“I’ve got solar, but I’m just not sure if its working.”
This is a commonly heard saying at the buzzing Geni.Energy office. So here are four ways to check if your solar is working and a few tips to make it work better for you.
First Way To Check If Your Solar Is Working
Take a very close look at your electricity bill. If your solar is connected to your meter, you will see a Fee-In-Tariff (FIT) on your electricity bill. Take a note of how much electricity you are exporting. Keep an eye on that over time, you should see your summer export increase as you generate more solar and usually export more.
So if you see a FIT listed and it is $0 then you are exporting 0 kilowatt hours (kWh). But BEWARE – just because you are exporting zero electricity, it doesn’t mean you are generating zero kWh. Your house consumes what it needs as your solar is generating. So you are only exporting excess to what your need during those solar hours.
If your solar was installed around 2010-2012 and you locked in the magical 60c/kWh FIT and you have been laughing ever since, there is a chance that you have a gross meter, whereby your solar DOES NOT feed your house first. In these situations, all of the solar is exported straight to the grid, because in those days, this was the most cost-effective solution.
Not so nowadays.
Nowadays you want your house fed by solar first, for free, so you don’t have to pay 30-35c/kWh from the grid.
Keep an eye on this over the years, so you get a feel for what to expect each bill and if there is a drastic change you can act quickly.
Second Way To Check If Your Solar Is Working
Have a close look at your inverter.
The inverter is the box on the side of your house, near your meter box. The inverter’s purpose is to convert direct current (DC) electricity, which is what your solar panels generates, to alternating current (AC) electricity, which your house and the electricity grid uses.
Firstly, check the sticker on the side of the inverter looking for the capacity of the inverter. It should say 5000 watts or 2000 watts etc. 5000 watts (W) equals 5 kilowatts (kW). It is highly likely that your inverter will be sized slightly (up to 30%) smaller than your solar system size. So if you have say 2.6kW of solar, you would have a 2kW inverter. This is the industry standard sizing combination.
If your inverter has a read-out panel, it will offer a range of numbers. Have a look at it in the middle of day, when your solar should be generating the most, to the maximum of the inverter capacity.
Electricity Generation from your solar is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh).
Many inverters also have an App that show your generation like this one :
If you have a 2kW inverter, a 2.6kW solar system, then in the middle of a sunny day you should expect up to a maximum of 2kWh of generation at any moment in time that you look at the inverter read out panel.
If there are no lights or numbers on the read out panel, chances are your inverter is not working.
If the read out panel says 1kWh of generation, the efficiency of your panels is down.
The inverter is usually the weakest link in the system and may have a five or ten year warranty, compared with most solar panels today that offer a 20 or 25 year warranty.
Third Way to Check If Your Solar Is Working
Geni.Energy offers a Solar Health Check. Contact us to test each string of your solar panels and your inverter. For the next month we are offering this service for FREE.
Fourth Way to Check If Your Solar Is Working
Many inverters have Apps that give you up to date information about your solar generation and let you know if things change.
If you have an older system, without an App, you can get this information from your electricity retailer (whoever bills you).
There are lots of retail options and you are free to change retailers as long as you are not on a contract.
This is the transparency we see from our electricity retailer that shows the export (excess solar generation) each day. We can see our export electricity every day and know our system is working.
First Way To Improve Your Solar Efficiency
Matt from Jacks Creek Power Cleaning tells us your solar efficiency will increase 10% - 30% from a good quality clean. He has even seen a 40% increase from really filthy panels that have had his high pressure clean. Matt said
"I only use de-ionised water, so absolutely no chemicals flow into your water tank or your garden when we clean your solar panels with our power cleaner."
You should consider an annual clean of your panels to keep them working to their highest level.
Second Way To Improve Your Solar Efficiency
Over time trees, vines and shrubs could provide shading. Some solar systems isolate shaded panels and allow the rest of the string to operate, but in some cases, if one panel is not operating, it causes all the panels to stop generating. Consider trimming branches that could be shading your panels at different times of the day.
Third Way To Improve Your Solar Efficiency
To get the most out of your solar, you need to shift as much of your consumption as possible into daylight hours. Here are 4 things you might be able to do:
Dishwashers, dryers, washing machines can often be set to start later or put on a wall timer to operate during solar hours
Air conditioners might be able to be switched off as the sun sets if you have good insulation and everyone keeps the doors closed
Pool pumps can be set to daylight hours and electric hot water systems and heat pumps might be able to be set on a time to daylight hours, depending on your set up
When appliances need upgrading make sure you choose energy efficient, electric appliances with timers where applicable
This booklet can help you get the most out of your solar.
To help identify your biggest energy users, head to your local library to borrow the Energy Saving Kit from the library. Call us for tips to use it!
The good news is we are about to move into the most efficient solar generation time of the year in the coming few months. We can all expect to see our generation go up which means we can use more during the day for free!