How much power are your solar panels producing? As many as a third of Australian households with solar are having problems with their system, according to a survey by the consumer group Choice.
It found that 21% of people with solar panels had no idea if they were performing properly or not. A further 11% reported that their system was producing less energy than their installer had told them it would.
Over 2 million Australian households (23% of them) have rooftop solar. While many like the environmental benefits of cutting down on greenhouse gases, 70% want to save money. Electricity prices have risen by 63% on top of inflation over the past decade.
A poorly functioning solar panel can be losing you money. For example, a Victorian household with a 4kW system that isn’t working properly, could be losing up to $1100 a year, according to Nic Frances Gilley, the founder of DC Power Company.
Frances Gilley says that two-thirds of solar households have a limited understanding of their solar system and lack the confidence to get the most from it. They don’t actively monitor how much electricity they use or really understand how feed-in tariffs work.
Maintaining your solar panels is a bit like getting your car serviced, says Kane Thornton, CEO of the Clean Energy Council.
“You wouldn’t drive your car around for two or three years without taking it in for a service at some point. The same applies to your solar power system if you want it to stay in peak condition,” he says.
“While the core components of solar systems are designed to function well for several decades, other components such as switches and cables will need replacement at different points in the lifespan of the system. Panels can also become covered in dust and bird droppings over time,” says Thornton.
He recommends that you pay attention to the monitoring equipment that comes with their solar system and call a professional if you believe it is not delivering as much power as it should.
Five steps to improve your solar panel functioning
1. Inspect the panels
Have trees grown since you last looked and are they now shading the panels? Or are they dirty after a long period without rain or from bird droppings? Consider hosing them from the ground.
2. Check your inverter
What colour are the lights shining in the box during daylight hours when it is running? Green is good news. But it could be red or orange, indicating a problem, so check the error code. It’s best to call the installer for help. Choice found that 20% of people didn’t have a problem with their inverter.
3. Understand the data
You should be receiving data from your inverter either on the inverter screen or on your computer. Online data is probably easier to read, particularly if the amount of kilowatts being supplied to your house is measured.
4. Check that your solar production matches what is in the owner’s manual
A rough rule of thumb is 80% of what is outlined in the manual rather than 100%.
5. Install a third-party solar monitor
An expert third party can keep you informed about the health of your solar panel and alert you if anything goes wrong.