Have you ever questioned the production output of your solar panels? If not, are you sure they produce what they should be?
A Sydney-based start-up aims to help you get the most out of your hard earned solar. They’ve developed intelligent solar monitoring software centred on a core of clever and sophisticated algorithms. It continuously calculates and communicates whether your solar power system performs optimally for any given day of the year. If not, they’ll inform you straightaway about the cause. You’ve no longer to worry about a faulty system, unnecessarily cleaning your panels, cutting trees or being on the phone with several installers. They help you understand the problem so you know what actions to take. To better comprehend how they exactly do it, I caught up with Stefan Jarnason, co-founder of Solar Analytics, at their office in Redfern, Sydney.
A healthy but challenging industry!
In a previous article, I have already elaborated on how the generous incentives set by the Australian government kickstarted the solar industry back in 2010. However, uniquely in Australia compared to the rest of the world, these subsidies were directed at residential homeowners specifically. It’s noteworthy to underpin once more that because of that the industry truly exploded in Australia.
Back then, because of how subsidies were directed, the average system size was around 2 to 3 kW. Pretty small if you ask me, but perfect to accelerate the adoption of residential solar massively. A large group of early adopters took their chances and as a result rapidly developed Australia into the fastest growing and largest residential solar industry in the world. At peak, there were above 200.000 systems installed per year!
“Imagine over 200.000 systems being installed each year. That’s a phenomenal amount! In particular given the size of our country. Today, we have the world’s most competitive and well-developed residential solar industry out there. We can install solar on someone’s roof well under half the price of what it gets installed for in Germany or the US.” – Stefan Jarnason
Today, Australia is the world’s most competitive solar industry. Competition characterizes a healthy market and lowers prices that in turn benefit the consumer. However, that same competitive market created a complicated playing field in Australia for some of America’s finest solar companies such as Sungevity and Sun Edison to survive.
In order to become successful in the Australian industry you should be lean and have a competitive pricing structure. Margins get really skinny over time and you can’t permit yourself to have a high cost structure with a big operational expenditure. Anybody who rolls out fabulous programs with advanced tools and a great customer experience might be stuck to too high costs. Your sales acquisition cost should be as low as possible to avoid struggles. Therefore, it’s a challenging market to operate in.
The low hanging fruit of solar has been taken, but bringing solar to the masses remains a critical challenge. However, now that worldwide PV prices drop exponentially, energy storage becomes more accessible and clever algorithms continuously are being developed to monitor your solar generation, big opportunities arise to make solar available to the masses.
“In Australia about 140.000 solar systems get installed each year of which 95% are still residential. Although residential only makes up 20% of the market capacity, the main focus in terms of number of solar systems is still residential. My view is that this number will increase substantially again in the years to come as electricity prices continue to increase, while solar PV and battery prices decrease leading to an increased uptake of storage. Personally, I think that in 3-5 years from now almost every solar system will be sold in combination with storage. In the future residential distributed solar plus storage will be our number one source of electricity.” – Stefan Jarnason
I still don’t get what I want!
Back in 2011, Solar Analytics started of as a spinoff from Suntech Australia, one of the largest solar panel manufacturers in the world. Back then, Stefan Jarnason was still working at Suntech and had already been around for 20 years in the solar industry. Stefan thought it was about time to get him some solar installed on his own roof as well. This step opened up some major opportunities that bridge an important gap in the market.
“I was fortunate enough to get one of those very generous feed-in tariffs when I installed my solar system. I installed a proper solar system and searched the market for the best solar monitoring system available, which was an SMA Webbox at that time and cost over $1200 just for the monitoring equipment. And guess what, it still didn’t tell me anything about how well my solar system was performing, or how I could make better use of my solar!” – Stefan Jarnason
Do you know that a study performed by Renewable Energy Australia showed that about 22% of the solar systems in Australia are underperforming and about 4% don’t work at all? Causes vary from unexpected shading, dirt on the panels and inverters that haven’t even been connected. It’s seriously beneficial to get to know exactly what your panels should be generating in order to get the most out of your solar!
Facts according to Solar Analytics
It’s a little-known fact that 51.8% of solar power systems are not peforming to capacity at any point in time2, and around 14% of solar energy systems develop a major fault every year and stop working altogether 1.. That’s more than half of all residential solar systems significantly underperforming, every day 2.
1 Reliability Analysis of Residential Photovoltaic Systems, A Garro, International Conference on Renewable Energies and Power Quality, 2011.
