Instrumentation used in solar energy systems varies from very simple temperature and pressure indicators, energy meters, and visual monitors to data collection and storage systems. It is generally preferable to have some kind of data collection to be able to monitor the actual energy collected from the solar energy system.
Visual monitors are used to provide instantaneous readings of various system parameters, such as temperatures and pressures at various locations in the system. Sometimes, these are equipped with data storage. Energy meters monitor and report the time-integrated quantity of energy passing through a pair of pipes. This is done by measuring the flow rate and the temperature difference in the two pipes. Most of energy meters must be read manually, but some provide an output to a recorder.
Automatic recording of data from a number of sensors in a system is the most versatile but also the most expensive system. This requires an electrical connection from the various sensors to a central recorder. Some recorders also allow processing of the data. More details on these systems are given in Chapter 4, Section 4.9. Nowadays, systems are available that collect and display results online on the Internet. These are very helpful in monitoring the state of the system, although they add to the total system cost. In countries where schemes such as the guaranteed solar results operate, where the solar energy system provider guarantees that the system will provide a certain amount of energy for a number of years, however, this is a must.
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