Australia has the biggest market in the world for residential solar systems. The country has over 1.5 million residential solar systems installed, in some suburbs you will see solar panels on 40 per cent of houses. It is the highest uptake of solar in the world for residences. While Australia is leading the way for residential solar, homeowners face issues ensuring their solar systems work at maximum capacity and efficiency. A recent study by Sunwiz found that over 51 per cent of solar systems in Australia are under performing, this is based on data from Ausgrid showing that from 8000 solar systems 51.8 per cent are not performing to capacity. Solar Analytics has entered the market to rectify these problems with its ground-breaking Smart Monitor technology.
Solar Analytics is the brainchild of CEO Stefan Jarnason and his expert co-founders who came up with the idea after experiencing inefficiency problems first hand. Jarnason worked at Suntech, one of the world’s largest solar panel manufacturers, and installed a solar system on his roof with the best monitoring system at the time. The very next day he realised it didn’t help him at all in reporting whether the system was working correctly or not.
Together with his co-founders Valantis Vais, Dr Renate Egan and Dr John Laird, Jarnason established a joint venture to develop a solution for remote, low cost and efficient solar monitoring. The University of New South Wales, considered one of the world’s leading photovoltaic research institutes, entered the partnership and the team began a lengthy process of academic research on how best to estimate solar system performance. The project hit a road bump in 2013 as Suntech went into administration, however the co-founders negotiated a management buy-out from Suntech in 2014 for all of the technology, at that point they had a customer base of barely more than 100 solar systems they were monitoring.
The project received a huge boost in December 2014 when the team secured AUS$1.5 million of external funding and a strategic partnership from AGL, and in the following year Solar Analytics grew it’s team four fold and from 200 sales to more than 3000.
The four co-founders have a wealth of expertise in solar research, photovoltaic engineering, software development and data analysis. Commercial director and chair Dr. Renate Egan has over 20 years’ experience in solar power, she has led Australia’s largest solar research team and Jarnason says she has been integral to the project’s success. Another key figure and co-founder is Dr. John Laird, a computer software developer specialising in real-time database development. He is responsible for collecting the vast amount of data necessary, storing it efficiently and allowing it to be retrieved, analysed and distributed.
Jarnason also has extensive knowledge of the solar industry. He spent 15 years working in reliability and accelerated testing of solar modules and looking at the reliability of solar systems. He pioneered the combined cycle test which has now been adopted by the major test labs and solar companies in the world.
“I have a very deep history in long-term reliability testing and so I have a good understanding of how and why solar systems can degrade,” says Jarnason.
Solar Analytics flagship technology, the Solar Smart Monitor, takes energy from the customer’s solar power system and the weather data and provides a precise estimate of how much energy a particular solar system should be generating on any given day, while also identifying any efficiency-critical issues and how to rectify them.
Jarnason says, “If you are a residential homeowner and you install a solar system on your roof, once it is installed you get almost no information about how well it is performing, which many people didn’t consider because they come with a 25-year warranty. However, there are many reasons why a solar system is not performing as well as it should be and solar owners are not getting the maximum energy and savings from their systems.”
Jarnason describes the myriad reasons a solar system could be under performing including: excessive shading, soiling, broken panels, potential induced degradation, defected inverters, string failure, earth leakage or grid faults. Solar Smart Monitor’s primary objective is to alert the customer when there is something wrong with the system and help them get it fixed. On average 14 per cent of systems will experience a significant fault in any given year.
Another key benefit the Solar Smart Monitor has is that it allows homeowners to see exactly how much energy their solar system is producing and how much they energy their household is consuming in real time. In Australia, homeowners receive a net meter which shows only how much energy they use above what they are generating or how much energy they export above what they are using, not how much they are producing.
In Australia when you buy energy from the grid you pay up to $0.55 per kWh, however if you sell energy back to the grid you may only receive $0.06 per kWh. Through Solar Analytics’ online dashboard, customers can see how much energy they are using onsite from solar, from the grid and how much they are selling back to the grid.
“We can help people to use as much solar energy as possible and not sell it back to the grid. We show them their live profiles, tell the impact of installing a battery and the optimal size for their system, what it would cost and what it would save them in terms of energy tariffs or (their) electricity bill,” says Jarnason.
Jarnason says the whole dashboard is engineered toward delivering value to the end homeowner. It’s designed for the homeowner who knows nothing about solar and made as easy as possible to navigate.
The Solar Smart Monitor’s ability to detect faults – allowing customers to rectify them earlier, load shed and optimise battery performance, would save a customer on average $270 per year for the solar system’s lifetime.
Jarnason says, “These unique benefits have proven valuable not only to residential owners, but importantly to solar installers and retailers, who are able to use the data collected by the Solar Smart Monitor to provide their customers with advice on accurate battery recommendations and increasing the size of their solar power systems to cope with their energy demands. This knowledge, and the in-built refer-a-friend feature, make the Solar Smart Monitor an ideal tool for improving customer sales and satisfaction.”
The largest site Solar Analytics monitors is 348 KW, but the company is focused on the residential market – rather than upscaling for commercial or industrial monitoring – because Jarnason sees it as a market that doesn’t currently have a suitable solution.
“We see all the growth coming from the residential solar market. It’s the most underserved market and we believe that’s where the growth is and that’s where it should be.”
Looking forward Jarnason has big plans for Solar Analytics. Having recently launched an office in San Francisco and with large increases in solar system installation, in the next five years Jarnason aims to make Solar Analytics one of the world’s leading solar monitoring providers with millions of customers.
“There’s currently over seven million solar systems installed worldwide and the majority of them do not have monitoring. Over the next five years there will be another seven million installed and we would like to see ourselves monitoring a significant portion of those.”
Jarnason believes that in the next few years solar power will be the cheapest, most sustainable form of energy, and the cost of generating solar electricity will be lower than the cost of transporting it from a remote coal-fired power station.
“What that means is that even if coal-fired power stations gave away electricity for free it would still not compete with solar on the roof, because of the cost of transporting it.”