2 Analysis of 8000 AusGrid PV systems, ‘Performance lessons from the real world’, SunWiz 2012.
The moment Stefan sat in his offices complaining about his expensive solar monitoring system that didn’t even tell him what he actually was after and thought he had paid for, Solar Analytics was born!
Soon he partnered up with a local company, found some experienced co-founders, and spents years in R&D in collaboration with the UNSW. By 2013 Solar Analytics was confident and mature enough to spin out as a company from Suntech.
It takes time and effort to set up a company, but it seriously helps if a successful company like Suntech believes in your idea and, therefore, gives you the space to develop it further by providing the appropriate resources. It’s important for a company to get your people motivated by supporting them in pursuing their dreams and, most of all, keep innovation high up the agenda. In 2014, the Solar Analytics founders did a management buy-out from Suntech.
Solar Analytics: solar should be about having fun
You should see Solar Analytics as a data aggregator that creates additional value for solar households specifically. They combine energy data form the solar system, energy data from your home consumption, local weather data and solar-specific data. They run it through some of their self-developed sophisticated algorithms. Then, the outcomes are presented to the consumer in a comprehensible way that helps them maximize the value of their solar system.
Important to note, is that Solar Analytics always puts the consumer at the centre of their business model and provides insight and value to the homeowner. Not to someone else!
“It’s our belief that this solar energy revolution has been driven and will continue to be driven by empowered homeowners that want solar on their own roof. The most important thing for us as a company is to stimulate them and contribute to this consumer movement by giving them more savings, more value, more insight and more fun from their solar. The moment people get excited about energy, that’s the moment that people tell their friends to join the energy revolution.” – Stefan Jarnason
I personally think that customer engagement is key in achieving acceleration in the energy revolution. For years, the solar market was in the early adopter-stage. People that were excited about technology, loved to speak about energy and were willing to pay a premium. Solar is becoming more and more mature and accessible to wider society. However, the moment you want to bring clean energy to the masses it should be about making energy fun and interesting while receiving more value and benefits at the same time. Friends that tell friends are what drives such an acceleration.
“Eventually people will install bigger systems and, most importantly, install storage. That’s what has always been the missing piece in driving our solar revolution!” – Stefan Jarnason
Get to know exactly what’s going on
Their technology identifies whether the system is performing optimally to its potential on any given day for your location given your amount of shading on the system. It automatically calculates the amount of shading and adjusts to what’s happening given the weather and all other external variables. They identify the cause of the underperformance and convert it into a call to action. It might be soiling, a string fault, a voltage fault, grid fault, a broken panel or unexpected shading. For each cause, you’ll receive a different notification.
This notification informs you about what’s going on and at the same time informs, if needed, the installer to schedule an appointment to fix it. The customer knows exactly what’s the fault and what to do about it.
“Now they know “don’t go up the roof” and “don’t touch it”. This is a job for the electrician and he’s on his way to fix it!” – Stefan Jarnason
A Business model building on confidence and customer value
Solar Analytics provides its monitoring software directly to consumers through their website either for a monthly subscription or through a fixed payment for a 5 year period.
Solar Analytics also works together with a large group of solar resellers that package this intelligent software with a solar system at a fixed price. Solar resellers want to provide confidence and reliable systems. Solar Analytics helps them to be confident in keeping the system working, which helps them to stand behind their warranties. By putting up a solar monitoring system they give the consumer peace of mind. Don’t worry about your system, the monitoring will let you know when there is a problem!
In the near future, Solar Analytics will be the right partner in right sizing home energy storage and expanding your solar. Through their data aggregation at the household level, they’re the perfect match in telling the homeowner what a battery system would cost you and what it will save you.
“We’re essentially a value-added energy service provider. If you shift your load, you’ll save this much. Or what about the savings when you clean your system, fix your system or just expand your system. We help them to get the most money out of their system” Stefan Jarnason
Solar Analytics wants to bring more value to the 1.5 million solar system out there in Australia – then worldwide. Stefan quotes research that shows that about half of them aren’t producing what they could be and they can help fix it! Currently, there’s still a big challenge in educating people about solar, energy and our future energy system. Energy isn’t specifically high up the Maslov Pyramid. However, it could be when people realize that they can actually save huge amounts of money. But most importantly, we should make energy more digestible and interesting to people all over the world!
Find out more on www.solaranalytics.com.au!