Tom is not only the CEO of SunReports, but he’s also a strong solar energy advocate for both PV and solar hot water. In the interview below, he discusses the advantage for solar hot water installers offering an easy to install monitoring system for customers.
SmartPlanet: What happens when we don’t monitor solar installations?
Tom Dinkel: The failure of the system is very quiet. There’s no smoke, klaxon horn, no flashing lights.
The problem is that you still have power — for hot water, you still are taking warm showers — but your solar generation system could be down weeks or months before you notice. That’s not a very good return on investment; that would be zero.
The homeowner gets a bill. They might notice that their first bill is a little higher than normal, but they pay it. The second month that it’s out of whack, it’s “Honey, why is this bill so high?” You’ve just wasted more energy than the thing costs.
We know for sure that over the course of the system — these panels live 25 years plus, inverters live maybe 8 or 10 years — you’re going to have one, probably two inverter failures. I would want to know when my inverter has pooped out.
It’s ironic: you’ve spent more on your solar array than your [Toyota] Prius, but there’s no dashboard on it.
Installers in California are required to provide a 10-year warranty on these systems. But they have no risk mitigation strategy. So we give them one dashboard, one Google Maps-based portal, where they can see their entire installed base. They can manage their entire installed base by exception. It’s a really useful tool.
SmartPlanet: How do you get installers to bite?
Tom Dinkel: It hasn’t been particularly hard. The hardest thing has been getting word out that the technology exists. Traditional monitoring has a power supply, web server and data logger that all have to get pinned together. The typical installer does not know what a subnet mask is.
We’ve designed a plug-in process. Our most common call from the field is, “I just did this really quickly, did I miss a step?”
The solar hot water guys have never thought of solar monitoring. The solar panel guys generally don’t unless they’re vertically aligned. It’s the inverter guys that have baked-in solutions. Where it falls down is when the customer calls. A visit by a repairman costs more than my product does.
In addition to being part of our online catalog, Free Hot Water is using SunReports’ solar thermal monitoring system for our own installations.
To see how easy it is to track solar thermal performance with SunReports, check out our live data feed from our recent solar thermal installation at Toadal Fitness center, a gym in downtown Santa Cruz, California.