The United States is now home to solar panel systems boasting over 89 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity. That’s enough power to support the energy needs of as many as 16 million homes.
A primary reason for this massive increase is the steep drop in solar panel hardware costs. Experts say that the price of photovoltaic (PV) modules has dropped by 99% over the last four decades.
What’s more, solar PV hardware components have also improved in durability and efficiency. That’s why most of them now come with at least a 20-year warranty.
However, solar panel maintenance is still essential to keep your panels efficient. With proper care, you can make your solar PV system remain efficient even after 20 years.
Ready to learn the whys and hows of maintaining and caring for your solar panels? Then let’s get this guide started!
The Undeniable Importance of Solar Panel Maintenance
Researchers found that dust build-up can reduce solar panel efficiency and power output. This accumulation is what folks in the solar industry often refer to as “soiling.” Soiling can affect both the panel’s irradiation and output efficiency.
One study found a 6.5% decrease in solar PV energy production after two months without cleaning. The pollutants included ash, calcium carbonate, red soil, sand, and silica, among others.
The researchers also noted that the heavier the dust, the less efficient the modules get. In addition, the smaller the particle size, the bigger the reduction on solar panel output. According to them, smaller pollutants can block more solar radiation.
Another study found how dust accumulation on PV panel surfaces can cut efficiency by up to 35% in one month. In this study, sand and soil were some of the primary pollutants found on the panels. The researchers also noted that airborne particles contributed to panel inefficiency.
Both studies concluded that dust removal is vital to maintain panel efficiency. Keeping panels clear of debris helps ensure their highest performance.
That’s why cleaning solar panels on a regular basis can help you keep your system efficient.
Tips to Keep Your Solar Panels Clean for Maximum Efficiency
Did you know that many solar panels have a passive self-cleaning feature?
With passive self-cleaning, PV modules use the law of physics to take advantage of gravity. A perfect example is an angled solar panel installation. In this case, the way the panels tilt allows rainwater to slide down the module surface.
Most modern solar panels also have a chemically-treated surface that “repel” water. These surface coatings replicate the hydrophobic features of lotus plant leaves and butterflies. So, when waterdrops fall on the panel’s water-repellant surface, they roll down.
What’s more, the sliding water droplets carry dirt particles with them. It’s for this reason that some rain is beneficial to your solar PV modules. It’s also these self-cleaning properties that make it easier to care for your solar panels.
However, since it doesn’t always rain, you still need to be proactive in cleaning your solar panels. This is especially true if you live in a dry place, like Yuma, AZ, which gets less than an inch of precipitation each year!
In fact, Arizona and California are two states with some of the driest cities in the US. Conversely, these two are also among the best states for solar energy use as they get a lot of sun.
In any case, be sure to follow these solar panel maintenance tips, regardless of where you live.
If you have ground-mounted solar panels, run a finger lightly across their surface. This is the easiest way to tell if they’re dusty or they’re doing all right.
If your solar panels are on the roof, consider using binoculars from the ground. This is safer, as falling from a height of even just six feet can already lead to severe injuries.
If you want to give your panels a closer inspection, be sure to use a stable ladder. Be sure to place the ladder feet on a firm, level, and secure surface. Avoid using a ladder on wet or damp surfaces (such as after a rain).
Once you can see your panels, look for signs of accumulated dust and debris (such as leaves or twigs). Check for dents or cracks, too, especially in the tracking mounts.
Damages on the panels themselves are unlikely, though, as they use tempered glass. It’s in this way that they can withstand hail, but it doesn’t hurt to inspect them nonetheless.
Make it a habit to inspect your solar panels for soiling at least once a month. This is especially important if you live in a dry, dusty, or polluted area.
Blow Dust and Debris Away
If you have a leaf blower, great, as you can use this on both ground- and roof-mounted solar panels. If you don’t, but your panels are on the ground, you can use a normal broom.
If you have roof panels, though, and you see piles of debris on them, it’s best to call the pros. Your leaf blower or broom will unlikely be able to reach all sections of your solar PV system.
Get Your Trees Trimmed
Speaking of leaves, if you have many trees on your property, they may cause debris to pile up faster on your panels. If they extend over the panels, tree shadows may cause a slight reduction in PV efficiency. Moreover, their branches can snap, and if extremely heavy, can land on and damage your panels.
So, be sure to trim your trees, especially if their branches hover over roof-mounted panels. A good rule of thumb is to keep a six-foot distance between the trees and your roof. Proper tree trimming also helps you avoid overall roof damage.
Hose Them Down
Take advantage of your solar panel’s angling and hydrophobic properties. Give the modules a light spray of water using your garden hose. Make sure to use normal water pressure, though, as too high a pressure puts them at risk of damage.
Remove Snow Piles
Renewable energy experts say that a dusting of snow has little effect on solar panels. Like rain, it has a cleaning impact on modules once the thin layer of snow melts. However, they also say that heavy snow build-up prevents panels from generating power.
With that said, make sure you give your solar panels more frequent checks during the winter. Remove snow piles as soon as the weather permits. You can also use lukewarm (not hot!) water to facilitate faster melting.
Monitor Your Solar PV System Efficiency
Most solar installation companies have developed their own solar output monitoring apps. According to https://blueravensolar.com/north-carolina/asheville/, these apps connect to a system’s power inverter. They keep track of how much solar energy the system absorbs and converts.
Such apps make it easier to determine abnormal or large drops in your panels’ efficiency. Drastic reductions can indicate heavy soiling, but they can also mean physical damages. Aside from the panels themselves, damaged wires and inverters may also be the culprit.
The good news is that most of today’s solar panels come with a 20- to 30-year warranty. These include coverage for most hardware components, including the modules, mounts, and wires.
In most cases, solar PV owners get two warranties. One is from the solar PV system installation company. The other is from the solar panel manufacturing company.
Don’t Forget to Clean Your Gutters
Did you know that there are at least 100,000 described species of fungi worldwide? Or that most of these organisms feed on decaying organic matter, such as fallen leaves and twigs? Yes, we’re talking about the same debris that usually clogs gutters on roofing systems.
If your gutters harbor decaying organic matter, fungi and algae can grow on them.
From there, fungal and algal spores can land on other parts of your roof, such as your solar PV system. It’s rare for them to grow on the sun-exposed panels, but they can survive on the panels’ underside. They can also grow on the shaded parts of your PV system’s mounting structure.
The thing is, fungal and algal growth can influence corrosion. It’s in this way that they can contribute to the degradation of your solar PV hardware.
So, for the sake of your solar panels and roofing system, be sure to keep your gutters clean, too!
Make the Most Out of Your Solar Panels With These Maintenance Tips
As you can see, solar panel maintenance can be as easy as spraying down the panels with water. You may have to do this more, though, if you live in a dry, dusty, sandy, or polluted area. If you can’t access the panels since they’re on the roof, it’s best to leave the maintenance work in the hands of pros.
Interested in more home improvement and maintenance guides like this? Then please feel free to browse our other educational news and blog posts!