Roof-top Solar Hits a Crossroad – Are Smart Meters the Answer?

by Dr Deo Prasard

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.

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