The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

Un-analytics: How Google Went Solar

Google loves talking about the world before analytics — when web owners knew almost nothing about their sites. Nothing useful, anyway. That all changed when a new technology came along that allowed web owners to monitor their sites as much as they wanted, any time they wanted. Web sites suddenly became a business proposition, and not just an enthusiasm for a few hobbyists.

Flash forward from the introduction of Google Analytics up to 2007. Google entered the solar business and opened a 1.65-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic power array — the largest commercial system in the world at the time. And just like Web sites before analytics, Google would soon learn how little it actually knew about its solar array.

After its panels were up for 15 months, Google cleaned them and documented its efforts in a report called Getting the most energy out of Google’s solar panels.

On several sections of its array, solar energy output doubled after the cleaning. Eight months later, energy output went up 37 percent after another cleaning. But here comes the money graph: It would be difficult to detect manufacturer defects or accidental damage by data analysis alone, unless the damage impacts more than about 20 percent of the solar panels in that building. For example, there have been few occasions when some of the solar panels were damaged by delivery trucks accidentally hitting the support beams that hold up the solar panels. Since these accidents did not damage a sizable portion of the solar panels, the damage went undetected for a while. 

Losing 50 percent of your power is real money, even for Google.

“Just like the web prior to analytics, Google had to admit it really did not know what was happening in its array because it had no way to monitor when good panels went bad,” said Mark Yarbrourgh, a city councilman in Perris, California who pioneered the use of solar in public buildings. “But neither does anyone else. Arrays malfunction and no one knows because they do not use monitors at the panel level.”

Undetected, solar panels go bad in all sorts of ways. Panels degrade anywhere from 0.5 percent to 9.5 percent a year, depending on the manufacturer, says Sandia Laboratories in a study for the Department of Energy

How will you know what your panels will do? Warranty Week Magazine says you won’t, not really: And yes, it really is guesswork.”

Dirt creates even more havoc — if not dirt, a bird dropping, or a baseball, or a golfball, or a rock, or a squirrel chewing a wire, or a Texas oak thick with pollen, or heat on the roof, or poor soldering. Even a shadow can be worse than you think, says the National Renewable Energy Laboratories: The reduction in power from shading half of one cell is equivalent to removing a cell active area 36 times the shadow’s actual size.”

“One bird, one truck of dirt, one flowering tree can destroy your solar production, and you would not know for a long time,” Yarbrough said. “Welcome to the Christmas Tree Effect: Hurt the panel a little, hurt production a lot. It is amazing how many people put up solar for great reasons, but really do not watch their systems. As a result, a lot of people lose a lot of money because many, many systems are not producing the power its owners were promised. And few know.” Maybe because knowing it is not that useful.  

“If your solar array produces a megawatt of power, that means it is composed of 3000 to 5000 panels,” said Ray Burgess, CEO of Solar Power Technologies. “If some panels go bad, you need panel level monitoring to find the bad panels. Most systems monitor power at the system level, but as Google found out, that is useful for detecting catastrophic failure and not much else.” 

Thus the need for small wireless monitors throughout the array.

“Now that we have cost effective monitors from a company in Austin, that is going to change the world, just like Google Analytics.” 

Leading the solar monitor business is Burgess and Solar Power Technologies of Austin, Texas. The company is introducing monitors and other devices to give solar array owners unprecedented control over their panels. If you have 3500 panels and a few start breaking, you better have something better than “guesswork” to optimize your array.

“As we travel the country talking to panel owners about their systems, we are constantly amazed at how many systems that are producing power far below their capacity, and some not producing power at all. Monitors on the panels can change that and let you know what is really happening with your system. And where it is happening. Saving system owners thousands of dollars a month.”

Just like Google Analytics.

Untitled Document

Get All the Renewable Energy World News Delivered to Your Inbox - FREE!

Subscribe to Renewable Energy World Magazine and our award-winning e-Newsletter to stay up to date on current news and industry trends.

 Subscribe Now


US Senate Democrats Unveil Energy Bill That Restores PTC and Extends ITC

Brian Eckhouse, Bloomberg Senate Democrats unveiled a bill that would provide more tax credits for renewable energy while killing some tax ince...

US, China Solar PV Players Team Up, Invest $100MM in Chile, Uruguay and Japan

Andrew Burger Private equity infrastructure specialist Hudson Clean Energy Partners and Hong Kong-based independent power producer ...

CEO Gilles: Challenge in Geothermal is to 'Level Playing Field' with Wind, Solar

Jennifer Delony The current challenge for the geothermal energy industry is what U.S. Geothermal CEO Dennis Gilles calls “leveling th...

NRG Energy to Form Renewable Unit, Sell Wind Assets to Yieldco

Mark Chediak and Matthew Monks, Bloomberg NRG Energy Inc., the worst-performing member of the S&P 500 Utilities Index this year, said it will form a renewa...


IREC Announces Changes in Regulatory Team

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), a not-for-profit organization which for...

IREC Awarded New Funding to Advance Digital Credentials

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) proudly announces funding for an innovat...

$100 Discount on 5-day Advanced PV Project Experience Workhop

Upcoming 5-day Workshops: Nov. 7 - 11 Feb. 6 - 10

Fronius Shifting the Limits in Solar-Plus: It’s not just about products, it’s about solutions.

Fronius USA, who just recently launched the all-new Fronius SnapINverter line this past...


clean energy

In Clean Energy, The Truth Matters

A group of about 20 protesters gathered outside the Sheraton in Burlington, Vt., early on Oct. 8 as attendees arrived...

Industry Focus: Cleantech: 1366 Technologies joins Solarcity in New York

1366 is set to build a factory just up the road (OK, it is a long road – NYS Thruway) from Solarcity.  The...

Solar Decathlon 2015 Opens to the Public in California

Today, Oct. 8, the biennial Solar Decathlon opened up to the public at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, ...



Volume 18, Issue 4


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon



Successfully Integrating Solar: A Proactive Approach

•      What does the increasing solar penetrati...

Canadian Solar Inverters Webinar

Canadian Solar is proud to be hosting two free webinars in October! The ...

JuiceBox Energy Certified Installer Class

JuiceBox Energy is rapidly building out its national certified installer...


How To Speak, How To Listen

As sales professionals, effective communication is paramount to our succ...

Get In The Habit

We all develop habits throughout our lives. Sometimes they’re bene...

Becoming An Efficiency Sales Professional

In order to become a sales professional, you must first realize that: E...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now