Solar is a terrific way to lower your energy bills and take a bite out of your carbon footprint. Though the system installation process may involve a certain amount of complexity, once it’s up and running, solar panel maintenance is generally pretty easy. To keep panels performing at their best here are a few things to do.
CLEANING THAT PRESERVES SYSTEM EFFICIENCY.
Over time, panels do become dirty, which can impact energy output. They’re designed to last at near full capability for more than 25 years, tending to only degrade about .5% a year over their lifetime, and regular cleaning is recommended to ensure maximum performance. Often, rainfall can be an effective method of washing them. However, it is advisable, particularly in more arid climates where there is less rainfall, to do cleaning between 2-4 times a year.
Module cleaning should be done when solar irradiance is low: in the early morning, evening, or on rainy days. If you use particular tools and take certain steps, you should avoid damaging the anti-reflective coating (ARC) that many panels have, like those offered by Silfab Solar. If the ARC is damaged it would lower the panel’s effectiveness and could void the warranty.
When cleaning your array, wear clean gloves to avoid touching the glass with your bare hands and leaving dirt or fingerprints. Never use tools like blades, knives, steel wool, high pressure washers, abrasive brushes, cleaners, polishers, or substances that contain sodium hydroxide, benzene, nitro-thinners, or alkali chemicals. Any type of commercial glass cleaners or alcohol/ethanol/methanol brand can be used. A homemade option is gentle, non-abrasive soap mixed with one part vinegar and eight parts water.
First, shut off the system, something you can learn how to do from the manufacturer specifications. If you’re working on a rooftop array, consider using a hard hat, ladder support, and harness. Then whisk away debris like dust and leaves with a dry cloth, and gently scrape harder matter like dirt, bird droppings, plant branches with non-woven fabric or a hair brush. Keep in mind that careful, focused cleaning is better than aggressive scrubbing that might scratch the panel. Follow up by spraying water (deionized or distilled is ideal but not mandatory) onto dirty regions, making sure to keep the pressure below 690Kpa (100 PSI). Use soap sparingly as it can leave a residue that leads to streaky panels that are both unsightly and compromise panel functionality.
In the event of snow coverage you can either wait until it melts and falls off or gently remove it with a brush. Don’t remove frozen snow or ice – many modules can withstand heavy snow pressure up to 5400 Pascal.
WHEN TO HIRE A PRO.
Safety is certainly something to consider. The safest option is to clean panels from the ground with extension tools. But if your system is two or three stories up, or set in a steep or slippery location, it’s better to hire a solar professional to avoid potentially serious injuries. Complex cleaning should also be handled by a solar professional. Commercial arrays that are larger or situated on carports often require working with an experienced team.
Once a year, hire a professional to inspect the system to make sure it’s working properly and to check for damage to the panels and components that may need repair. The national average cost for an annual solar panel maintenance is between $140 and $180, something that is often covered by your installer warranty. Most manufacturers give 12-year equipment warranties that cover the panels against defects, equipment failure, and environmental issues. A longer warranty is usually available as well. For example, Silfab Solar offers extended 25-year product and 30-year linear power warranties.
Watch for system performance dips and changes in output levels. It’s important to regularly monitor your array’s output to measure the impact of cleanings. Some output fluctuations within the predicted range for your system are normal, but if the panels are dirty they will more consistently produce energy at the low end of the range. It can be helpful to review your energy bills before and after a cleaning to determine its impact.
Happily, solar panels don’t need constant cleaning and other maintenance. However, removal of build-up and some monitoring is needed to keep them from degrading in efficiency. If you take these simple steps to care for them each year, your panels should do an excellent job of producing all the clean energy and savings you expect.
Subject to the conditions and exclusions contained below, Silfab Solar warranties that within the first year from the Warranty Start Date, every Product will have a power output that is: (a) in the case of mono-crystalline modules, 97.1% of the nameplate maximum power output specified for the Product (“Pmax”); and (b) in the case of multi-crystalline modules, 97.5% of Pmax. Silfab Solar further warranties that from year 2 through 30 degradation will not exceed 0.50% of Pmax per year for mono crystalline.