When SMA Inverters Won’t Talk To Tigo TS4 Optimisers: Tales From The Front Line

SMA inverter and Tigo optimisers

How do you get an SMA inverter to talk to Tigo Optimisers? Sometimes with great difficulty it seems.

Update: see SMA response at end of story. It’s time to chase up another customer experience, courtesy of Sharon, who contacted us because her SMA-Tigo installation turned into a saga.

Back in 2016, SMA Solar Technology decided it wanted better monitoring integration and acquired a 27% stake in a company called Tigo. We’ve heard from a user of SMA and Tigo that things aren’t going the way they were meant to.

When it announced the acquisition, SMA was very clear about what it expected from its investment. Its media release said:

“The new TS4 product platform has various options that allow an increase in energy yield, the simplification of system planning and installation, fire safety, and cloud-based monitoring of system availability. The function options can be integrated easily into a solar module. Customer can thus adapt each individual solar module to their individual requirements.”

Further:

“In order to upgrade its portfolio in the area of MLPE1, SMA entered into a strategic partnership with Tigo Energy, Inc. Around the world, over a billion solar modules have been installed that cannot be individually monitored. With this stake in Tigo Energy, we can for the first time give all solar modules intelligence—in both existing and new plants.”

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Well, it hasn’t turned out that way for Sharon, whose system was installed in early September and is still lacking the panel-level monitoring that was the attraction of having an SMA inverter (Sunny Boy) alongside Tigo TS4-R-M monitoring optimisers.

Sharon told me she wanted panel-level monitoring because she’s in a remote location. Any support means someone has to be ready to travel 250km to her house, so it made sense for her to get the best possible performance out of her system.

That meant 18 Tigo optimsers to go along with her 18 X 370W solar panels.

However, although SMA has had three years to work on Tigo integration, communications between the solar inverter and the optimisers can be unreliable.

The “CCA unit”, a communications module built into the SMA inverter, wasn’t talking reliably to the Tigo monitors.

Firmware Fun And Games

SMA decided the problem was in the inverter’s CCA firmware, so after it delivered new firmware, SunWise’s tech made the two-hour trip and installed it – to no avail.

With the failure of the second firmware installation, there was another rewrite of the firmware and SunWise’s most senior technician made the trip for yet another failed install.

It’s a testament to both Sharon and SunWise that everybody’s still talking to each other in the face of such travails.

With any luck the system should be working as intended in the New Year.

Comment: As a writer in the tech industry for 30 years, I’m more than familiar with how easy it is for vendors to not keep up with tech support demands – but it’s absolutely vital that vendors do so.

It’s especially important for companies like SMA, who rely on the installer channel to get their products sold, installed, and working. A vendor will only keep channel partners if it’s profitable to sell their products – and a saga like Sharon’s burns the installer’s margin pretty quickly.

Sharon and Sunwise both mentioned that Tigo even offered to come to the rescue with a comms unit and a promise that tech support would be available throughout the install.

We offered SMA the chance to discuss Sharon’s case. Head office in Germany passed on an Australian contact, but that’s as far as we got.

Update #1: Since this post was published, Scott Partlin, SMA Australia’s head of after sales service, sent the following via e-mail:

“The following SMA inverter series have an RS485 port and the Tigo Cloud Connect directly integrated into the inverter software:

  • Sunny Boy AV-41 series
    Sunny Tripower AV-40 series
  • This allows a Tigo Gateway or Access Point to be RS485 wired to the inverter, and then the communication and monitoring of Tigo TS4 products to be able to occur directly through the SMA online portal (www.sunnyportal.com)

This function has been working fine to date for STP AV-40 series inverters.

However a firmware bug was existing in the SB AV-41 series which meant only 10 pieces of TS4 units could be detected. A new firmware (3.00.7R) which was to address this was recently rolled out. A problem has occured with the roll out which is causing a communication failure between the SMA inverter and the Tigo Gateway or Access Point, preventing visulaisation of the TS4 units in Sunny Portal.

The TS4 units on the panels are functioning. But the communication with the Sunny Boy AV-41 inverting is not working due to a firmware bug.

R&D in Germany is currently investigating the issue and will in course re-issue a firmware fix which will resotre the communication. However until this firmware fix is provided, visualisation of the TS4 products in Sunny Portal via direct inverter communication will not work. We hope the firmware fix will be rolled out in January 2020, however the nature of software and bug fixes might mean this target date is missed.”

Update #2: SMA’s Scott Partlin has provided further feedback on this article:

SMA:Firstly, I can report to you SMA Service has a procedure in place which can rectify the problem for any customer affected. Installers which have open cases with SMA are being contacted progressively, but if any installer or customer wanted to get a fast resolution they can make the request to the SMA Service that their plant receive the corrective measure.”

