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A few years ago, a good friend of mine installed a small photovoltaic system on his roof. I'm very exited about installing some solar panels on a roof and start producing electricity. It turned out that the installed inverters have massive quality problems. So the idea was born to monitor the whole setup like i know it from computer systems. Each inverter in this system has a serial port interface to transmit data.
But at this time, the market of low cost and low power consuming computers wasn't distinct as it is nowadays. In February 2012, the Raspberry Pi Foundation started to sell Raspberry Pis. I saw this as a chance to get a cheap computer with a minimal power consumption.