Using Solar Panels on Remote Climate Monitoring Systems: Is It Worth the Investment?


There are many different hydrometric, sanitary, and rainfall/climate monitoring stations sending data into FlowWorks that require consistent upkeep from field technicians. Many of our clients have asked if it’s worth putting a solar panel system on their stations to extend the run times between battery changes. I know there are people who will disagree with me, but my personal opinion is that generally the answer is 'no, using solar panels in monitoring stations is not worth the investment'.

The main reason to have solar power on your station is to either eliminate or extend the run time between battery changes. There’s also a bit of a “green” look to them. But here’s my main arguments for not bothering:

  1. Any station should be able to run for at least 2 or 3 months on battery power, including those that run on the wireless telemetry systems that Telog, ISCO, ADS, and other manufacturers make. You should be visiting a station to do other station maintenance more often than that anyway, so battery changes shouldn’t be the only reason to go to a site.
  2. If the main reason you want solar is for the Green Theme, that’s great, but the station still needs a battery, which still has to be recycled eventually just like a non-solar station.
  3. Any solar panel large enough to operate a station reliably is usually an easy vandal target. Solar panels are favorite and very expensive targets for guns.
  4. If the panel is very small (like a trickle charger you can buy at an automotive store), you won’t get a huge benefit from it. But they are cheap enough that when they get vandalized you won’t miss the money as much.

Absolutely there are times when solar is a good idea. If you can secure the site against vandalism, or if the site is very remote (and hence not that likely to be vandalized), then if you can stomach the extra expense go for it. Solar panels are still fairly pricey, and they can add up to a large part of the bill for a typical monitoring station. Otherwise, save your money and put it towards more monitoring sites instead.

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