Enphase & Solar Analytics Mind-Meld: The Future Of Smart Solar Monitoring?

solar analytics and enphase energy

Solar Analytics & Enphase have had a meeting of the minds which could lead to cheaper and better monitoring for everyone.

Solar monitoring firm Solar Analytics and microinverter manufacturer Enphase sent out a joint press release yesterday.  It is unlikely to get much attention as it is very geeky: they are trialing making Solar Analytics monitoring software compatible with Enphase monitoring hardware. You won’t be reading about it on the front page of the Australian any time soon. But here’s why it’s a big deal (in my little world at least).

Let me ask you a question: Did you get monitoring included when you bought your solar power system?

Today it is rare to buy a solar power system that does not offer at least a dashboard to view your instantaneous and historic solar generation.

solar monitoring dashboard

My solar is working. Honest. It’s a cloudy day in Radelaide.

But that’s only one part of the picture. Did you get consumption monitoring too?

Solar monitoring - consumption

Consumption monitoring shows you how much electricity your house actually uses. Purple is grid imports, brown is self consumed solar electricity, yellow is exported solar.

Consumption monitoring usually requires an extra $500 or so of hardware so you can see how much electricity you use, how much of your usage is covered by solar and how much comes from the grid. It will also show you how much solar electricity you export.

Buying a solar power system without full generation and consumption monitoring is like buying a submarine without a periscope. You won’t know something’s gone wrong until it’s too late.

Here at SolarQuotes, we get cries for help all the time from solar owners who have been hit with a surprise high electricity bill. If they don’t have full monitoring it is very hard to help them without an expensive site visit.  In some cases, we might even retrofit a monitor to prove there is a problem to the hardware manufacturer, installer or electricity retailer – whoever is at fault.

Now, you might be one of the smart folks who opted to spend an extra few hundred bucks on full generation and consumption monitoring when your system was installed, or bought an Enphase system where full monitoring comes as standard. That’s great. But is it truly useful solar monitoring?

What do I mean by that?

  • Does your monitoring send you an email if something goes wrong with your solar power system? Not just if generation stops altogether, but if the system is only operating at, say 82% of where it should be?
  • Does it warn you if your system is getting more shaded over time? Perhaps that bush needs a trim?
  • If there is a problem with your system, will your solar monitoring try and diagnose the exact problem?
  • Does it give you proactive advice on how to use your aircon and other loads to maximise solar self consumption?
  • Will it advise you the optimum battery size for your home?
  • Will it alert you when battery prices get to the point where they pay for themselves?
  • Will it warn you if your electricity retailer is ripping you off, and which plan you could switch to for savings on your bill?

No?

Then my friend, that expensive monitoring is pretty dumb. And that includes all the consumption monitoring sold by the inverter manufacturers. To pick on just three:

  • Enphase Envoy Monitoring: Great hardware. Piece of cake to configure. Nice looking, but dumb monitoring software.
  • Fronius Smart Meter: Great hardware. Easy export limiting. Very limited software for monitoring.
  • Tesla Powerwall: The Tesla App is the best high level battery monitoring interface on the planet. Really simple, really intuitive. But consumption monitoring sucks. And they choose not to show data that could tell you how efficient or degraded your battery is. Funny that.

The problem is that good monitoring hardware is a dime a dozen. It is simple to design and manufacture. Anyone can make a good hardware monitor with off the shelf components. The secret sauce is the monitoring software. Fronius are not a software company – do not expect their software to be anything special. Enphase put a lot of effort into their software, but they are not focused on consumption monitoring, which is why it lacks most of the features you actually need. Tesla have the capability to make great software. And they do. Their app is a work of art. But Tesla have the mother of all problems with transparency and want to control what you can see in a way that would make Kim Jong-un proud. So good luck diagnosing any hardware problems with the Tesla monitoring.

The best solution for solar and battery monitoring is third party software from a company that is 100% focused on building better solar monitoring software. The only company I know of that does this is Solar Analytics. Their solar monitoring is the best in the business in my humble opinion and will do everything in the bullet list above except the last two – which they assure me they are working on.

Now, there are a few problems with Solar Analytics:

  • If you don’t install it at the same time as the rest of the solar power system – it is expensive to retrofit. I’ve been quoted up to $1,000 for a retrofit.
  • It takes up extra space in your switchboard – which is almost always cramped to start with; especially on 3-phase. If you need a larger switchboard to fit it in, it gets stupid expensive.
  • You have to pay a subscription of about $6 per month – a good portion of which is the 3G subscription to send the data over the mobile phone network (wi-fi is too flaky).
  • Many installers won’t quote for Solar Analytics, or if they do it will be reluctantly. They often prefer to have the monitoring from the same vendor as the inverter (e.g Fronius Smart Meter). The problem seems to be that they are looking at the solar monitoring from the installer’s perspective not the customer’s.
  • Solar Analytics battery monitoring sucks (but they tell me they are working hard to improve it).

