Many people who invest a significant amount of money in solar panels find themselves groping in the dark when it comes to knowing how well a system performs.
A new company, SunReports, has developed a device and Web software application that keeps tabs on how well both solar electric and solar hot water systems are performing. The San Francisco-based company on Tuesday said it expects to begin manufacturing its solar monitoring devices with a goal of making hundreds of thousands of units this year, according to CEO Thomas Dinkel.
The SunReports Apollo1 is a small box with ports to connect into a solar hot water tank or an inverter, the machine that converts direct current from solar photovoltaic panels to household alternating current. The device can collect data on the electric output of solar panels or the temperature of the water in solar hot water holding tanks and the fluid that's heated up by the panels, explained Dinkel.
Monitoring solar systems for residential or small commercial customers aren't a requirement, but they can locate problems. For example, in its 20 early tests, SunReports found that solar hot water systems operated at night because the system was not configured correctly, which effectively wastes the heat gathered during the day.
The company designed the system for solar installers, who can use the data to notice problems and fix them, rather than have to respond to multiple service calls from a customer, said Dinkel. The cost to installers is "hundreds of dollars" for a 5- or 10-year contract.
Data from the monitoring device is transferred to a home broadband connection to the SunReports' Web application. People can set up alerts and compare actual and projected output.
SunReports decided to target residential customers because the market for large-scale solar systems, used by utilities or energy project developers, is already well served.