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Monitoring Solar Generation and Power Consumption

Solar generation, a regular part of everyday life in sunny Queensland

Solar generation, a regular part of everyday life in sunny Queensland

Around 3.5yrs ago, I wrote an article around monitoring solar generation and household consumption. The equipment used was a CurrentCost EnviR, Bluetooth and a windows virtual machine. Over time, this evolved to a Raspberry Pi 2 and Linux. However, as my CurrentCost EnviR died and the UK company that supported it folded, I was only monitoring solar generation by this stage.

Fast forward to 2016 and it’s time to a take a fresh look at my monitoring. My criteria for the new setup are:

  • Solar generation
  • Solar export
  • Peak consumption
  • Off-peak consumption (Pool)
  • Off-peak consumption (Hot water)

Based of those needs, it was fairly obvious that I would be looking at another CT clamp based solution. Two popular products in this space were the Enphase Envoy-S or Solar Smart Monitor from Solar Analytics. I chose to go with the later.

Installation

If you have 3-phase power or simply want a more granular data capture, you will need to go with the 6CT Solar Smart Monitor. The 6CT refers to the ability to support up to 6 CT clamps. In my case:

  • 3 x peak power
  • 1 x solar generation
  • 1 x pool
  • 1 x hot water

The cost of the Solar Analytics solution is inclusive of a standard install. If your switchboard looks like this, it’s anything but a standard install as we found out. In this case, there simply is not enough physical space to get the CT clamps around the required wires.

NOTE: Only a licensed electrician should be doing work on your switchboard. In most cases it will be someone contracted by Solar Analytics.

There was no way we were going to get the CT clamps to where they needed to be. If your switchboard looks like this, it won't be a standard install.

There was no way we were going to get the CT clamps to where they needed to be. If your switchboard looks like this, it won’t be a standard install.

Be sure to factor in additional electrical costs to clean up your switchboard to get everything to fit nicely. If possible, get the Solar Analytics supplied installer to do a pre-inspection to confirm there won’t be any additional expenses required. Yes, the cables were tidied up by the electrician after I took the photo. 😎

After a clean up of the switchboard, the electrician was able to get the CT clamps onto the correct cables

After a clean up of the switchboard, the electrician was able to get the CT clamps onto the correct cables

It’s great to see that the size of the CT clamps have shrunk over the past few years. It makes it easier to get them into tight spots.

The CT clamps are more compact in design now

The CT clamps are more compact in design now

The monitoring device itself fits in your switchboard and uses 3G to transmit data back to the Solar Analytics server. One thing we noted was that the 3G antenna location stops some switchboard covers from closing correctly. So, be a little careful when closing yours.

The protruding antenna will stop some covers from closing

The protruding antenna will stop some covers from closing

If everything is setup correctly, the folk up at Solar Analytics should start to see the following data being streamed.

Live data should show for all channels if the CT clamps are installed correctly

Live data should show for all channels if the CT clamps are installed correctly

General users won’t see this view, we’ll get to the end user dashboard in the next section.

Solar Analytics Dashboard

The “Dashboard” is the heart of the solution and provides a single point of contact for the data being transmitted from the Solar Smart Monitor. It is a web portal using a responsive design suitable for accessing via mobile, tablet or desktop pc.

The live data is updated every 5 seconds giving you a near real-time view of your solar panel performance and power usage in your home. This data is useful for determining the best time to run power heavy appliances such as pool filters, washing machines and air conditioners.

The Dashboard is broken down into the following categories: Today, Production, Consumption, Performance and Savings. There is also an additional Reports section with currently one item which is the monthly report.

Today

“Today” is the landing page for the Dashboard and provides an overall summary of the current day. Solar generation over the day is shown on the top with a total for solar consumed, grid power consumed and solar exported shown underneath. It’s a great page to give you a snapshot for the day.

The only improvement I would love to see if being able to get this same view of the data for previous days, be it in a report or some other mechanism.

Today view on the Dashboard

Today view on the Dashboard

Production

The production page is all about your solar panel performance. The same solar generation line graph we saw on the landing page is shown on the top for the current day. Underneath is a solar generation bar graph that summarises performance over the week, month and year. The grey bar represents what was expected from your system.

Finally, down the bottom of the page is the total solar generation (production) value along with the savings generated in the displayed period. The savings is calculated based on the FIT values you provide. You can change this by clicking on the cog on the top right of the box.

Great information on your solar production for the day/week/month or year

Great information on your solar production for the day/week/month or year

Consumption

The consumption page is what I love the most about the Solar Analytics solution. We had a few hiccups getting this to work but the support staff were fairly responsive and it’s all up and running now with the exception of measuring hot water consumption. It was explained why, but it went a little over my head so still not sure why we can’t measure it. On the other hand, I can now see my peak and pool (off-peak) consumption in greater detail to before.

The graph at the top charts solar generation along with power consumption overlay. You can disable elements by clicking on the item in the graph legend. It’s a great way to monitor and adjust your household power consumption so that you can maximise on the solar export (if you are on the high Feed-in Tariff (FIT)) or solar consumption (if you are on the low FIT). The second graph presents the same data but in summary format for the week, month and year.

Consumption tab on the Dashboard

Consumption tab on the Dashboard

The remaining elements on the bottom of the page are further summaries based on the reporting week and total consumption/savings for the life of the monitoring solution.

Summary consumption information

Summary consumption information

Performance

Using preconfigured data and current performance data, the performance page provides a meter style view on how things are going. The data is summarised in week, month and year just like the other pages.

Overall system performance

Overall system performance

Savings

The savings pages helps to take a lot of the guesswork out of trying to calculate the ROI (return on investment) of your solar system. The data looks at savings generated from consuming generated solar energy as well as money earned from exporting the surplus energy to the grid. This is compared to the energy that was consumed from the grid.

Monitor your $ savings

Monitor your $ savings

Data Accuracy

I’ve always wondered how accurate CT clamps were with their measurements. As I can get generation data directly from my inverter, I thought I would check these figures to what is being reported from the Solar Smart Monitor. This was done by exporting the data from the SBA5000TL-21 inverter via Bluetooth and comparing to what the Solar Smart Monitor reported back to Solar Analytics.

Checking the accuracy of the CT clamp against what the SMA inverter reported

Checking the accuracy of the CT clamp against what the SMA inverter reported

As you can see, pretty impressive accuracy.

 

Final Thoughts

With the lack of detailed information in electricity bills it has become more important to be able to do some form of reconciliation to ensure that you have been charged correctly, your solar is performing and identify where you can manage your consumption better. Whilst there are free services such as pvoutput around that do a great job, Solar Analytics is a great example of where data capture is taken to the next level.

From using the product only a short while, there is no doubt that a lot of thought and design work has gone into the dashboard. Whilst there remains room for improvement to satisfy power users, most will be satisfied with what is provided out of the box.

A great solution worthy of consideration if you are in the market for a plug and forget style monitoring solution and don’t mind paying a small monthly service fee.

1 thought on “Monitoring Solar Generation and Power Consumption”

  1. Great article and Heapsofenergy use SSM almost exclusively . Solar self consumption is an absolute breeze as clients can self manage consumption in 5 second bytes Too easi .??

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