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Subject: Hive mind request: Solar Panel overproduction mystery - hypothesis request rss

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Julius Waller
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I wonder if might call on the collective power of Chit Chat and assist me with a mystery I am facing. We have a house with PV solar panels installed. The installation was running since about 2011 and yielded exactly the output you would expect from the 32 large panels on the roof. 4-6 KW depending on solar radiation etc...

Fastforward to 2014 - a lightning strike annihilates my main AND solar elecricity meters. These are set up by the side of the road (the location is very remote and rural) and a tree was struck about 20 meters away, the two boxes holding the meters were blackened by fire and the meters themselves looked like a Dali painting totally melted

No worries electricity company came and replaced everything. The systems were checked and whilst in some places the surge of electricity had damaged some electrical appliances in the house and melted a fuse or two, the solar panel system didnt look impacted.

Anyway everything seemed to be working fine again until the moment came that the electricity company measured how much electricity I had delivered to the net (for which I get paid). It turned out the amount had doubled compared to previous years to 12 KW on average. They told me - and I have since verified this myself that the output generated is impossible given the size and type of installation I have. Given that the modulators (there are three) are 1500+1500+2500 W - this makes sense. I also calculated the solar irradiation and matched it to the size of the panels and their age and whatnot and arrived at the same conclusion - the maximum output is 6KW.

The hypothesis the electricity company came up with is that the new meter is broken. They have since changed it twice and yet still the same thing happens, the output recorded is more or less twice the theorectical maximum. They are now moving in a not so fun direction in that they are accusing me of fraudulently adding panels somewhere and trying to defraud them for the money. Obviously I didnt touch a thing and am as puzzled as they are. I cant help but think that given the output seems 2x normal there must be some very simple problem that is causing this. I am afraid I havent got much data on either the panels system I have or the way EDF meters work.

I wondered whether you guys could help me out with some hypothesis of what might cause a meter to record twice the output of what is going in knowing that the meter is not broken and that a lightning strike cant double output of solar panels either.

Geek gold as well as eternal gratitude for any suggestions!
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You generate your own power and put the excess into the power grid?

Something in your house is using less power than it used to. Perhaps the lightning strike damaged something you haven't thought of.

The original meter was broken/measuring wrong. You were putting more power into the grid than you were getting credit for.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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The tree which was struck--or others which might have been removed around the same time--wasn't shading your panels, was it?

I'm confused by the units of measurement you're using--if your normal output when the sun is shining is 6 KW of power, then after an hour of that, you will have generated 6 kilowatt-hours of energy, and it might be reasonable to expect such a system to generate 36 KWh of energy in a day. I don't think you're saying you were exporting "12 kW [of power] on average," but I can believe you were exporting 12 KWh of energy on an average day; if that's what the electric company is saying, then certainly it's possible that (like Koldfoot said) something in your house is using less energy than it was before, because it got fried & never replaced, or fried & replaced with a more efficient model.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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If you have access to the inverters, and the inverters have little LCD diagnostic panels which tell you how much power they're generating, how much energy they've generated that day, etc., and your utility meter also has a readable display showing your net energy usage, you could do a little test: throw the circuit breakers on your house so that you're not using any power; note how much power the inverters claim to be putting out; then walk over & see whether your utility meter says you're exporting roughly that, or double that.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Do you ever drink heavily and do home improvement projects? Just wondering about the likelihood that you replaced an old electric water heater with a tankless gas water heater while blackout drunk.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Also, did your solar installer not offer monitoring, so you could see graphs of the energy produced by your system every day for the life of the system? (Most of the code I've written in the last 12 years has had to do with collecting & aggregating data from PV & environmental systems, so it hurts me a little bit that you didn't have that.)
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Cedric
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Is it the same tech who came each time to install the meters?
Maybe he is doing something wrong when he sets up your smart meter.
I would have someone else check the consistency between the information in the meter and your system configuration.
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Julius Waller
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@@ Rusty sorry about the confusion on the metrics its something that confuses me too.

1) The inverters indicated 1500+1500+2500W exactly as they should - this was during bright winter sunlight but its what they are supposed to show.
2) No aggregated data is given - the system by which measurements are made is old school to the extreme. The meter is in fact a regular electricity meter but instead of consumption it yields output. You click on a button at measurement time and there is a number - presto your annual production
3) the trees are far away from the panels themselves which are never in any shade. I have calculated the theoretical max output and the electricity company is right my panels cant produce that much energy.
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Julius Waller
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gameced wrote:
Is it the same tech who came each time to install the meters?
Maybe he is doing something wrong when he sets up your smart meter.
I would have someone else check the consistency between the information in the meter and your system configuration.


