Friday, 24 March 2017

Engineering instructions vs User instructions

I recently spent a whole day trying to work out how to export data from our PV inverter at home.

Of course, as it was installed 7 years ago, we could say that I was a little behind the 8 ball on this. However, I claim that this is actually my husband's lapse, as he is in charge of all things electrical in our house (like that duck-shoving?!).

Anyway, I finally realised that it was possible to interrogate the inverter for data. It became necessary because I wanted to find out how close we were to generating all our own power each month (so I could tell Meridian "Goodbye and thanks for all the fish").

However, getting data out of our inverter proved MUCH more difficult than I thought it would be.

I knew our meter was a Sunny Boy SB 5000TL-20. So I simply punched in Sunny Boy and the model to Google and got taken to the website. Excellent. I had to create a logon. No problem. Did that.

Then I found I needed a "PIC" and a "RID" number. Que? No such numbers on the unit. Looked VERY carefully. Downloaded and read a manual. Apparently there should be such numbers on the unit. O-k-k-a-a-a-y...

Ah. Found that instead I can download an app (Sunny Portal). Downloaded the app. It asked me for my user name and password. Entered those.

Blank screen. I had no "Plant" to interrogate.

Did more reading. Found that there was a space in the unit for an SD card. Got my husband to check. We would have to turn the unit off and take it to bits to put an SD card in... and the sun was out and we were generating. Make power while the sun shines, and all that. Thought we would do that if all else failed (husband is an electrician as well as an electrical engineer, so is allowed to do these things - very handy).

Next I thought that maybe I just had to take the phone by the unit and connect via Bluetooth. No probs. Found the unit on a bluetooth scan. It asked me for a password... oh. Tried my password for the website. Didn't work.

Looked at our paperwork. No password. Checked the manual I had downloaded. No password.


Went to call our installer. Their number had changed. Their email no longer worked.

Double grrr.

Guessed some passwords. Guessed 0000... and was let in. But then I was connected, but unable to see anything. The app still didn't work.


Googled Sunny Boy troubleshooting instead. Finally found a 3 minute video clip from Aussie: it was perfect (here). I had it all wrong.

What I needed to do was to download some software - rather annoyingly and inaccurately called 'firmware' - to a laptop and then use Bluetooth to connect. Did that. Standing in the cupboard with the laptop.

Asked for a password! Argh! Downloaded the CORRECT manual for the model. No password.

Guessed 0000 again... and was let in.

Now, guess how many manuals, pages or apps all that was written in? Yep, you guessed it: none of them.

There is a great trick to writing instructions: it is in putting things in step by step, and explaining each step clearly. We must not assume that our user has inside knowledge. Something this company had clearly not done. 

A flowchart would be a nice idea. Even just a list.

Perhaps the first question to ask was "What is your model number" when registering online. That would have saved me at least half the angst and hair-pulling.

Anyway, I now have my data. And I have instructions on how to do it again by writing this post!


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