the weather, there isn’t much more these apps can do.
Introducing modular solar monitoring, a retrofitted device which can attach to any number of individual panels, giving you in depth insight into system health, energy production per panel and most excitingly control over how your panels function.
One company, Tigo, who is leading the charge in many ways, produces a number of monitoring devices to help you optimise your system. Namely, they provide the unique O, S and M models which allow for optimisation, safety and general monitoring.
These modules then go with the Tigo’s TS4-R platform. This allows for seamless integration of a fully intelligent monitoring system, whether it is installed alongside your new system, or years later.
It’s particularly important for owners to ensure that each panel is working optimally, and until now there was no way to do this well. Solar Analytics, states on their website that 51.8% of Australian systems are not at peak performance, simply due to not being able to tell whether individual panels are damaged or not.
This had led to many customers being skeptical of solar as a whole. Many people start thinking that their systems are simply not working, or that the technology is not sufficiently advanced enough to power their homes.
In many cases, it could be a simple replacement job for the installer they went through, and in many cases the cost would come under warranty. While there are monitoring services provided by a number of solar inverter companies as mentioned before, they are unable to monitor individual panels, given the nature of how an inverter functions.
One of the only inverter companies that has a significantly advanced online monitoring system is Fronius, who prides itself on being ahead of the game in regards to providing a modern product. However, unless a solar system is installed with a third party monitoring module that is able to check on system in depth, the user is unable to get the information they really need.
For example, if someone hits a six while playing a game of backyard cricket and the ball happens to damage a panel, Tigo monitoring will automatically email you to let you know that your system is underperforming. This will prevent you from going a full quarter without being aware, and subsequently spending more on your total bill unnecessarily.
It’s these seemingly simple reminders and helpful notifications that are revolutionising the way consumers interact with their solar systems. It is something that we have become used to, and it is a strange feeling when a product or service doesn’t have an app or touch screen interface. Hopefully, this will help open the gates for a large number of people who were until now, uninspired by the renewable sector and rooftop solar itself.
Instead of chucking a system on your roof and hoping for the best, those with advanced monitoring are able to get insight into exactly how their system is functioning, all through a friendly email or by logging onto a cloud based application on their smartphones. This is the modern facelift that we were all hoping for, and we are all ecstatic to see being introduced.