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Monitoring Solar Energy for Fun and Profit: Fat Spaniel's "PV2Web" Displays Real-Time Status

Checking in on a solar array from the office is an intriguing thought for a solar homeowner. But there's a more serious and practical side to monitoring renewable energy systems for businesses, who are demanding accountability from solar installers and integrators. (podcast) (photo)

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The renewable energy industry has survived for decades on sales driven by environmentalism, independence, and the desire to tinker. Today, more solar users are focusing on return on investment, and they're looking to the renewable energy industry for increased accountability.

"The new buyers of renewable energy systems are much more interested in return on investment," says Chris Beekhuis, president and chief technology officer for Fat Spaniel Technologies in San Jose, California. "They're looking at cost and reliability. Many businesses are interested in making sure they have a reliable source of energy."

Fat Spaniel makes a product that helps companies to monitor their renewable power production and energy consumption. The product, PV2Web, collects performance data and transmits it to a central location. Authorized users can view and manage the system via the Web.

Fat Spaniel's PV2Web displays the realtime energy production and consumption for a 70 kW solar array on a commercial rooftop in Riverside, California. Many PV2Web installations are available for viewing at the company's Web site.

Owners can while away their afternoons watching output, the way a day trader watches the ticker. Service providers also have visibility into the solar electric system's performance. If installers or integrators see an opportunity to improve output, they can make software adjustments directly over the Web.

"The new buyers of renewable energy systems are much more interested in return on investment."
--Chris Beekhuis, President and CTO, Fat Spaniel Technologies

Business case for renewable energy monitoring

The payback for a monitoring system comes primarily from improving energy revenue and conservation. Monitoring is a way to verify that production and consumption are optimized to take advantage of time of use tariffs. Businesses with solar power may want to produce, and even export, as much energy as possible during the on-peak hours of the day, when rates can be two or three times higher than in off-peak periods.

Businesses also can trim their heaviest loads, such as cooling and lighting, to minimize demand charges or to participate in demand response programs. Some sites tie the monitoring software into an energy management system to reduce discretionary loads.

Related articles:
"Time of Use Electricity Billing: How Puget Sound Energy Reduced Peak Power Demands" (Case Study)
"Demand-Side Management Technology Avoids Grid Construction for Bonneville Power" (Case Study)
"Engineers Remotely Monitor Solar at Fiji Mountaintop Cell Tower"

In certain situations, the payback for a monitoring system is all but immediate. Some incentive programs require the owner to have a monitoring system that tracks energy production.

"In the case of a power purchase agreement, or a performance-based incentive program, for the owner to collect their per-kilowatt payment, they must have an independent monitoring system," says Beekhuis.

Monitoring also can alert owners or service providers to a problem, and gives them a tool to diagnose it. By identifying a problem promptly, an owner can reduce energy revenue losses; with remote troubleshooting, the installer or integrator can avoid unnecessary truck rolls. Says Beekhuis, "In those cases where there's a problem at the site, we see the monitoring system paying for itself in one or two incidents."

Independent monitoring for distributed utility

Fat Spaniel is a young company, but they already have quite a few systems installed. On the Fat Spaniel web site is a page where anyone can pull up the real-time monitors for sites that make their results public.

One of those sites is a Staples store where Sun Edison owns the solar panels and sells the energy to Staples. Beekhuis describes Sun Edison as a distributed utility: "Sun Edison is a private company, but they own and operate photovoltaic systems at many sites around the U.S. As an independent party we monitor the energy generated by those systems so the performance can be turned into renewable energy credits."

Comments

I respect your point of view but we can agree to disagree. The ROI (return on investment) factor can by eliminated by reducing the cost factor of installing the renewable energy systems.
Solar Energy, the momentum has started
Solar energy is the most abundant natural resource we have, and that technology has been around for awhile, but it wasn't practical from a financial perspective until now. When we can provide the average homeowner with the ability to produce their own electricity and keep the saving instead of paying for Commercials, Stadiums and other corporate greed, we are making headway.
There is a solution! I recently learned of a company that has figured out how to get Clean, Safe, Affordable Solar Power to the masses, and they do it without requiring any significant investment on the part of the homeowner. This company is helping homeowners switch to solar the easy way through a rental agreement. The customer gets a worry free solar system custom designed for 100% of their current consumption of electricity & an electric rate that is frozen at or below today's rate for up to 25 years. Let’s do something, we can be part of the solution and not be part of the problem. This program is an easy way that you can have an impact on the environment and our pocket book.

A unique, web based, publicly available monitoring service is ThetaNoon. It uses real-time data along with mathematical algorithms to calculate solar system output. That information is then available to the entire community.
You are welcomed to visit thetanoon.appspot.com

Please send me info on how to monitor the output of our recently installed solar panels. Is there a fee involved?
Thank you,
Dale Landis

Nice monitoring system. How does it get the data and what way is used to transmit the data to the web?