Solar systems contain no moving parts, so little maintenance is required compared to other kinds of installations. But it is important that they remain clean and operating efficiently, so that they produce the amount of energy they are designed to produce.
Here are a few tips for maintaining your solar panels.
Monitoring your solar system
One form of important ongoing maintenance is monitoring of your solar system. Most systems have monitoring equipment either included or sold as optional add-ons, and keeping an eye on your energy production and usage can tell you if your system is performing to expectations.
Monitoring of your solar system can be as simple as watching to see that the green light on your inverter is always on. If it goes off or starts flashing, it means your solar system has stopped working and will require inspection and possibly repairs.
Monitoring can also involve accessing an online portal from your laptop or downloading data from your system in order to analyse figures and print out reports.
Another form of maintenance is to keep an eye on your solar panels. If they have been on your roof for some time, you’ll need to check that surrounding vegetation and trees have not grown to the point where they are now shading your panels. If they are, remove or trim the offending vegetation.
Solar panels also work more efficiently when they are cool, so during really hot spells, it would pay to run the garden hose over them to cool them down during the hottest part of the day.
Finally, a visual inspection of your solar array will tell you if your panels are clean. They can build up a residue of dust, grime and bird droppings over time which blocks out sunlight, so keeping them clean will help to keep them running at maximum efficiency.
Cleaning your solar system
Cleaning is possibly the most important aspect of solar system maintenance. If you live in an area with regular rainfall, the rain will do half the job for you, but if you live in a region that is dusty, close to the ocean, near heavy industry or beside a busy freeway, chances are your solar panels will get dirtier faster and require more regular cleaning.
As clambering around on a wet roof can be dangerous, your solar array should ideally be cleaned from the ground. This can be done using a long handled window cleaning pole with a soft sponge and wiper on the end and a bucket of soapy water (avoid detergent). You can also use a garden hose, but the panels should ideally be wiped before they dry, as tap water contains minerals which will form deposits on the glass.
The best time to clean solar panels is in the early morning, when dew will help to soften up any bird droppings or deposits. Avoid cleaning them in the heat of the day, as the water used can evaporate quickly and the dirt will become smeared on the panels.
If parts of your solar array are too hard to reach from the ground, consider using a professional solar panel cleaner or window washer, as the small financial outlay would be preferable to damaging your expensive solar system or falling off your roof.
Every couple of years, you should have a professional check your solar system over to make sure it is still safe and performing well. A qualified solar maintenance person will be able to;
- Analyse overall performance using onsite records and monitoring data
- Visually inspect for panel damage, fractures, moisture penetration or frame corrosion
- Check cabling for integrity and measure voltage levels
- Inspect junction boxes for tightness of connections, water accumulation and integrity of seals
- Visually inspect inverters for damage
- Check alignment and rigidity of the framing system
Why it’s worth doing
Maintaining your solar system requires very little outlay in terms of care and the benefits are well worth the effort. Google conducted a study at their Californian solar farm and found that cleaning solar panels doubled their electricity output.
The next time you’re out in the yard, look up and give your solar panels the once over. If they look a bit neglected, consider giving them some TLC, so they can go on doing what they’re designed to do, which is saving you money on your energy bills.