Commercial PV System Data Monitoring, Part Two: Page 6 of 6

Ultimately, there are advantages and disadvantages to both inverter-integrated and third-party monitoring approaches. Generally speaking, over a period of years, system designers, integrators and EPC contractors specify various brands of inverters. There are several reasons why: Inverter product availability and pricing is dynamic; new inverters are always coming to the market; some inverters are a better fit for different climates or with different modules.

Whatever the reason, it can be impractical or even undesirable to specify the same inverter manufacturer’s products for all of your projects. However, if you specify products on a case-by-case basis, and always rely on inverter-integrated monitoring packages, your data monitoring hardware and software will vary from site to site. This complicates your overall monitoring strategy. Security access may be more challenging, as multiple hosting platforms may require multiple passwords. There is a learning curve associated with each new platform, both in equipment installation in the field and in managing the interface back at the office.

One of the main selling points for choosing a single supplier for third-party monitoring services is the promise of being able to monitor and manage different inverters and different sites from a single-user interface. Errors, alerts, alarms, reports and work orders can be standardized across every installation site within one web-hosted platform. Ideally, all of the data for every site is easy to access and track. Another benefit of using thirdparty monitoring services is that the monitoring system operates independently of the inverter, which may prove especially valuable in the event of an inverter failure.

Of course, before deciding to use a single provider for all of your monitoring needs, you need to evaluate the company’s stability, reliability and experience. Working with a small thirdparty monitoring solutions provider may not instill the same level of confidence as working with a major inverter manufacturer, such as SMA. Of course, not all third-party providers are necessarily small companies. For example, ArgusON is backed by the financial resources of SPX Corporation, a Fortune 500 company, and maintains a national call center that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Another consideration is the degree of inverter-level functionality that the monitoring solution enables. Inverters have lists of alarm and error codes that vary by manufacturer, and inverter-integrated data monitoring systems interpret these codes correctly. Third-party monitoring providers rely on the inverter manufacturers to share these alarm codes, and some manufacturers are not forthcoming with this information. Furthermore, if you are using an inverter-integrated data acquisition system, it may be possible to remotely resolve and reset some inverter alarms. While some third-party monitoring suppliers may be able to provide this capability, it is less common.

CONCLUSION

Installing cost-effective and efficient PV data acquisition systems means that monitoring solutions providers and PV system integrators must work together as partners—through the sales cycle, the design and installation processes and onward— to keep PV systems producing as intended for decades. Choosing the best data monitoring system and partner for your needs means thoroughly researching the options and correctly valuing data monitoring as an investment in future returns.

Special thanks to Bill Reaugh at Draker Laboratories for providing expert technical review services and input during the preparation of this article. Commercial Monitoring

CONTACT

Kyra Moore / Southern Energy Management / Durham, NC / southern-energy.com

Rebekah Hren / 02 Energies / Durham, NC / 02energies.com

RESOURCES Third-Party Commercial PV Monitoring Providers

AlsoEnergy / 866.303.5668 / alsoenergy.com

ArgusON / 866.459.4103 / arguson.com

DECK Monitoring / 503.224.5546 / deckmonitoring.com

Draker Laboratories / 866.486.2717 / drakerlabs.com

Fat Spaniel Technologies (Power-One) / 408.785.5200 / fatspaniel.com

Locus Energy / 877.562.8736 / locusenergy.com

meteocontrol North America / 510.764.6494 / meteocontrol.com

Solar-Log / 203.702.7189 / solar-log.com

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