Whether you own solar panels or whether you are considering going solar, you need to know the ins and outs of how to maintain solar panels.
Typically, solar panel systems don’t require much care or attention, but low maintenance doesn’t mean no maintenance. Regular maintenance on a solar array will prolong the life of your panels.
Additionally, regular maintenance will save you money on energy bills while protecting the environment by cutting back on waste. Instead of energy sources that produce harmful carbon emission, solar power generates clean, renewable energy.
- What Are Solar Panels?
- How Do Solar Panels Work?
- How to Maintain Solar Panels
- FAQs About Maintaining Solar Panels
What Are Solar Panels?
In a nutshell, solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. They are often placed on rooftops. Roofs are often unused space that gives the panels a good vantage point for unobscured exposure to sunlight. However, panels can be placed on the ground, as well.
Instead of relying on energy sources that produce harmful emissions and pollute the environment, solar panels provide a way for homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint by using clean, eco-friendly energy.
There are three types of solar panels:
- Monocrystalline are the most expensive solar panels but also the best performing. These are the longest-lasting solar panels. They are the most efficient type of solar panel, as they convert 24% of absorbed sunlight into electricity.
- Polycrystalline have an efficiency rate of 20% and are cheaper than monocrystalline panels. However, their lifespan is shorter.
- Thin-film panels are mobile and lightweight. They are a cheaper option but have an efficiency rate of 19%.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar cells are arranged in a grid pattern and convert sunlight into either electric or thermal energy.
Here are the steps of how solar photovoltaic panels transform sunlight into usable energy:
- Solar cells absorb sunlight.
- The sunlight is converted to direct current (DC) power.
- The DC power passes through an inverter, which converts it into alternate current (AC) power.
- The AC power travels to outlets and powers your home.
How to Maintain Solar Panels
If properly cared for, PV systems can provide energy to homes for 25 to 30 years. Some monocrystalline panels even last as long as 40 years. Proper maintenance is important if you want to keep your solar panels operating efficiently.
Regularly Inspect Your Solar Panels
Annual inspections are recommended for solar panels.
You can hire an inspector to assess the condition of your solar array and check that everything is in working order. Usually the company that installed the solar panels will perform inspections.
Components that should be checked during an inspection include:
- Mounts and brackets
- Solar cells
Solar panels should be inspected for defects, damage, or broken components. Their performance efficiency also should be checked to make sure the solar panels are still operating properly.
Clean Your Solar Panels
The outdoors are messy. And inevitably, your PV system will get messy, too. Dirt, pollen, bird droppings, leaves, and water stains can dirty the face of a solar panel. Anything interfering with the system’s solar cells slows down power output. Too much accumulated dirt can cause a hot spot, which is bad for your solar system.
Often rain will naturally wash away dirt and pollen buildup. However, sometimes precipitation isn’t enough to clean all the grime away, so solar panels will need occasional cleanings.
If you don’t want to deal with the risks and hassle of DIY cleaning, you can hire a cleaning company to wash your solar panels for you.
How Often Should I Clean My Panels?
It is recommended that you clean your solar panels two to four times a year. Of course, the frequency of cleaning solar panels depends on how quickly they get dirty. Some solar panels may only need to be cleaned once a year.
Before cleaning your solar panels, you should shut them off first as a safety precaution, especially if you are rinsing them with water. Failure to power off your solar panels could cause electrocution.
Debris is bad for roofs and solar panels, so make sure to first clear the roof of debris. A leaf blower can be used to blow off dirt, dust, and leaves.
To clean solar panels, hose them down with water. If a mere hose-down isn’t enough, you can use warm water and a squeegee or soft brush to scrub away debris clinging to the surface. Vinegar is also excellent for scrubbing down solar panels.
Always exercise caution when cleaning your panels. If you plan on cleaning your panels yourself, always do so safely from the ground or from a ladder. Make sure your ladder is secure before you get up on your roof.
