Ultimate Guide to Solar Energy System Operations, Maintenance, and Troubleshooting



One of the advantages of solar energy systems is that it is very easy to operate, maintain, and troubleshoot even for simple homeowners like you that don’t have experience in electrical installations. Solar energy systems are very simple and don’t require you to exert much effort once you already have one on your home. However, it is still important to give a little bit of your time into operating, maintaining, and troubleshooting your system to ensure that it can continue to produce energy for its lifetime of 25-30 years.


If you already have a solar energy system on your home or if you are planning to have one installed but you are worried that it might be very difficult to operate, maintain and troubleshoot it, this is the right place for you! In here, you will find everything that you will need to know in order to properly operate, maintain, and troubleshoot a solar energy system.


Operations


  • Turning the system on/off

Solar energy systems automatically turn on in the morning and off at night. As the sun starts to rise in the morning, the solar panels get a low amount of irradiance from the sun, which causes them to produce a voltage and current. The values for the produced voltage and current will then reach a level that is enough to turn on the system’s inverter as the sun continuously rises in the sky. This turns on the inverter, and thus, the whole system.


As the sun sets in the afternoon, the irradiance that reaches the solar panels will continuously decrease, and eventually, its voltage and current levels will fall below the level that is required to keep the inverter on. The inverter then shuts down along with the whole system.


  • Monitoring the energy production

Probably the most satisfying feeling in having a solar energy system is monitoring its energy production. Take note that this is not required for the system to operate, which means that it will continue to produce energy whether you monitor its energy production or not. However, it is still best to do so for you to really feel the value of your investment and be satisfied with it.


Different solar energy systems will have different ways to monitor the system production, depending on the brand and type of the inverter that was used on your system. For those that use string inverters, you can directly monitor the system’s energy production by looking at the small LCD screen on the inverter itself. Usually, you will also have the option of monitoring energy production through a mobile app or a website.


Solar monitoring systems will usually let you see 4 system parameters: DC and AC voltages, DC and AC currents, power production in kilowatt(kW), and energy production in kilowatt-hour(kWh). However, as the owner of the system, you will only be interested in the power and energy production values as these will be the ones used to measure your system’s overall performance.

  • Measuring system performance

As we have mentioned in the section on monitoring the energy production, as the owner of the system, the only important parameters to look at are the power and energy production values. This is because, with these two values, you will be able to measure your system’s performance.

Every solar energy system has a maximum power capacity that it can produce. During optimal weather and system conditions, your system should produce the same amount as this value. By monitoring the power that your system is producing and comparing it to the maximum, you can already get an idea of how well your system is performing.


Your system’s energy production is the most important parameter to monitor because this directly translates to savings on your monthly electric bills. From this, you will get an idea of the total savings that you will get from your next electric bill.


  • Operating in power outages


During a power outage (or what is referred to as a brownout here in the Philippines), an on-grid solar energy system will automatically stop producing energy and shut itself down. This is a safety measure that is required to protect the personnel that might work on the electrical lines near your house because they would not know that the electrical lines are still energized.


  • Operating with fluctuations in the utility electricity

Solar energy systems are already designed to still operate despite having fluctuations in the electricity from the utility as long as these fluctuations are within set limits. This includes fluctuations in voltage and frequency and only means that you would not have to worry about these things as the system can manage and take care of itself in these situations.


Maintenance


  • Ensuring that the wiring is in optimum condition

This may sound daunting at first, but it is simply just a matter of checking the condition of the wiring systems and ensuring that everything is in order and there are no damages. Inside your house, check the conduits and ensure that everything is nice and tight. Also, make sure that there are no physical damages, especially in the entry and exit points of the wires. In the afternoon, touch the wires that are going to the inverters to check if they are heating up too much. Overheating wires are usually a sign of electrical faults or undersized wires.


For the wiring of the solar panels, you will have to climb your roof and look underneath them. Make sure that there are no loose wirings and everything is secured by cable ties. Also, make sure that no part of the wire is in contact with the roof. Lastly, ensure that each solar panel’s MC4 connector is connected tightly connected. Take note that when connecting the solar panel’s MC4 connectors, you will hear a clicking sound as a sign that a reliable connection was made.


