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How do I know if my solar panels are working?

5 min read

You made it through the installation process and now you’ve got a solar energy system—woo hoo! Somewhere along the way, you discovered that you need to monitor your solar production to ensure your solar energy system is working properly. Sounds easy enough. But how can you make sure you’re monitoring your solar panels correctly? Let’s find out.

Getting Started

How you monitor your system depends on what type of inverter you have and where your solar provider stores your system’s data. But you typically have two options: manually monitoring the inverter on the side of your home or checking your production data online via a secure website or app.

When your system is up and running, your solar provider should give you access to these online tools. You can also find out where your inverter is installed by following our guide below. Manual monitoring can provide a sense of relief if you’re having issues logging into your online portal, but for most cases, the online portal is the way to go. Not only can most solar energy systems digitally track your household energy consumption and energy production, they can also help you detect problems with your panels and provide maintenance recommendations. You may find that logging into your online portal provides answers to many of your typical questions, so it’s a good place to reference frequently.

How to monitor manually

If you want to manually check your system’s production, you can learn how to do that here. If you’d rather check your data online, skip to the next section.

To monitor manually, start by identifying what type of inverter you have. You should be able to find this information in the system design documents given to you by your solar provider. And remember, brand is different than type. Popular inverter brands include Enphase, Fronius, and SolarEdge but, regardless of brand, most inverters will fall into one of two types:

- String inverters: These consist of a central unit connected to your solar panels through a set of wires. If one or more of your panels malfunctions or receives shade during the day, the production from that entire string will also be reduced. If your system has a string inverter, you’ll be able to find production data on the inverter located outside of your home. If the indicator light on the unit is flashing green, your production should show on the LCD screen. If the indicator light flashes red, you may see an error code which means you’ll need to contact your solar provider to troubleshoot further. If you’re a Vivint Solar homeowner, check out our troubleshooting guides for Enphase, Fronius, and SolarEdge inverters.

- Microinverters: These connect individually to each solar panel. If your system has microinverters, all your production data will be tracked online and stored safely in your private account. If you’re a Vivint Solar homeowner and have questions about your account data, see here.

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Whether you can view production output on your inverter or not, the best way to monitor your system from day to day is by logging into the website, app, or other monitoring source provided to you by your solar provider. We’ll go over that next.

How to monitor your energy online

Reach out to your solar provider to determine how to log into your online portal. If you’re a Vivint Solar customer, we provide easy monitoring access online via Account Center as well as mobile access with the Vivint Solar app. (Are you a Vivint Solar homeowner and need help logging in to your account? Contact us, we’re happy to walk you through each step.)

When you’re logged into your secure monitoring portal, you can see the daily, weekly, and monthly kilowatt hours (kWh) that your solar energy system has produced. If your panels are fairly new, you should compare your kWh output to the monthly kWh estimate that your solar provider gave you with your initial design. If you’ve had your panels for a while now, you can compare your output to previous weeks or months to monitor production. If your system is experiencing a technical issue, your system output may be lower than usual.

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Troubleshooting Tips

If your production seems low and there are no errors displayed on your inverter screen or in your online monitoring portal, you can run a basic health check on your system before calling your solar provider.

  1. Are your panels dirty? Solar panels can handle a little dirt, but a buildup of tree sap, dust, or bird droppings over a long period without rain can affect production. Try standing on your lawn and spraying your panels off with a hose—no need to get out the ladder.
  2. Are your panels shaded? Make sure there are no tree limbs, antennas, or any other structure shading your roof.
  3. How is the weather? While solar panels still will work in cloudy and rainy weather, they may not produce as much electricity as they would on a sunny day.
  4. What time of day is it? The time of day that you measure your solar power makes a difference. Your solar energy system typically has maximum output at midday.
  5. What season is it? As the seasons change, your solar energy system’s output changes as well. Your panels will produce more energy during the spring and summer when daylight hours increase and less energy in the fall and winter when daylight decreases.

If you’re still experiencing issues unrelated to the common troubleshooting issues above, please get in contact with your solar provider for assistance. Now that you know how to monitor your system, you can remain in control of your power production and continue being a champion of solar energy!

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