This is something that I thought of as well - my main issue is that I need to have a specialist come down. The house is at least 2hrs drive from anyone with half an expertise in solar and because its partially a dirt road they often refuse to even consider coming down. However if nothing else works what I intend to do is to show that at exit point of my system the output is correct - the error then lies clearly with the electricity company and their meters or wiring.
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Julius Waller
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Koldfoot wrote:
You generate your own power and put the excess into the power grid?

Something in your house is using less power than it used to. Perhaps the lightning strike damaged something you haven't thought of.

The original meter was broken/measuring wrong. You were putting more power into the grid than you were getting credit for.


I thought the same but unfortunately a calculation of the max. theoretical output from my panels bears out that they simply cannot produce that much energy. Its 32 panels which I presumed are 1 M2 each but they could be 1.5 M2 - there are a few spots online where you can input the size, age, efficiency and solar radiation data (which NASA helpfully supplies right down to the exact lattitude). Even if I fiddle around with the numbers and bias them upwards i cant get close to what the meter says I am producing.
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Ben Vincent
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Clearly you have discovered the secret to doubling the output of solar panel systems: Lightning! Patent this process and you'll be a billionaire.
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Snoo Py
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TrustyJules wrote:
gameced wrote:
Is it the same tech who came each time to install the meters?
Maybe he is doing something wrong when he sets up your smart meter.
I would have someone else check the consistency between the information in the meter and your system configuration.


This is something that I thought of as well - my main issue is that I need to have a specialist come down. The house is at least 2hrs drive from anyone with half an expertise in solar and because its partially a dirt road they often refuse to even cconsider coming down. However if nothing else works what I intend to do is to show that at exit point of my system the output is correct - the error then lies clearly with the electricity company and their meters or wiring.


Could you just ask your utility to send someone else?
The thing is that you are not just "producing" a little more, but by a straight factor 2. A strong indication of a setup problem.
What are the model and brand of your meter?
Also, out of curiosity, why is the wattage increase considered a fraud?
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Robert Wesley
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The ONLY 'logical reason' is, that it is "drawing upon" further current generation FROM theirs, or another 'source' as a result. The 'lightning strike' might have caused subterranean access of natural electrical occurrence-(think "static electricity")-and did you have rugs, clothing, pets etc. of which could 'contribute' into this with theirs as well? There was some fellow at one time of whom 'accessed' something of a current from within the ground in which to enable HIS 'telephony'-principle with functioning, as he proved with demonstrations, until he went away discouraged and probably 'maddened' further...
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Sue them first. Clearly they've being paying you half what you've been delivering.
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Billy McBoatface
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My money is on the electric company's technician hooking the meters up incorrectly. Maybe the meter has setting for single phase vs. split phase, and it's set incorrectly? Something like that. If it's the same technician every time, then they probably keep replacing the meters and configuring it wrong each time.
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It seems to me the electric company is measuring the output using their own meters. It's all their problem.

I am also confused by the measurement being in kW (instantaneous power) instead of kWh or megajoules (both energy). Is it possible that they've converted between kWh and Mj?

I like the hypothesis that something that was using power has been turned off. Since the house seems to be in a snow area, could the electric pipe heaters have been burned out? Could some major energy-users have been installed with much more efficient models? Could some things be running now only as needed, like replacing a tank hot water heater with an on-demand heater?
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Snoo Py
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Tall_Walt wrote:
It seems to me the electric company is measuring the output using their own meters. It's all their problem.

I am also confused by the measurement being in kW (instantaneous power) instead of kWh or megajoules (both energy). Is it possible that they've converted between kWh and Mj?

I like the hypothesis that something that was using power has been turned off. Since the house seems to be in a snow area, could the electric pipe heaters have been burned out? Could some major energy-users have been installed with much more efficient models? Could some things be running now only as needed, like replacing a tank hot water heater with an on-demand heater?


kW is the demand, as kWh is the consumption. The former will determine the grid capacity, that's what the utility will consider for production. And that does not depend on whatever the house itself is using.
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Joe Cool wrote:
kW is the demand, as kWh is the consumption.

That's not a way to put it that gets to the heart of the matter. Think of a water pump, usually measured (just to stay metric) in liters/hour. A kW is like a liter/hour; a liter is like a kWh, the amount of water a 1 l/hr pump would put into a bucket in an hour. kW is flow; kWh is amount.

Kilowatts are flow into or out of a power company, house, whatever. A kilowatt-hour (a kilowatt flow for an hour) is the amount of electricity used in an hour, a day, the amount inside a battery, etc. Demand and consumption is neither here nor there; they can be measured either way, by flow (instantaneous amount) or total (amount).
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Julius Waller
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Joe Cool wrote:
TrustyJules wrote:
gameced wrote:
Is it the same tech who came each time to install the meters?
Maybe he is doing something wrong when he sets up your smart meter.
I would have someone else check the consistency between the information in the meter and your system configuration.