  • Ensuring that the communication system is in optimum condition

If the communication system uses Wi-Fi, maintaining it would be much easier as you would just have to check if the communication line is active and that the inverter is able to send real-time data that you can monitor.


For those that use a LAN connection, just make sure that the data cable is tightly connected to the inverter and your connection module. Also, make sure that the cables are nice and tight and have no visible physical damages.


  • Cleaning the solar panels

Solar panels can accumulate dust and other debris while being on your roof for a long time. This means that you will need to clean it from time to time. However, the frequency of which you need to clean them depends on many factors like how dusty is your area, how strong the wind blows, etc. Here in the Philippines, we have a rainy season that can help clean the solar panels, which is an added bonus.


  • Preventing wiring faults

Wiring faults mostly happen when the wire’s rubber insulation gets pierced or torn and the copper inside of it gets in contact with other parts of the system. This is dangerous as it can energize other parts of the system, electrocute someone or start a fire. Therefore, it is very important to avoid this from happening. Make sure that wires are not in contact to sharp metal edges, specifically with the wires that are coming down from your roof. Also, be aware of how much the wires of your sytem are bent because overbending them can cause the copper inside of it to break and lose their electrical connection.


  • Ensuring that the inverter is in optimum condition

It is best to consult with the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding the maintenance of the inverter. Do not be worried, however, because these are usually simple steps and actions that can be done by everyone without needing to open the inverter. If your inverter has a fan, these are usually removable and needs to be cleaned from time to time to ensure proper air circulation inside the inverter.


Also, touch the outside of your inverter and make sure that it is not getting too hot. An inverter that is becoming too hot is usually a sign of a defect that may eventually lead to complete breakdown of the unit. Lastly, make sure that your inverter is free from dust by wiping it with a dry cloth or rag.


  • Ensuring that the circuit breakers or disconnects(switches) are in optimum condition

Maintenance of the circuit breakers and disconnects is usually just done through visual inspection and does not require you to touch them. This is because circuit breakers or disconnects(switches) may still be energized even in the open or off position and is still an electrical hazard. Also, make sure that the wires coming in and out it are nice and tight.


Troubleshooting


  • Low system production

If your system is not producing as much as you expects it to be, it might be encountering problems that you must determine and fix right away. If its energy production is significantly lower than its estimated energy production, some solar panels or even whole strings of solar panels themselves may be disconnected from the inverter. Check each solar panel and make sure that its MC4 connectors are tightly connected. Also check the point where the solar panels or strings of solar panels connect to the inverter because they might be disconnected here.


Another cause of low energy production is the accumulation of dust and debris or trash on your solar panels. This can easily be found out by doing a visual inspection. You can clean the solar panels using water and a mop(make sure that it is clean first), rag, or sponge.


Lastly, observe your surroundings to check if there may be any tall structure that causes shading. Shading can significantly decrease the energy production of solar panels and should be avoided at all costs.


  • No monitoring data

First, check if the inverter is still transmitting data by monitoring the system’s production through the app or website. If real-time data is not available, this means that there is a problem with your communication system. If it is connected through Wi-Fi, check your Wi-Fi router for problems in your network or internet connection. On the other hand, if it uses a LAN connection, make sure that the data cables are properly connected on both ends. Also look for signs of physical damage to the cables that may cause your system to stop transmitting data.

  • System faults

System faults are any kind of fault that your system can experience. These are usually detected by the inverter and communicated to you, the homeowner, through an error message or a fault code that is displayed on the inverter’s LCD screen or through your monitoring system (app or website). For fault codes, you will need to check the manufacturer’s notes on what these fault codes mean for you to determine the appropriate action to remedy the problem.


  • Overheating

Overheating, whether on the wires or on the inverter itself, is always not good because it can be a sign that something is wrong within them. If not taken care of immediately, it can lead to total system breakdown or may even be a fire hazard. If you notice this on your system, it is best to turn it all off first, figure out what is causing it and fix the problem before turning it on again.


  • Component defects

Defects on your solar panels and/or inverter are covered by manufacturer warranties. Report any defects that you find to your solar installer for them to report it directly to the manufacturer and arrange for a replacement.

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