We have had solar panels on our roof since November 2011. We had concerns about buying solar panels originally and one of the worries we had was how would we be able to continually ensure that they were performing as they should be. Well ever since we have had them we (by that I mean my husband) have been monitoring their performance closely. We have an Eco Eye Smart PV Monitor which provides us with lots of very useful information both on a moment by moment basis and in the longer term. My husband takes the data generated and sends it to the Sheffield Solar Farm for inclusion in their Microgen Database which they use to collate national data about solar panel performance. We in turn can then see how well our panels are performing compared to others in our area/ around the UK. We met some of the team recently at the Eco Technology Show in Brighton and they promised me a guest post about it . So here it is:
The Microgen Database:
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels get a mixed response in the UK media, largely due to our lack of full-on sunshine. How can solar panels possibly produce energy when the sun's behind clouds much of the time?
Sheffield Solar is a research team based in the Physics department at the University of Sheffield whose remit is to study the performance of solar PV panels, both on site at the Sheffield Solar Farm and "in the wild" on private houses across the UK. The Farm hosts a mixture of panel types, ranging from the standard rooftop varieties to solar-collecting glass and specialised cells intended for use in space hardware. The energy output for each panel is normalised to kW/m² and made available to the public live through the project's main website.
[image: Polysolar's 20% transparent module in situ]
Obviously it's not possible to do the same with private rooftop installations, and that's where the Microgen Database steps in.
All over the UK, over 6000 people who have solar panels installed on the roof of their home donate their PV generation data to Sheffield Solar. (New donors are always welcome!) The team then analyse the data alongside local weather conditions, and offer a monthly performance report back to the donor. The data is stripped of identifying features and made publicly available at the Microgen website [http://www.microgen-database.org.uk/]. You don't need to be logged in to view these results, although you do of course need a login if you're intending to donate data or post a message on the forum.
[image: Lisa (Dr Clark) and research student Jamie examine a Microgen DB report]
How useful is this data? For some PV system owners it has already provided the means to challenge the installer over unexpectedly poor output, as the database makes it possible to prove what the expectation should be. For those debating whether to take the plunge and invest in a PV system, it offers firm evidence of the likely return on that investment. And for those who are merely interested in whether PV panels can actually work in the UK, it offers welcome reassurance. Over the first two years of the Microgen project, the team's findings have been that 98% of solar PV systems do exactly what they say on the tin.
Thanks to Steph Fox of Sheffield Solar Farm for providing this article. Just to clarify, this project is totally not for profit and relies on people donating information about their solar panels. If you have solar panels and want to keep a check on how well they are performing I would highly recommend donating your information to them! How do you ensure that you keep an eye on the efficiency of your solar panels? Please share any tips in the comments below!