Are your solar panels performing?

Installing solar panels comes with the promise of lower bills and a more eco-conscious footprint in the long run – but how exactly do you know if they’re working to their fullest potential? Many solar owners have little understanding of what’s actually going on once their panels are installed. One-in-five (21%) of Australians are unsure if their solar panels are performing or not and Clean Energy Regulator inspections of residential solar installations prove this right, showing that about 16% of units are underperforming or not configured correctly.

So what exactly are the red flags homeowners should be looking out for and how can they be fixed? Here are the top issues to spot:

  1. Poor installation
    Poor installations aren’t just unattractive – they’re often unsafe. This can include anything from incorrect fixtures to misaligned panels or exposed wiring. Exposed wiring, where it is left open on your roof instead of hidden under the panels, means they are likely to corrode over time thanks to the elements. A good solar panel installation should look streamlined and tidy; if yours looks haphazard, there’s a chance care hasn’t been taken with the entire process. Sub-standard installation can be reported to the Clean Energy Council and you should call your local electrical authority first if the installation is unsafe.

  2. Low quality panels
    Over the course of their lifetime, solar panels will be exposed to more than 100,000 hours of relentless sun, wind, rain and more. Poor quality panels are not only likely to degrade faster, but can also pose a serious safety hazard if faults appear. The easiest way to spot low quality panels is price – if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. Premium quality solar panels degrade less than 0.5% per year whereas cheap panels degrade at rates in excess of 1% annually. This costs you money over time. Also keep an eye out for PV yellowing, corroding or hot spots on the panel as an indicator that your panels aren’t quite up to scratch. Do your research ahead of time to avoid poor panels for the long run.

  3. Sub-optimal positioning
    The position of solar panels affects how much energy they’re able to produce. In Australia, solar panels will ideally face North at an approximately 30’ tilt – though for some houses this will not be possible, in which case a skilled consultant will determine the optimal positioning for your specific roof. While a tilt greater or less than that will only impact energy production as much as 10%, measures can be taken to improve the tilt to capture more energy if it’s impacting performance. Solar trackers are mechanisms that can adjust the direction of panels throughout the day. Depending on the type, they can generate 25-40% more energy from the same panels.

  4. Inverter faults
    Inverter faults are responsible for almost half of all major solar system failures. When the system shuts down, it’s no longer able to capture energy – meaning your solar panels are inactive during this time. The good part is most inverter issues are easy to fix but will require a qualified solar electrician for repairs. Inverters typically have at least a five year warranty via the manufacturer so you should be protected if any issues arise, so you can keep your solar panels running for longer. However, most inverter monitoring solutions do not proactively alert the homeowner to system down or under performance issues.

For real-time visibility into your solar panel performance, installing an advanced analytics solution, like Clipsal Solar’s Pulse App, will give you the transparency into your system as it happens in more depth than standard inverter reporting. This gives you the flexibility to catch and manage any issues as they happen to maximise your solar panel return.  It also provides insight into which devices in the home are consuming the most energy and finds the ideal retail plan for you to further reduce your energy spend.

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