In A Perfect World…

…consumption monitoring would come as standard with every solar inverter – like it does with Enphase.

And to install the fully featured, smart monitoring service of your choice, you’d just go to the inverter’s web interface, choose the solar monitoring service you wanted to subscribe to and grant permission for that service to access the raw monitoring data from your existing hardware. The installation cost would be zero and the subscription should be much cheaper ($3-4 per month?) because you don’t need to pay a 3G data subscription to send the data to the monitoring service.

It would open up truly smart monitoring to many more solar owners. It would protect consumers from hardware vendors who demand that the panels or inverter are sent back to base to prove there is an issue, or installers that claim their degraded systems are working just fine. It would open up the possibilities of Virtual Power Plant (VPP) participation and/or peer-to-peer trading without the need to install any new hardware. It would make it cheaper to install solar panels on rented roofs and bill the tenant a reduced rate for solar electricity.

And it has to be a third party system. I’m a big fan of Enphase (disclosure: I own stock). But if you have 25 microinverters on your roof, who would you trust more to advise you if one has failed or degraded such that it should be replaced under warranty? Enphase or your solar monitoring software company? If your Tesla Powerwall battery’s efficiency is below spec or the storage capacity has degraded below the warranty do you expect the Tesla software to tell you?

And the vendor monitoring problem will only get worse with AC panels. An AC panel is a solar panel that you buy with a pre-installed micro inverter. They are huge in the USA and are starting to arrive in Australia. If you are buying the solar panels and inverter from one panel manufacturer, would you trust the monitoring software it comes with to alert you if a panel’s output has dropped just below its performance warranty? Me neither!

In The Real World

On my 3-phase house I have the following:

  • Microinverter monitoring (Solarbridge – via ethernet)
  • Solar Analytics Monitoring: 5 clamp Current Transformers (CTs) transmitting over 2 x 3G modems
  • Tesla Monitoring: 2 clamp CTs transmitting over 3G
  • Solar IQ voltage regulator: 2 clamp CTs transmitting over 3G
  • Smart Meter for billing: metering each phase, transmitting over 3G

There’s more antennas than a beedy boppers party.

switchboard with solar monitoring

At least 5 bits of hardware all monitoring the same thing.

Yes, my house is unusual having all that gear on it, but it is not far fetched to assume that most homes in the next decade will have most of this gear attached enabling them to store, use and trade their own energy.

Having 5 antennas is ridiculous. Think of all the wasted hardware, software and bandwidth. And how much the consumer has to pay for all that waste. Why can’t I just measure the power once? One monitor, one antenna, one subscription, shared data?

Back To The Solar Analytics And Enphase Announcement

Solar Analytics and Enphase are trialling using Solar Analytics monitoring software with the Enphase monitoring hardware that comes with every Enphase system. This means Enphase customers can have proper 3rd party smart monitoring without getting the Solar Analytics hardware physically installed.

For a while now I have told anyone who will listen that they should not buy solar without proper 3rd party monitoring. I explain why in detail in my book – The Good Solar Guide – here are the relevant pages:

Download (PDF)

Let’s hope the trial announced today is successful and Solar Analytics can start to work with other inverter vendors like Fronius, SMA, Tesla, Solaredge and Sungrow.

Solar Analytics’ mission: to explore strange new hardware, to seek out new batteries and underperforming solar power systems, to boldly go where no genuinely smart monitoring has gone before.

Owners of any popular inverter could then get the benefits of smart 3rd party solar monitoring without the expense of installing more hardware in their home. It would keep the solar panel and inverter manufacturers honest, increase the effectiveness and safety of the nation’s rooftop solar, and put more savings in the pockets of the people that deserve it – homeowners who have invested their hard earned cash in clean, reliable solar power.

About Finn Peacock

I'm a Chartered Electrical Engineer, Solar and Energy Efficiency nut, dad, and founder of SolarQuotes.com.au. My last "real job" was working for the CSIRO in their renewable energy division.

Comments

  1. Hi Finn,
    Good blog post. In relation to monitoring, I would be interested in your view of https://guide.openenergymonitor.org/applications/solar-pv/ and the whole https://emoncms.org/ platform.
    Cheers,
    Brian

    • Hi Brian,

      I was just talking about this system with a friend- do you know anyone locally with installer experience? There doesn’t seem to be many non-DIY comprehensive systems around

      Greg.

