Australian rooftop solar is now at a crossroads – but it’s all positive. New technologies mean big data can be gathered from systems so that performance can be monitored and alerts raised if problems occur.

Although solar photovoltaic technology (PV) has proved itself by significantly contributing to our energy supply, research shows that 52 per cent of PV on roofs are underperforming, mainly because users are not monitoring operations so are ignorant about how their equipment is performing.

Gathering big data of this kind sees us therefore entering a new era in rooftop solar. On one hand, government bonus schemes are now at an end, most ceasing as 2016 closed its doors, meaning the generous tariff solar homeowners received for power sent to the grid is no more. On the other hand, new, solar monitoring technologies which collect data and tell you and your energy company how your solar equipment is performing are being offered from the variety of energy providers now listed in Australia.

How good are they? What do you need to look for? And how do they work for you?

As the financial bonus carrot has now been eaten, to get the most from their solar, homeowners need to first use the solar electricity they create before having to tap into the more expensive electricity from the grid. To do this, they need to know what they are producing and when they to consume. The new meter upgrades on offer will tell you about your energy use – but not in real time. At best, you’ll get the results 30 minutes down the road, and most likely the next day or later.

Metering is not the same as monitoring. Monitoring systems that offer real time data and useful information are the answer, but they are still evolving, so choosing the right package is important

One of Australia’s leading solar monitor providers – Solar Analytics – recently reported that the NSW Department of Industry is allowing the market to drive the costs of solar meter purchase and installation, letting the retailers compete for customers with the best pricing. These prices, they say, will vary between $300 and $600, although retailers are loath to provide a general quote as systems on the market differ as well.

With this in mind, solar homeowners are advised to do their homework before choosing their new energy package, making sure it is right for them and suits their specific home requirements. Ask your provider if they offer real-time data, so you can better understand your energy use.

But how do solar monitor systems work? In a nutshell, a sophisticated/smart/good solar monitoring system does three things: it measures the total electricity used in the house, then it measures how much solar electricity is being generated and consumed by the home, and lastly it measures any excess solar electricity generated and sent to the grid, if not first used on-site.

This last part is probably the most important as it means the homeowner can keep bills down if they are creating enough electricity – especially if they know their equipment is working correctly – all just by looking at this real-time data on their smart device, or responding to alerts when the smart monitoring identifies a problem. All in all, this information will let users get the most value out of their roof top solar.

Data is the key and this is of great value when it comes to understanding energy use and the way it is collected is evolving all the time.

For example, the day this article was written was a hot, sunny, summer’s day. The Renew Economy NEM-Watch showed that at 13:05 total demand across Australia was 34,097 megawatts, with rooftop solar providing 2,708 megawatts (90 per cent residential) and large scale solar 213 megawatts. So in the middle of the day, rooftop solar plus large central solar systems are contributing about 8.5 per cent of the overall national demand at this time. When looking at a whole day, on average PV provides about four per cent of total electricity demand.

solar usage australia

This data shows that PV also has a great match for commercial/day time demand and this is where commerce and industry can look to install more PV, especially on rooftops of offices or factories to use this power when staff are at work. This can prove to be very cost effective for businesses, as PV life cycle costs are now less than buying power from the grid for many small to medium sized commercial customers.

But imagine if PV is underperforming now but can be improved through smart monitoring. These figures are going to get better and better into the future, increasing demand for roof-top solar. The trick for current and future solar homeowners is to find the best monitoring system and keep abreast of changes as meter technology improves.

Technology improvements are a given, as behind all this data are complex algorithms which are continually being improved. The CRC for Low Carbon Living is currently working with Solar Analytics to further develop their algorithms to increase accuracy, taking into account weather conditions and how to shift appliance loads to periods when energy is more readily available. This information is of particular use to businesses keen to become more sustainable and move down the rooftop solar route to create their own electricity and keep costs down.

Currently, most rooftop solar is residential but with smart metering, improvements to technology and the smarts behind this technology, business will be embracing solar more and more as time goes by. This is an exciting time for solar and it is great to be a part of this progress.