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How to check if solar panels are working

how to check is solar panels are workingSolar panels – also known as photovoltaic (PV) panels – are a form of passive electricity generation. They convert the sun’s energy into electricity, and because there are no moving parts there is very little maintenance required on them after installation. However, it is important that they are installed and commissioned correctly, and it is important that they are monitored during usage so that you know they are producing the levels of electrical power you are expecting from the solar PV system.

When you have a solar PV system designed, it needs to suit your purposes. This means that you have the size and number of panels installed that will generate the levels of electricity you need for your home or business. Solar panels are connected so that the national grid takes over when solar power is lost or is insufficient. This means you won’t experience a loss of power and therefore won’t necessarily know that your solar PV system isn’t generating the power you need. In order to achieve a return on your investment, it is therefore important to monitor the power that is generated from your system and that the system is working as it should be, whatever age it is, and there are a number of ways you can do this.


Check your inverter

The solar invertor is an element of the PV system that converts the DC current produced by the panels, into AC current that is usable in the household or business. Usually the invertor will have status lights – Green, amber and red – which indicate whether the invertor is working okay (green), has an issue (amber) or isn’t working (red). If the invertor isn’t working this could suggest an overload, faulty wiring, or possible component damage. This can occur through severe weather or via wildlife, depending on how accessible your external panels are.


Check your electricity meter

Most homes and businesses now have a smart electricity meter which monitors the power you draw from the national grid. Of course if your solar panels are working as normal, they should generate the electricity you need and you should be able to note that the meter is hardly moving at all. It is perhaps best to monitor this on a bright sunny day when you have optimal weather conditions and you know the panels should be generating electricity with no issues. If the electricity meter is showing that you are drawing power from the gird, then you have a problem with your solar PV system somewhere.


Check your solar installation meter

Some modern solar PV systems have a meter included in the installation which shows the power being generated by the solar panels. This should give you a reading in kWh and you should see that this figure is going up, to indicate the power being generated by the panels. If you don’t see an upward trend then this indicates a problem and power is instead being drawn from the grid. Some systems also send alerts and notifications if there is a status issue detected.


Check your bills

The defining indication of a successful solar PV system is that you see a reduction in your energy usage and therefore your energy bill. Your bill can fluctuate depending on the current tariff you are signed up to, but you should be able to see whether you are getting the best return from your solar PV system by the money it is saving you.


How to ensure the best possible conditions for your solar PV system

The design of your solar PV system should take into account your power needs, which will dictate the size of the panels you require and how many are included in the installation. After that you need to consider:

  • Climate – your long term climate shouldn’t change too much within the lifespan of your solar panels, and you should be able to access historical records to check this. Your solar PV system should be designed to reflect your typical weather conditions, and your expected usage will reflect how the weather fluctuates and how this will affect the power generated.
  • Location – your system design should identify the optimal location to site your panels. This should be a location which avoids obstructions and avoids obvious areas of shade. You can also cut back trees and bushes and clean dirt and debris from your panels occasionally to ensure the system is optimised for receiving the most radiation possible.
  • Diagnosing problems – the final & most definitive way to check if your solar PV system is working is to use test instruments to diagnose problems and verify performance (check out our solar pv testing equipment section). Solar system commissioning equipment is available to take safety measurements and verify the solar installation, while curve tracers verify the performance of the PV cells. An irradiance meter can measure solar power being generated and as such is ideal for finding the optimal location for your solar panels. This can also periodically check that you are still getting the solar power generation that you should be. All these items are available from Test Instrument Solutions, and if you need any help or guidance on the best instruments for your purposes, get in touch with us today.  


Video Demonstration

Below you can see a demonstration video of our popular product TIS PV-ISOTEST - Solar PV Multifunction Performance Tester:

Please note that this section is for information purposes only. Anyone using equipment referred to in this section must be suitably qualified and/or experienced within the respective field. If in doubt before use, please consult a qualified electrician or engineer & thoroughly read all instruction booklets.

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