      • Hi Greg,
        No. There are a number of Australians on the openenergy forum discussing Australian connections, both single and three phase. I will be discussing this with my sparky when I arrange to get them in for a bunch of other work.
        Cheers,
        Brian

  2. Solar Analytics also doesn’t monitor DC-coupled batteries. A feature that I need which they can’t handle sigh.

    • Good point – it could if the battery inverter vendor cooperated though…

      • Yeah. I purchased Solar Analytics. It was pretty good. I did like it a lot.
        I then added an LG Chem battery to the SolarEdge inverter (with essential/backup circuits).
        This is when it went pear-shaped. Doesn’t monitor correctly, throws everything out of whack. Sigh.
        I now have something sitting in my meter box taking up 3poles and which is not useful.
        One would have thought that they’d try to work with SolarEdge seeing that its an inverter company with quite a number of installs in Australia.

    • Lawrence Coomber says:

      Kay there are some full featured monitoring and control options via third party products rather than inverter intrinsic monitoring for DC coupled systems and particularly for Off Grid systems. What’s your installation type and configuration and I might be able to advise you further on this.

      Lawrence Coomber

  3. Lawrence Coomber says:

    Hi Finn great topic.

    A little removed from your article but still relevant is that there may be some unintended consequences start to emerge soon as increasing demands are put on inverters to morph into something much more complicated than what they originally started out as, and still provide a reliable service for customers in their traditional role, that being simple DC to AC power conversion functions.

    And whilst it might have seemed like a natural extension at the time for inverters themselves to be the logical platform to embody extra functionality such as monitoring, utility network logic controls, remote bi-synchronous communications, internet connectivity, consumption data etc, there has definitely been something ‘lost in translation’ of where the original business model now begins and ends for ordinary solar system owners.

    We are now confronted with questions about ‘who is legally responsible to whom and for what’ between the system owner, the network partner, the installer partner, and the system parts manufacturers, and precisely what that will mean in practice. The word ‘responsible’ looms large here. Will solar system owners have to now enter into a formal contracted business partnership or arrangements with the utility network as a partner to ensure jointly that each partner is legally bound to do everything possible to maintain a contracted common purpose system functionality standard?

    All this could have been avoided if the inverter was left alone to perform its limited role and a third party device (owned and supplied at a cost by the network – similar to current network metering policies well entrenched) was mandated by law that managed the plethora of other functions that we are now seeing introduced ‘by stealth’ onto global inverter manufacturers who have no interest at all in partnering up by proxy with utilities worldwide.

    There are simply to many disparate dependencies in the PV/ESS power generation chain to delineate clear lines of responsibility and liability accurately, and when push comes to shove (as it always will ultimately) the unintended consequences will become stark.

    Tesla is aware of this issue arising already.

    Lawrence Coomber

  4. I have Enlighten Manager for my 87 microinverters. It tells me what I need to know. It shows a nice graphic where I can easily spot a problem panel-micro pairing. It’s a bit of rocket science to initially configure, but it’s not that bad. I don’t use MyEnlighten app. Installer Toolkit app is great for the installers, and I’ve used that, also. I hear what you’re saying about “trust”, but then again, I am a fan of MacOS where the hardware makers make the software, too, and that provides a much better compatibility picture down the road. Could Enphase’s software be better? Sure. For one, I’d love to see a “Yesterday” function in Enlighten Manager — that’s my only wish for now!

  5. Finn, do you know if Solar Analytics will work with people in the United States? I have an Enphase system with the new IQ7X inverters and two PowerWall2 batteries. It would be nice to have an independent view of my system. As an aside here in Santa Cruz California the permitting and inspection costs for my 6kW solar system was a little over 6,000 dollars. What is this cost in Austraila?

  6. Hi Finn,
    Great book, I have learnt much from it.

    So it sounds like, given a successful trial, the logical progression would be that all Enphase micro-inverter users in Australia would have access to Solar Analytics? (I’m in Qld).
    What about Tindo? They have Enphase micro-inverters built into their panels. I’m aware they have a 25 year warranty in place if Solar Analytics is bundled. Do you think this a stealth way of getting the service via Enphase, without the upfront cost, hardware and (reduced?) ongoing costs?

    Bonus points – would Tindo allow you to ‘upgrade’ to a 25 year warranty if Solar Analytics is added … later?

    This is from the perspective of a prospective solar customer.