This is something that I thought of as well - my main issue is that I need to have a specialist come down. The house is at least 2hrs drive from anyone with half an expertise in solar and because its partially a dirt road they often refuse to even cconsider coming down. However if nothing else works what I intend to do is to show that at exit point of my system the output is correct - the error then lies clearly with the electricity company and their meters or wiring.


Could you just ask your utility to send someone else?
The thing is that you are not just "producing" a little more, but by a straight factor 2. A strong indication of a setup problem.
What are the model and brand of your meter?
Also, out of curiosity, why is the wattage increase considered a fraud?


The reason they term it a fraud is because I have a contract for the supply of the electricity to the net. This is based on the homologated installation that they checked three ways over at the start of the contract. The contract is very lucrative because I effectively sell at 0.54 EURO per KwH whereas I buy electricity from the net at 0.17 EURO per KwH. The contract dates from the time the government was trying to promote solar panels, the investment was considerable. Even at the rate above it takes 15 years to make it back and the contract is for 20 years. However the conditions got loads of people building solar capacity so much so that the electricity company started to bleed money big time. They are very keen to watch over production and ensure noone is getting more than they deserve. Someone producing twice the amount that is theoretically possible with their installation is of course an obvious candidate. If it were anywhere else most likely they would have gotten nastier with me before this. Because its a residence and I literally have no way to hide additional panels anywhere (given I am in the middle of nowhere) they have held back pushing this. The accusation is of course untrue however I sense they are doing a Sherlock Holmes on me that when you eliminate every other possible avenue the one remaining one no matter how unlikely is the right one. Except it isnt and there must be something else.

I need to find the original papers with the equipment maker - unfortunately I cant find these which is one my frustrations.
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Julius Waller
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wmshub wrote:
My money is on the electric company's technician hooking the meters up incorrectly. Maybe the meter has setting for single phase vs. split phase, and it's set incorrectly? Something like that. If it's the same technician every time, then they probably keep replacing the meters and configuring it wrong each time.


This an interesting suggestion - the setup is three phase of course. The technicians coming are not the same - the penultimate who came by was of the opinion the wiring was incorrect. However they sent another capo round and he vetted the installation again. One of the problems is that the regional electricity company guys arent experts in solar production setups. The experts are situated even further away and so far have declined to come down except for the last time.
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Julius Waller
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Tall_Walt wrote:
It seems to me the electric company is measuring the output using their own meters. It's all their problem.

I am also confused by the measurement being in kW (instantaneous power) instead of kWh or megajoules (both energy). Is it possible that they've converted between kWh and Mj?

I like the hypothesis that something that was using power has been turned off. Since the house seems to be in a snow area, could the electric pipe heaters have been burned out? Could some major energy-users have been installed with much more efficient models? Could some things be running now only as needed, like replacing a tank hot water heater with an on-demand heater?


You are correct I should have written KwH - as regards the output - I have checked this and their claim is correct. The panels cannot produce as much - this is confirmed by the unjdulators who max out at 5500 W and the theoretical output calculation I made which came out at an output of 4 to 6 KwH depending on certain parameters (mainly solar radiation - the panels are very optimally oriented with no shade whatsoever so the high end is likely but not more).
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Chris
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My money is on a math error somewhere.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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TrustyJules wrote:
You are correct I should have written KwH - as regards the output - I have checked this and their claim is correct. The panels cannot produce as much - this is confirmed by the unjdulators who max out at 5500 W and the theoretical output calculation I made which came out at an output of 4 to 6 KwH depending on certain parameters (mainly solar radiation - the panels are very optimally oriented with no shade whatsoever so the high end is likely but not more).

(You're mixing up KW and KWH again, though.)

You said "the meter is in fact a regular electricity meter but instead of consumption it yields output"--if you go outside and look at it mid-day, does it say you're currently outputting 12 kW of power, or does it say you have output 12 kWh of energy so far that day? The first is a problem with the meter's wiring or configuration; the second is not.
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Based upon my poor understanding of history, science, and ethics...
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You are buying at .17 and selling for .54.

Sounds very suitable for fraud to me.

From the company's view, it is worth it to hide a generator in your garage, or illegally tap a power source and run it back into the grid.

The source of the juice does not have to be solar panels.
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Michael Howden
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Exactly 2x the previous amount has, "mistakenly set modifier" written all over it. I'm going with operator error on the part of the tech that is installing the meter.

But... I'm just applying Occam's razor.

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