Solar panel cleaning kits provide homeowners with the cleaning equipment they need to make their solar array squeaky clean. These kits usually come with tools such as:
- Soft brush with a long handle
- A wiper
- Biodegradable soap
- Soft cloths
Automated Sprinkler System
Automatic sprinkler systems are installed on the roof with your panels. They clean your panels by sprinkling them with water spray.
Here are a list of things you should never use when cleaning solar panels:
Don’t pressure wash solar panels. A high-pressure jet blast could damage the panels.
Don’t use soap or detergents to clean solar panels. They leave behind stains.
Don’t clean solar panels with hard water. Hard water has a high mineral level and will leave behind white residue.
Don’t use abrasive or hard-bristled brushes or sponges to scrub your solar panels. They could scratch or damage the panels.
Check After Rough Weather
Solar panels are built to be resistant to hail, ice, snow, and high winds. However, they are not invincible and harsh weather conditions can cause damage. After a storm, you should inspect your panels for damage or breakage.
Lightning strikes can cause serious damage to solar panels. If your PV system is struck by lighting, that will require repairs and replacements.
Keep your solar panels snow-free, otherwise snow will cover up the solar cells, blocking them from absorbing sunlight.
For snow removal, you can use a leaf blower or rinse your panels with lukewarm water. Do not use hot water. The extreme heat of the water and the extreme cold of the snowy winter air mixed together could cause the tempered glass to crack. Also do not use rock salt to clear off snow, as it might damage your solar panels.
Pro Tip: Just like pouring hot water on cold panels can damage a solar panel, pouring cold water on warm panels can cause serious damage to PV cells. Always use lukewarm water to clean your panels.
Remove Obstacles that Shade Your Solar Panels
Make sure your solar panels stay in full sun each day. That will keep them reaching maximum energy output. Trim back tree branches that are shading the solar array.
Make Necessary Repairs
If your panels have external damage or their production levels inexplicably go down and your electric bills increase, your solar panels may need repairs.
Any loose components, such as nuts and bolts, should be tightened.
Some common problems plaguing solar panel systems include:
- Birds. Solar panels shelter your roof, but panels can become a shelter for nesting birds too. Birds damage wiring, scratch panels, and leave behind bird droppings. Barriers and netting can be installed to prevent birds turning your solar panel system into their home.
- Damaged roof. Solar panels will not damage a roof, but loose or missing shingles can be bad for solar panels.
- Faulty wires. Wires that are loose or damaged by corrosion or oxidation decrease the panels’ performance.
- Hot spots. Perhaps the most common problem that solar panels face is hot spots. They occur when panels get too hot and the system overloads. Hot spots occur for several reasons, such as too much dirt covering a panel.
- Inverter replacement. An inverter will have to be replaced at least once during the lifespan of your PV system.
- Micro-cracks. Micro-cracks are tiny cracks that are difficult to spot with the naked eye. These cracks can be caused by mishandling during shipping and they pose the risk of growing into bigger cracks.
- Moisture-induced corrosion. The outside of a solar panel may be waterproof, but moisture trapped inside the panel will damage the system.
- PID effect. Potential Induced Degradation is voltage discharges that decrease a solar system’s energy efficiency and lifespan.
- Snail trail. Despite the name, snail trails are actually jargon for brown streaks that appear on the surface of your panels.
If you don’t know what the problem is, have a professional inspect your solar system and let them identify the issue.
Inspect, Clean, and Replace the Battery
Solar batteries store excess energy for cloudy days when solar panels don’t produce as much energy. Batteries require regular inspection and cleaning.
There are several types of solar batteries:
- Flow batteries are rechargeable, water-based batteries that have 100% depth of discharge, meaning the battery’s entire energy supply can be used up without damaging its lifespan. Although they are more expensive than other types of solar batteries, they have the longest lifespan, lasting up to 30 years.
- Lead-acid batteries, the most common type of photovoltaic battery, are dependable, recyclable, and cheaper than other batteries. Their low depth of discharge means they have to be charged more frequently than other battery types.
