Solar panel installations are known to be durable and reliable, and are designed to operate for years quietly and without major problems, but at the same time, this does not mean that the possibility of these systems operating below the required level is zero.
This is why many solar owners sometimes worry about whether their solar panels are working as they should.
In this blog post, we will discuss in detail how you can check if your solar panels are working, and which steps you should take to ensure they will produce the right amount of power.
Why is it important to check if your solar system is working properly?
Checking that your panels are in good working order allows for theirs optimal use.
Solar systems consist of several electrical components, and any problem in one of these components will affect the efficiency of the system and it will not operate to its full efficiency.
Furthermore, if any problem is detected early and fixed quickly, loss of production and additional costs for larger repairs later can be avoided.
In short, checking your solar panels are working properly will help you get the most out of your solar investment.
Here’s how to check if your solar panels are working properly?
Here are five basic steps you can take:
1. Check your solar inverter
Check the LED indicator lights
The first step you take is to look at the solar inverter - the status lights that indicate how the inverter is working - is there a green light or a red light?
A green light on your inverter means your system is working properly. A red (or orange) light on a sunny day means the solar system is facing a potential problem.
As for the possible causes of problems with your inverter, the voltage may be too low due to the high temperature of the panels, or the voltage may be very high due to a low temperature, or there may be problems with the circuit breaker or problems with the grounding of the system.
Check the LCD screen
Most solar inverters will have a small LCD screen on the front that displays production data live. These screens provide detailed information about the performance of the solar system and how much electricity it is currently producing. This data includes:
Actual Production (Watts): The screen displays the value of electricity currently being produced in Watts. This value is constantly changing based and weather conditions. Around midday a south-facing system should be generating nearly maximum power.
Voltage and Current: The monitor can also display information about voltage and ampere of the system, which helps monitor the quality of electricity produced.
Operational statistics: Some monitors provide additional information such as inverter temperature, operating status, and any alert or malfunction messages.
Using the inverter's virtual display can help you monitor the performance of your solar system and verify that it is working properly easily.
2. Check your electricity bill
One easy way to check if your solar panels are working is to check your electricity bill. If you don't change the way you use energy, your electricity bill should be lower than it was before you installed your solar panels.
If you participate in net metering and you're not using a lot of electricity during the daytime, the excess electricity will automatically be fed back into the grid. If there is no export on your bill, there is a possibility that your solar panels are not working as they should.
Although checking your electricity bill will tell you whether your solar system is working or not, it is not the best way to check if your solar panels may not be working as they should.
You may not receive your electricity bill until after 3 months, which is a very long period. If your solar panels perform poorly during this period, you will lose your money for a long time.
In addition, even if you receive your bill, it usually does not show the amount of solar energy that was generated in total. It only shows the amount of energy that you used from the grid, and the amount of energy that you exported to the grid.
3. Accessing your solar panels production data online
Many solar inverter manufacturers provide free portals to monitor and track the performance of solar panels. These portals will allow you to access detailed data about electricity production and the performance of your solar energy system throughout the day, month and year.
By logging into this portal via the mobile app or websites, you can follow the inverter's performance in the form of easy-to-read statistics and graphs, and can also monitor any alerts in the event of a system problem.
Some of these portals will also provide you with estimates of the amount of emissions avoided thanks to the use of solar energy.
How do i know if my solar panels are producing the right amount of energy?
You can get an estimate of your system's expected output using the PVWatts Calculator from NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory).
The tool uses weather data of the solar system's location and size (kilowatt rating).
Start by entering the required information:
Choose the geographic location of your solar panel system using geographic coordinates or search for your city.
Then go to the System Information section and select the power rating of your solar panel system (for example, 10 kW).
You can customize more information if you have precise knowledge of your solar panel system, such as angle, installation direction, panel inclination, and inverter efficiency.
After completion, you can view the results and check the forecast estimates for your solar panel system's annual and monthly electricity production.
After you get an estimate from the PVWatts Calculator, you can compare those estimates to what your solar panel system is actually producing through inverter data. You can usually access production data through an online interface provided by the inverter company.
If there is a significant difference between estimates and actual data, you may need to scan the system and look for any issue that needs to be fixed.
4. Comparing your solar output with the neighboursOne way to check if your solar panels are working properly is to compare it against a similarly-sized system nearby.
Many solar system owners have computers continually monitoring their generation and uploading it to a website called pvoutput.org.
On this site, you can search for a solar system near your area and find daily production data for it. This can be useful for comparing your system's performance with other solar systems in the area and checking if the production matches what the system expects.
If you find that your solar system is performing much worse than similar systems in the area, your solar panels are not performing as well as they should be.
5. Check for dirt and shading issues
Check your solar panels. Is it clean or is there any shading?
Panel cleanliness: Make sure the solar panels are clean from dust and dirt. Dust and dirt can reduce the absorption efficiency of solar light and thus reduce the production of panels and dirt may cause damage over a long period. Clean the panels regularly.
Shading: Make sure there are no objects shading the panels such as nearby trees or structures. Shading can significantly reduce panel production. If you find that there is shading that negatively affects the panels, you may need to take measures to reduce it, such as trimming nearby trees or even changing the location of the panels or moving some of them just in case there is an extension of the neighbor’s building, for example.
Why is my solar panel producing below power rating?
A lot of times people want to know why their system is producing a little bit less the overall power rating on their modules.
For example, if you have a 10kW system but it's only producing 8kW, you might wonder does that mean there's something wrong?
It's important to remember that the power rating for your modules was determine under standard test conditions, those are essentially laboratory conditions that don't exist for any extended period of time in nature.
There's several factors that will influence the overall production of your system, temperature, orientation, and cloud cover are all going to have an effect on your energy production.
However, when a system PV is designed, all of these factors are taken into consideration, and its size is determined based on your energy consumption and overall needs. So if your system is producing slightly less than the nameplate rating on the back of the panels, this is perfectly normal, but if it only generates 50 percent or less on clear days, there is likely a problem.