SolarQuotes: As is clear from this article, we have reported, we believe accurately, on the experience as described by Sharon and SunWise.

SMA: “Secondly, contrary to how your report read, this is not wide spread issue. Less than 5% of SMA inverters sold utilise this functionality, and only a subsection of those are affected.”

SolarQuotes: We made no representations either way on how many systems were affected.

SMA: “Finally, globally SMA has sold and integrated with our SMA products, more than 150,000 Tigo products. There are currently thousands of systems on Sunny Portal, with Tigo successfully integrated. However your article seems to paint that ALL SMA systems are affected. This is NOT true. There are some isolated problems with some systems within the last 6 or so weeks, but more broadly speaking the integration and partnership has been and is working well.”

SolarQuotes:We’re happy to have your numbers on the record, although we can’t see any assertion that “all” systems were affected.

Footnotes

  1. Module Level Power Electronics
About Richard Chirgwin

Richard Chirgwin is a journalist with more than 30 years' experience covering a wide range of technology topics, including electronics, telecommunications, computing and science.

Comments

  1. I’ve done a lot of ‘systems integration’ at various tiers in vendors’ (software/OS/hardware/VMs etc) and the most reliable option, whenever things got weird, was/is *take it out*.

    Corporates deal in entirely abstract representations of how/why software/services should increase ‘enterprise value’ – but *users* rarely benefit from any of this ‘compound benefit’.

    If it doesn’t work, ‘fess up and figure out how to get it out of users’ life. ASAP.

    Everyone forgets mistakes/whoops – long after you get judged (forever) for how you dealt with it/fixed your mistake. German vendors, at least in my experience, don’t do ‘whoops/sorry’ and instead burn their suppliers/channels/customers – in order to avoid this loss of face.

    Then they move their customer support operations to Philippines. Because.

    • That is, “ EVER SO BLOODY TRUE 👍 in the sense of offering such a deal… “
      To then burn any & all bridges of support ( ASAP in the process of progress & to simply 💩💩💩 on their own customers ! ) really is playing around in some fantasy sort of land… “
      Then, sometime there afterwards. The owners get sick and tired of the phone calls & constant flood of emails seeking the same details to try to get things of what was ‘ GENERALLY PROMISED ‘ to being a pack of gross codswallop …..
      they, then. Give up 😢😢 after paying top dollars in being taken for a ride, of to finding out it’s, “ ALL TOTALLY BULLSHIT ! and it thus, leaves’m to turn too 1 of their own local based Electrical Contractor’s to sort out their mess… “ As i have found out, over many years in the trade 👌
      # Its ( Us types, who tail end chase up the solutions for the shonky cowboys & fly by nighters) that promotes these deals, that are abusing the system today !

  2. Issues from September until now ? Pffft ! How about all the 18 months of issues that Redback inverter owners whose systems have been going offline had suffered and especially those with connected batteries getting disconnected whenever the inverter loses connection ? Some poor installers have been caught between the customer and the Company’s excuses and inability to fix the issues (eg it’s Microsoft’s fault for updating their software !).

    • Thank you Reg Watson,

      For another who see’s through the shonky FAILURE of this self made cec scam ! For really, for what it is & who’s involved in doing the crappy backyard cowboy style work … and, “ being supposedly having ( cec endorsement ) or paid for a ticket to Con & Scam hell out of the customers, with money to go green 😂😂 really highlights the saying of ‘ FOOLS & THEIR MONEY. ARE SO EASILY PARTED ! ‘ sets a great example of a UN-POLICED as with, being a setup of UNENFORCEABLE watchdog of this new criminal wave of gross incompetence sure makes one laugh, if not 😢😭😭 by the standards it supposedly has, yet very few. If any in the CEC OFFICE give a damn of the garbage that flows out in the public domain today ! “
      So, “ Where are the numbers of these supposed untouchable Cowboys & cowgirls, who abuse the system. With shonky unsafe work standards by the Clean Energy Council hiding, or kept 🤷‍♂️ For, they don’t give a shit ! But, go all out, of their way. Threatening us Electrical Contractors & tradies, who get called in. To sort out the end of the road rough & dangerous installs ! Then, are told we will be prosecuted for interfering without their cec qualifications in hand 🤫 it sure makes one shake their heads, when those in charge, “ just do not give a damn of the current stage of this solar industry at all. As long as their jobs keep’m in a nice office on the eastern seaboard somewhere away from seeing the crap, others do in their own un-inspected world… “

  3. there is abig difference between old style german manufactured sunny boy and the new chinese manufactured sunny boy:
    the power limiting mode in the old ones reduces the string operating voltage to reduce the delivered power. the newer ones increase the operating voltage such that the string current reduces. the latter is the correct way to do it.
    the Tigo optimizers are simply not compatible with oldstyle sunnyboy in systems that limit the inverter power (either by frequency control or communication).

    what happens is when the string voltage drops,the TIGO tries to create more current from the same power until the string current limit of the inverter is triggered.