- Lithium-ion batteries require hardly any maintenance. Although expensive, they have long lifespans and efficient storage.
- Nickel batteries are not as commonly used, but they are low maintenance and resistant to extreme temperatures.
The battery’s voltage should be checked periodically. Or if you have a lead-acid battery or a flow battery, you should check the electrolyte level.
When a battery has a low electrolyte level, it can lead to sulfation. Sulfation is where sulfur crystals appear on a battery’s lead plates. Sulfation is the most common cause of solar batteries failing.
Your solar battery should be protected from extreme temperatures. Solar batteries are not designed to weather extreme heat or cold, so keep your battery indoors and out of harsh weather conditions.
Sometimes solar batteries might have a low fluid level and need to be refilled with distilled water.
Additionally, batteries will need their terminals cleaned every so often to avoid rusting.
Solar batteries have a shorter lifespan than solar panels, so you will have to replace the batteries before the end of your panels’ lifespan. On average, a solar battery lasts five to 15 years.
You can test a solar battery with a multimeter to check its open circuit voltage and operating current. For lead-acid batteries, you can test them with a hydrometer.
Here are some signs that your solar battery is at the end of its life:
- Sizeable decrease in the battery’s storage capacity
- Energy leakage
- System malfunction
Check the Solar Inverter
The inverter is what makes solar energy usable for households by transforming DC energy into AC energy. The inverter must be functioning in order for solar panels to work, otherwise you will not be able to use the energy your solar panels are producing.
Inverters require little maintenance, but to ensure your solar panels are in good condition and running efficiently, you’ll want to check the solar inverters. All LEDs should be green, indicating they are working properly. If your lights are red, yellow, or off, it means there is a problem with the inverter.
If your inverter displays an error code, it means there is a problem with the inverter.
It should be kept free of dust and dirt, so clean off the inverter every so often.
Inverters will need their cable connections inspected, as well. Damaged wires should be replaced.
Typically, inverters have warranties that last about 10 to 15 years. Some have been said to last up to 25 years, but it is likely you will have to replace your inverter before your solar panels reach the end of their life.
Monitor Your Monitoring Systems
Solar panel monitoring systems allow people to keep an eye on the energy output of their solar panels. Monitoring allows you to track the productivity and performance of each individual panel.
Such systems track the amount of degradation that occurs in solar panels over the years.
Degradation measures the percentage by which the solar system’s efficiency decreases each year.
Aside from that data, monitoring systems inform you if a solar system needs repairs or has suffered a malfunction.
While homeowners don’t have to constantly check their solar panels’ performance, they will want to look over their system’s performance every so often. Usually homeowners can use a phone app or internet portal to check on their solar system’s performance.
Good solar panel warranties last about 15 to 25 years. Generally, warranties guarantee that your solar panel will perform at 80% or higher for the duration of their warranty period. If the solar array performs below that, then typically they will replace the installment.
Warranties cover costs for repairs and replacements if the solar panel is malfunctioning or underperforming.
FAQs About Maintaining Solar Panels
Technically you can walk on solar panels, but it is strongly advised that you never walk on them. They are durable, but walking on the panels could smudge, scratch, or break the glass.
Adding a solar panel to your home should not make it more difficult to sell. Solar panels are an asset, and they can increase the sale price of your home by $15,000.
However, leased solar panels will make it more difficult to sell your home, as leased panels are a turnoff to homeowners.
So long as they are properly installed, solar panels will not damage your roof or cause leaks. Solar panels will extend the lifespan of your roof since they protect it from UV rays and harsh weather.
Looking for a Solar Panel Pro?
Homeowners might not want to take the risk of DIY rooftop maintenance, which can be dangerous. Cleaning, repairs, and inspections are jobs best left to trained professionals.
If you don’t have the time or don’t want the hassle of DIY solar panel maintenance or cleaning, find a professional solar company near you today.
Photo Credit: Pexels