Is consumption monitoring worth it?

  Fronius 3P Smart Meter

Fronius 3P Smart Meter

Over the past year or two, we've seen consumption monitoring devices being sold with solar power systems. These can be referred to as smart meters, but they differ to the meter that your retailer installs. They add about $300 to $600 more to most systems, so should you install one?

What are they

Consumption monitoring devices, or smart meters as they're referred to, monitor the consumption of power in your home. These devices are mounted in or near your switchboard and are connected to the inverter. They do not replace your energy meter that your retailer installs.

Why you would install one

Inverters these days are coming with very nice monitoring portals, usually accessible over the internet. As great as these portals are though, inverters only know how much power your system is producing. They don't show you what happens to that power after you produce it.

Smart meters allow these monitoring portals to show you historical and real time information about your consumption, which really brings it to life. Being able to see what happens to the solar power you produce, whether you consume it yourself or export it back to your retailer, gives you a much better idea of how your system is serving you. They also show you consumption only, even at night when the solar is off. Most portals have a smart phone app, allowing you to watch your real time changes to your production and consumption on your phone.

Inverter portals with smart meters installed allow you to do the following:

  • View consumption graphs showing you your consumption over the course of the day. This is very useful for working out what size batteries you'll need later.
  • Accurate savings estimates, as the inverter knows exactly how much power has been consumed and how much has been exported.
  • Better educate yourself and other householders about which devices consume the most power and how to use more of your own power, increasing your savings.

See some portals in action

A must if you're planning for batteries

A hybrid or battery inverter needs to know when power is going back to the grid, otherwise it won't know when there's excess solar or a shortfall. Without this information, it won't be able to determine when it should be charging or discharging. If you're installing a hybrid but not putting a battery in straight away, you should still install a smart meter for two reasons. Firstly, they are far easier to put in with the original install, compared to retrofitting later. Secondly, they allow your portal to store consumption information, which is vital in planning the right size battery.

So should I?

If you're planning batteries down the track, want to know more about your home energy or want to maximise your savings from the solar, then yes. If you don't use apps, don't have internet (that's a big one) at home or you're only going to think about your solar system when your bill arrives, then quite honestly it probably isn't worth the extra money.