    Thank you

  7. Dr Chris Kear says:

    Finn, maybe I missed something (or my page search missed something), but you completely miss out “pvoutput.org”.
    For those of us who have enphase systems, this is a Godsend as it can be configured to measure consumption as well as generation. Most users get it for free, but if you’re on Enphase then you’ll need to make a minimum donation of $15 a year to get fantastic monitoring of your system, with reports sent to you at intervals you choose according to your own preferences.
    You can even set it up to calculate your savings, and run parameters to see if changing to a time of use tariff will work out for you financially.
    I’d recommend pvoutput to anyone who has a compatible solar system (and it covers most of them).
    The other issue is panel level monitoring. If I log into my enphase envoy, I can see a status page with every panel individually listed, it’s output power, and also whether there are any logged faults. Doesn’t yours do this too?
    Thanks for pointing me to the correct supplier, too Finn!

  8. Hi Finn,
    How do you feel about the Solar Edge Consumption Monitoring Package? I see you didn’t mention that.

    Cheers!
    A

    • Michael Guy says:

      Enphase has Enlighten, an option to show installer level data and per-panel access. You can get the basic graphs of consumption, generation and battery level/charge rates, but not per-panel without paying extra or being an installer.

      Solaredge’s site, you can just see generation, and if you choose, per-panel data on the system. and consumption / battery if you have them installed.

      Getting access to the per-panel data is tougher on each system for different reasons.

      Enphase Enlighten can cost money unless you become an ‘installer’ (which is a trick), Solaredge’s site ‘forgets’ granular data like panel performance after a few weeks, but getting that granular, i.e. per-panel coverage is useful for performance over time, i.e. looking at panel peak times/values to determine shade/obstruction.

      Online Analytics are different because they will compare against weather and predicted solar input, and look for patterns of usage, and make suggestions,
      i.e. “friday will be hot, put the AC on at 1pm to cool the house down during the day”

      There’s external sites like PVoutput.org that can take the consumption/generation numbers every 5 to 15 minutes.and you can use that data to compare against neighbouring solar generation, i.e. they’ll have similar cloud cover and performance depending on distance, etc. from that, you can generate insolation or other stats for comparing your solar to someone else’s.

      • Dr Chris Kear says:

        I agree
        PVoutput is definitely the best option from a cost perspective, even though most other systems can connect to it for free, and Enphase customers have to donate to set up a second channel for consumption. Oh well.

    • Aiden – The problem with SolarEdge monitoring is that the alerts simply don’t work:

      https://mcelectrical.com.au/blog/solaredge-inverter-and-optimiser-review/

      solar edge monitoring fail

      And SolarEdge is a perfect example of why you don’t put the fox (vendor) in charge of the hen house (hardware monitoring). They are not incentivised to make alerts work that tell you if you should make a warranty claim! And even with the best intentions, their focus is always going to be the hardware not the software.

      Get 3rd party monitoring.

  9. Trisha Drioli says:

    Thank you for the update. I have emphase micro inverters on my Tindo panels. It has very limited production reporting and no consumption.

    I just had my micro inverters replaced last week (as the previous ones failed) and have just hooked up to Enphase. Sadly, Tindo didn’t tell us the old monitoring was changing over and didn’t hook us up to the new technology til we got a massive power bill and realised something was very wrong. How do I go about getting the full version of the enphase monitoring system. We have a 3 phase system and desperately need to know what our import-export quantities are like as we’re planning on getting a battery.

  10. Maybe I’m missing something obvious here but what about the smart meter? Doesn’t it by definition calculate consumption (from the grid)?

    If it was open, and we could query it for data – and the other “players” in the system (inverter, batteries) also were open, then there would be no need for hardware – just a software solution for monitoring.

  11. Paul Burford says:

    Hi Finn,

    Following up on Alans comment above, I’ve just had solar installed and was advised the cheapest way to monitor our consumption was through our distributor AusNet. The data on their website seems to lag by a day, but is a useful, free way of monitoring our consumption and will display solar fed to the grid (once we get that connected).

    https://ausnetservices.com.au/myHomeEnergy/Dashboard/help

    I assume the main drawbacks are that we can’t directly monitor production over usage and we can’t do it in real time.
    Do you see any other flaws in this monitoring strategy?
    Down the track perhaps AusNet could make this service more interactive with existing inverter production monitors to allow real time monitoring?

  12. Trevor Close says:

    I had a facebook post from Enphase. It said.
    Take advantage of new lower pricing on Enphase AC Batteries. Get the most of your energy production by adding safe, no high-voltage Enphase AC Batteries to your system – they work with non-Enphase systems too! Plus, our batteries are modular, so you can start small and add as your needs change. Find an installer today. http://bit.ly/2GpNd2V

    So I asked in a comment. Well what is the new price?
    i haven’t received any response yet.

    Do you guys know any more.

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