Including advanced performance-monitoring hardware with a PV system installation is becoming the standard for commercial applications. Large commercial installations are often technically complex, require significant capital investment, and also offer a great public relations opportunity for the system owner or owners.

Like residential systems, monitoring commercial PV systems can be done either locally or over the Internet. The latter is more common, since it is easier to aggregate the information and generate a useful format for system owners, installers, and the public to view. As with residential systems, commercial Web-based monitoring services can be hosted by an independent, third-party service provider or directly by the inverter manufacturer. Collected data can be routed to the Internet through the site's existing computer infrastructure or via a dedicated IT network.

The most commonly monitored parameters include AC power and AC energy production (daily, weekly, monthly, and annual calculations). These are inexpensive to monitor and are included in standard packages. Options can be added to monitor additional parameters such as local environmental conditions (including ambient air temperature, PV cell temperature, wind speed and direction, and irradiance) and the building's energy consumption. For large arrays, the voltage and current of individual PV strings are often monitored to aid with troubleshooting. Each subarray is brought into a combiner box through a current transducer, which is connected to the datalogger, allowing the system installer to remotely diagnose component-level problems.

Many commercial installations include an informational display in a prominent location to make the PV system more visible to employees and customers. Displays can range from a single monitor showing only a few pieces of PV system production information to interactive kiosks that allow individuals to select from different menus to access detailed reports about the PV system's production and components.

Automated notifications of PV system performance anomalies sent via e-mail, fax, or text message are commonly found in commercial monitoring systems. The alerts can notify users about reduced power output, problems with a particular section of the array, or even a specific fault code from the inverter. These alerts allow remote management and maintenance of the PV system, minimizing system downtime.

Energy Recommerce manufactures UL-listed, data-ready combiner boxes that allow the performance of individual array series strings to be monitored remotely.

Fat Spaniel Technologies' Web-based monitoring solutions provide user-friendly graphical representations.

requires it. But if you are interested in a precise look at how your system functions and performs, and want convenient access to the data, Web-based monitoring is a great option. In addition, it will give your system installer the information they need to remotely troubleshoot problems if they occur.

For commercial systems, Web-based monitoring is rapidly becoming the standard. Compared to residential systems, commercial systems are more complex and have a significantly higher capital investment. As equipment and software development continue to progress, it is likely that in the next few years the majority of grid-tied systems will include remote monitoring via the Web—commercial and residential alike.

Draker Solar Design specializes in Internet-based monitoring for commercial-scale PV systems.


Ryan Mayfield ([email protected]) earned a degree in environmental engineering from Humboldt State University and now lives in Corvallis, Oregon. He has been working in the RE field since 1999 and founded Mayfield Solar Design, focusing on PV system design, implementation, and industry-related training. He holds a Limited Renewable Energy Technician license in Oregon.


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