  4. Reto Gfeller says

    I have both SMA inverter and TIGO energy optimizers (old model MM-2ES75) with old MMU (management monitoring unit).
    Both works well since 5 years without any issue – because both systems work absolute independently!
    Even this new system in the article produces well energy just the monitoring is affected.
    I would go as 1st action solution with the external TIGO Could Connect device.
    (well knowing it costs extra cash – maybe less cash than travelling 3..4…5 times).

  5. Well i had the same issue with the Sunny Boy AV-41 series and tigo monitoring. Only a week ago i got the firmware updated on the inverter and manged to get it to pickup my gateway and tigos. Its showing in my sunny portal now but looks like a half bake addon. When i get time I’ll put the steps down how i manged to get it to work.

    Fyi i have 11 tigos on 1 string

  6. Olwyn Kitchener says

    My wifi won’t register so I can’t read it not happy even my electrician can’t get it working

  7. The inverter is only 2.4g wifi. Maybe your trying to connect to 5g wifi?

  8. Michael Summers says

    One word.
    Enphase
    Problem solvered.

  9. Mike Hammond says

    I have a SB5000us 41, SMA Rooftop Kit which is a Tigo gateway. There are definitely issues with them but they do report and it was easy to connect.
    I then purchased SMA Revenue Grade Meter. Finding the correct model RS485 module to go with it was very difficult. After looking everywhere I found it, part number SMA-MD-485-40. Even though that is the correct one you wont find the documentation anywhere that convinces you beyond a reasonable doubt. Again the series inverter I have is theSB5000 US not the TL.
    So the problem I am having is that I can get through the setup and it appears to read the consumption.
    Although it always shows power out to the grid and never to the house in the Sunny portal or the local login.
    If I turn on Active Power and configure it as per the limited documentation it does not seem to work.
    The consumption when Active Power is on shows 0. Also if you log in to see the parameters under DC Side voltage its shows array at 160 volts but no current.
    I have tried all combinations of settings but nothing works. I am positive the power produced by my panels has been well below what I consume as the readings are correct once active power is shut off.
    I am posting this to hopefully find out if someone else is having this same issue.
    I was also told by one vendor they could not ship the Revenue Grade meter yet because SMA was having production issues. That and the rs485 card being hard to find did alert me to something. But when you want to make sure that everything is working, UL listed and endorsed by the manufacturer I went with SMA.

    • Mike Hammond says

      I uninstalled the Tigo completely including the optomizers and Active Power still wont work.

    • Reto Gfeller says

      1) With the SMA Revenue Grade Meter AND the onboard TIGO CC there must be now two (2) devices on the RS485 bus.
      2) the SMA Revenue Grade Meter just measures the produced AC power of the SMA inverter – in fact that is just one (1) value. This value might more precise than the onboard-meter but it is NOTHING new!
      3) to measure the house consumption – with positive value = consumption & negative value = production – a forward-reverse (bi-directional) grade meter is required at the house entry point
      SMA sunny home manager 2.0 (three-phase) would be such a device.

  10. I am having these issues on my system as well. SMA told our supplier they will not pay them to come fix it. I would like to contact Scott P myself. Can you provide his contact info?

    Our system appears to have worked for less than 2 months and has not worked since.

    I am not impressed!!!!

  11. James Dyck says

    So this must be why I can’t see module level performance on Sunny Portal. I have some panels not working on a newly installed unit because my power drop week over week and in california we have sunny days. This is so frustrating spending this much money on a system that isn’t working.

    • I agree! I am not very happy. SMA America support has not been very helpful and are very slow to respond. They will not cover the entire cost for the installer to come back to fix their issue. They did say however (when I talked to them yesterday) that the new firmware will fix my issues. I’m not completely convinced but what do I know. I asked for instructions to do it myself and they said that is not a good idea. 😆
      I’m not sure what else to do. Ours worked for less than 2 months after installation and had not worked since (July 2019). Very unhappy customer and I would also not recommend this system to anyone given these issues and lack of support from SMA America.

  12. Is there any firmware fix for sma and tigo gateway to communicate yet? It was working fine till they sent an automatic update.

  13. Mike Hammond says

    To be honest I disable everything I paid for when it didnt work. I think I will give it a shot again

  14. I’ve been working on one that hasnt been monitoring since February and now just a few days ago no DC feed in. The tigo optimizers are stuck in shutdown mode. Had to remove the tigo optimizers to get the system to work again. This system was installed at the beginning of 2020.

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