Primer on Solar Meters and Tools


VELUX is an environmentally-conscious company that is focused on the creation of skylights and roof windows. Today, the company’s product lines include blinds, electronic accessories, solar panels, and shades, in addition to several skylights and roof windows. The company, based in Denmark, aims to help residents and businesses get more daylight and sunlight into their spaces with VELUX products. The company, founded in Denmark, is now officially a group of companies, which has a physical presence in more than 40 countries.

Company website:

Year founded: 1941

Produced in: United States, Denmark, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and China

Warranty: 10-year installation warranty plus 20-years on glass, 10-years on product and 5-years on blinds and controls

Type of company: VKR Holding A/S, a limited company wholly owned by foundations and family

Why are solar meters and tools useful and how can they save you money?

Solar meters may be used to determine the performance of the solar panel system under consideration, but in that category there are many different tools with other uses. Some meters will allow the consumer to assess the energy efficiency of their household appliances such as dishwashers, and 

Information on others for recording home or business energy usage is also included. Where new electric and smart meters can keep the consumer more informed. Another meter is used for solar home panel site selection and can tell you the best position for your panels to receive the greatest amount of the sun's rays.

SolarTown provides solar tools for recording data and making informed energy decisions. These tools are important because knowing the information they provide could save the consumer money and time. In this learning article, we hope to answer and clarify a few issues while describing in detail what devices are out there and how they work.

A solar meter can show household appliance efficiency

You are thinking of shelling out the big bucks for a solar panel system, but you don't know how large of a system to consider. It is much more economical to conserve energy than to purchase solar modules for your home. You first need to figure out how much electricity your home uses and how you can go about saving energy. Some relatively easy ways to save electricity include installing better insulation, changing the filters of your heating and cooling systems, replacing halogen light bulbs, and introducing more energy efficient appliances.

There are tools that can assist in figuring out where you can save electricity. The Kill A Watt Meter and Kill A Watt EZ Meter are solar tools that measure and give energy consumption values of household appliances in Kilowatt-hours just like the power companies do. This way numbers are compatible and decisions can easily be made on whether the appliance is saving or wasting money. Just so you know, an appliance can leak power even when turned off! This meter can even keep track of the quality of the incoming power and track the consumption expenses at different time intervals for up to a year. The consumer must then calculate money wasted and research better options.

For the tool to work correctly, the consumer inputs the known per Kilowatt-hour charge rate that the power company sets and the meter will calculate energy usage over time. The longer the appliance is hooked up to the meter, the more reliable the cost-to-use estimate will be. The estimates are derived from known historical consumption levels for the specific appliance. This is especially important for appliances that cycle, such as refrigerators, because power may still be consumed even when it seems like the appliance is in standby-so-called phantom loads. The Kill A Watt meters are also able to gauge the quality of the energy coming in by checking voltage (difference in potentials of energy), line frequency (the frequency of AC current being transmitted) and power factor (the ratio between the real power coming in and the load of the appliance). Statistics and the root mean square (RMS) method are used to make sure the various measurement values displayed are accurate. Knowing the quality of the incoming energy is useful to assess the performance and life of appliances and the potential for compatibility problems in households.

Related learning articleSolar Panels Produce Financial and Environmental Benefits

Overall these devices can be a valuable tool for consumers especially if they are looking to replace some household appliances. With a little math the average amount of energy the appliance uses per year, month, and day can be calculated. Ultimately this tool will let you know which appliances continue to leak energy when turned off and make you more conscious of your energy consumption. Hopefully this leads to solutions such as unplugging these appliances when not in use or totally replacing them with more energy efficient options. This device is necessary for a consumer because it can give an in-depth broken down look at household energy usage and may be able to point out where energy could be saved before you start looking into placing a solar panel system on your roof.

Analog vs. electric and smart meters

Some studies show that if you know how much energy you are consuming (read, wasting), then you can set goals for conserving energy. The new meters can enable a homeowner to better track the home's electrical usage.

Some utilities are replacing old analog meters with new electric ones which are causing people to ask questions. Solar meters are used to keep track of energy usage and production. Old analog meters are electromechanical and are composed of a spinner. If the meter is bidirectional the spinner will go forward if energy is being taken from the grid, and will go backwards if excess energy is sent back to the grid. These meters must be manually checked by a reader from the energy company every month because the information is not directly sent to the utility.

The utility companies believe the new electric meters will be more accurate. A smart meter has the ability to connect to the internet and easily report usage to the utility company, while new electronic meters are just the updated version of the analog meters and do not have the same connectability. Overall the goals of the new smart meters are to keep consumers informed so that they may be able to make decisions about energy costs. These meters allow the utilities to trace household usage at certain times such as high demand in the summer when maximum air conditioner use occurs. Smart meters work by recording electricity or natural gas usage every fifteen minutes. Consumers can find out their usage online or directly on the meter displayed in Kilowatt-hour. Homeowners should be worried about these numbers because of increased costs during high demand times and the potential to try to cut down use during these times.

This is important because of net metering and the fact that most states don't allow you to sell back to the utility. For an off-grid system this is even more important because off-grid systems are very costly and this is one way to make sure the system is worth it.

Related learning articles:

The cost rates and benefits for self-produced electricity depend on the utility company and where you live. The consumer must take the time to be well aware of changing regulations and rates. Again not all places participate in net metering so the new meter will just help with managing the grid. The new meters are necessary because they are better at keeping consumers informed.

Solar meter can optimize panel installation

You have now taken the plunge and are going solar. There are two major considerations that you need to take into account: aesthetics, which we have discussed in other blog posts; and output.

Related blog postAttention Installers: Please Pay Attention to Design!

For most solar installers, output is king and if you are going to go through the expense of a solar system, you want to maximize the electrical output of your solar panel system. The installer has a solar tool that allows the installer to determine the optimal layout of the panels on your roof from the perspective of maximizing output (unfortunately they don't have a tool to show how beautiful your solar array is yet).

Another type of tool called, Solmetric SunEye 210, helps with solar panel installations by simplifying decisions of where best to place the system. It helps determine where energy productivity will be maximized and shading minimized. The view on the device allows the surveyor to see the area shading as a 360° panoramic view including landscape features for year round and the electronic compass is used to calculate the sun path information. The information gathered can also easily be uploaded to a computer program to help with the design and alignment of the system. With this tool, it is easy to see where shading will be a problem and different scenarios for best direction of panels so they can be at peak performance and production.

Shading is a problem because the amount of sun reaching the cells is greatly reduced and not as much energy will be produced. For many systems the cells are all connected in strings so if the efficiency of one cell is cut in half, the efficiency of the whole system will be reduced by half. The tilt of the panels is also important to maximize to capture the most sunlight. This can be done by knowing the latitude of the area and depending on the season as the angle of the sun changes.

The device is easily and quickly able to display and store the data of the specific site. This means accurate information even when metal threatens to mess with the compass and less time on the roof for the surveyor. This tool is necessary because it can maximize the output of your solar panel system, allowing you to rely less on the power company and ultimately reduce your carbon footprint.

Right now installing residential solar panel systems allows people to take renewable energy into their own hands and feel themselves making a difference in a global warming conscious community. The tools mentioned above can allow consumers to maximize their energy systems while still attempting to remedy efficiency and leakage problems. Through use of these tools the consumer has more power, the power of information! Informed decisions about household appliances and solar panel optimization can be made to decrease reliance on fossil fuels and save the consumer money.