How To Get A Better Performance From Your Home Solar Panels

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It is a truth (almost) universally acknowledged that having your own solar panels in this sunburnt country of ours will make your power bill cheaper, and give you that warm sense of greenie superiority. But most people with solar panels actually have no idea how much energy they’re producing, whether they’re getting the most out of their system, or how much electricity their household actually consumes.

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The first thing that’s drilled into us when we pay the thousands of dollars to put solar on our roof is that we have to keep them clean. It makes sense: a dirty panel is an inefficient panel. However, unless you live in an extremely dusty area, with no rain, and birds who not only have gastro-intestinal difficulties but an outright vendetta against you; you’re probably fine.

If you can easily get on your roof, just hose them off once a year or so before summer, and maybe rub them down with a soft cloth or sponge if there are any stubborn stains. If you can’t get up there, some window washers offer solar panel cleaning as a service. But the rain will probably take care of them for you anyway.

The main thing you have to worry about is debris. If a plastic bag or something gets caught on the side of a panel, you lose the whole panel until it’s uncovered. Worse still, if all your panels are connected, you’ll lose even more output.

To that end, shade is your worst enemy, because if part of a panel is shaded the whole thing can become useless. So keep an eye on any trees you have around your property.

The best way to make sure your system is working properly is to monitor the output. Your electricity bill isn’t going to be very useful for this, because it can’t tell you how much of the solar power you’re using before selling back to the grid. Same goes for your inverter’s web portal.

There are a couple of different ways around that: you can get a battery, which is very expensive, but means you might be able to get rid of your power bills completely, depending on where you live and the size of your roof. Batteries come with apps that tell you all about the efficiency of your panels and what goes in and out.

A cheaper option than a battery is to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a home energy management system, which records the flow of energy into your home and sends messages to let you know when you need to perform maintenance, or if your panels aren’t performing as well as other connected panels in the area.

Another option is using DC Power Co’s app. DC is a power company based in Melbourne which only services solar users, and the app that comes with its plans does roughly the same thing as the home energy management system. But you’ll need to decide if its energy plans are right for you.

On the topic of power companies, make sure you choose the plan that suits your needs, and don’t just look at the solar plans. It’s surprising how many electricity companies charge solar users higher daily fees, as well as increased electricity usage charges. Not to mention the wildly different (and ridiculously low) feed-in tariffs.

Shop around, and don’t be afraid to ask your power company for a better deal, especially if you can back up your request with numbers from its other plans.

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This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


Comments

    Some inverter web/app interfaces are better than others. Our SolarEdge system shows us power generated vs local consumption vs output to/from grid, with daily, weekly, monthly, yearly views. Plus, because our panels have micro-inverters, we can see what each panel is generating and so when shade is becoming a problem.

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