Something’s not right.
Your solar panels normally cut your energy bill in half! You live in a place where the sun never stops shining, so the weather can’t be the culprit. Yet they’re below efficiency–not a good sign if you bought them recently!
Solar panels are an incredible technology, but they need regular maintenance to perform at their fullest. With some regular solar panel care, you’ll get the maximum efficiency that you paid for.
Here are some solar panel maintenance tips to keep in mind.
Solar Panel Maintenance
Since solar panels just sit there, it’s normal to forget about them and let them do their magic. Unfortunately, solar panels are not a fire-and-forget energy solution. Pulling the ladder out of the garage and regularly taking a trip up to the roof will need to become a regular habit for you if you want to get the most energy output.
The primary culprit for solar panels failing to function is almost always that they’re dirty. Let’s discuss some of the ways you can keep your solar panels squeaky clean.
How to Clean Solar Panels
How do solar panels get dirty in the first place? It’s not just dust that collects in drier climates. There could be guano from birds, factory fumes, or pollen that accumulates over the months.
While you may experience regular rain that would seem to clean them off, rain often leaves a residue, too. No matter what climate you live in, you’ll benefit from regular trips up to the roof.
1. Maintenance of Solar Panels
Solar panels are not just some floor that you can sweep with any broom! These are sensitive, calibrated pieces of technology. Treating them gently will keep them in good condition for years to come.
When cleaning your solar panels, go for tools that will be gentle on the photovoltaic cells (those are the little blue squares that produce electricity from sunlight).
These tools may include the following:
- A hose (make sure to use a low-pressure setting)
- A soft-bristled broom
- A soft sponge
- A leaf blower
2. Take Safety Precautions
Before cleaning your panels, you should take a few extra steps to protect not only the panels, but your own safety.
Make sure your panels are switched off. The last thing you want is to short them from some stray water–or worse, short yourself!
3. Tips When Cleaning
Ideally, start with the leaf blower. This should get the majority of the dust off.
Go easy on the broom. Use short, gentle sweeps. You want to avoid damaging the cells since the dust works like sandpaper under pressure.
If you feel comfortable spraying your solar panels with water (and you HAVE turned them off!) make sure that water is lukewarm and soft. Cold water will damage your cells, reducing their efficiency. Hard water will leave residue, reducing efficiency and making your next cleaning job more difficult.
4. Other Cleaning Tips
Do NOT use detergent or soap. Water is plenty. Using any chemicals risks leaving residue that will reduce efficiency and potentially leave a nightmare for you to clean up the next time around.
Last but not least, you need to let your panels dry before starting them up again. Use the leaf blower to get most of the water off, then leave them to dry for a day. Do a quick check to make sure they’re dry before starting them up again.
5. Be Careful With the Height
Chances are, your solar panels are mounted on the roof. Even if your house or establishment is only one story, this is high enough that you risk serious injury or death. Keep in mind, in 2020 alone over 40,000 people died as a result of falls.
If you feel comfortable cleaning your own panels, take all the safety precautions you can. Wear a helmet, make sure your ladder is properly mounted, and consider using a safety rope. These minor inconveniences can be and often are the difference between life and death.
There’s no shame if you don’t feel comfortable or capable with the height. Professionals not only save you from any risk of injury, but they’ll know how to clean them perfectly for max efficiency.
Other Causes of Solar Panel Malfunction
So you’ve done your solar panel care and cleaning them off doesn’t seem to be the cause of your energy production. There may be something entirely unrelated to the cleanliness which is affecting their efficiency.
1. Obstructions From Trees
It’s easy to forget about your solar panels. As long as they’re on, they’re working and getting you back some of that energy money, right?
However, all it takes is one tree to shade them before they lose some or all of their efficiency.
You may be keeping up with this. All the nearby trees have been trimmed down to size, but you’re still scratching your head because the panels continue to produce less than you would expect.
It’s easy to forget that the long shadows these trees cast are in constant motion throughout the day. A tree’s shadow could cover your solar cells for as long as half the day, depending on where it’s located. You might come home from a long day at work and never realize that the big oak in your front yard is obscuring the panels when you’re gone at the office, but not when you get home.
You might have to consider whether you should uproot some of your trees and if the savings are worth it to you. That’s why it’s important to consult a professional like Blue Raven Solar before installing your panels, so they can point out any potential obstructions before you commit to a full set of panels.
2. Faulty Parts
Solar panels are far more than their photovoltaic cells! They consist of power meters, regulators, cables, storage batteries, and inverters. When one of these parts fails, the whole system suffers or fails, too.
With that said, the chance that you need to replace your entire panel setup is low. Usually, switching out one or two parts will be sufficient to get them back into full working order.
Continuing the theme of regular maintenance, you will save a lot of money keeping up with your panels’ health. Checking each individual part for proper function will save a lot of money and time, and chances are you’ll get wind of a bad part long before it breaks.
3. Common Solar Panel Parts
Solar inverters are one of the primary pieces in your solar array. These are what protect the delicate circuitry of the photovoltaics from a fault. Without them, the rest of the system may suffer critical damage.
Inverters will come with indicator lights. Check these when you go up to do your regular solar panel maintenance. The average lifespan of an inverter is 10 years–there’s a good chance you will replace them before you replace the panels.
Your panels’ cooling system allows it to continue functioning when under the full blast of the sun. It’s important to clean the air inlets to prevent overheating.
4. Less Common Fixes for Solar Panel Parts
If your storage solution uses battery cells to store the energy, these batteries will need regular maintenance, too. Batteries degrade over time. Lithium-ion batteries, for example, have approximately 300 charge cycles before they die.
If you’re noticing less power output and your batteries are several years old, then a replacement may give you the power levels you had before.
Other battery types need more than just a regular terminal cleaning. Lead-acid batteries, for example, will need their acid topped off every year. You will need to apply new sealant to the nodes, too.
Cables are the cheapest of all these parts, and also the easiest to neglect. Over their lifespan, a cable’s insulation may crack, split, or melt. If you notice any such signs, it’s imperative that you replace them immediately.
These damages may lead to naked wires. Exposed wires could lead to a short. Worse, they could give you a shock while trying to handle them.
5. Installing a Power Meter
Solar panel owners in residential areas will often just use the power meter installed in their homes to measure what output they’re getting from solar panels. However, this meter won’t give you the most accurate results, and having a meter installed may alert you of faulty equipment.
Regulators, like inverters, are an essential element of your panel setup. Make sure to check if your regulator is faulty if you experience steep fluxes in energy.
Solar energy is the energy of the future, period. And solar panel maintenance is much easier than any gas-powered alternative.
Get out that ladder, grab a broom, and clean off your solar panels today to get maximum efficiency!
Check out our blog for more tips on how to live an energy-efficient life.