Solar panels, like any other technology, are not perfect and are always subject to the forces of nature. On one hand, this is what makes solar panels so effective, their exposure to the sun is what helps generate electricity. On the other hand, them being placed outside means they are subject to wear and tear. Like all things on Earth, solar panels are not permanent.
However, you will find that a lot of solar panels can “live” up to a quarter or a fifth of a century, depending on its brand and manufacturer. That’s more or less 25 years of more affordable and cleaner electricity which is rather invaluable and is a worthy investment. There are times when the solar panels might not be performing optimally though, meaning you might have to intervene to maintain their performance.
While you are entitled to a free maintenance depending on your solar panel dealer, it may be more cost-effective time-wise to just try your own DIY maintenance for your solar panels first. They are, after all, easier than you think. Solar panels also do not need much care, but here are what you can do to maintain the performance of your solar panels.
Since solar panels have to be placed outdoors, they are subject to dust, snow, and other debris build-up. While a little dust or snow might only contribute to about 1 to 5 percent of your solar panel efficiency loss, prolonged build-up and lack of cleaning can make this go as high as 20 percent.
So cleaning your panels are important if you want the most out of them. Every watt counts and translates into saved money and electricity. The act of cleaning your solar panels is very easy, just:
- Prepare your cleaning materials. A soft bristle brush or a high-pressure hose should do the job, use which you are more comfortable with. An important thing to note is that if it is a brush, it has to have soft bristles and not hard so as to not damage the panels. As for the water, make sure that what you are using is distilled or de-ionized, tap or mineral water might damage the panels so a filtered hose might be necessary.
- Shut down the panels first before cleaning. This is pretty self-explanatory as you do not want any accidental electric shock when cleaning the panels. Do this even if your system is grounded and seemingly safe.
- Stay on the ground as much as possible. Climbing up to your roof to clean your panels increases the risk for injury. So having a long brush or a hose is the more practical and safer option.
- Mix the soap with water. This can be important especially if you do not want any soap scum or smears on your panels.
- Clean only during cool times of the day. Cleaning when the sun is shining bright and hot can cause the water to quickly evaporate, possibly leading to a lot of soap smears and scum on the solar panel. So if possible, clean during the morning or near evening.
- If there are stains on the panels which are too hard to clean off, it is better to hire a professional instead to avoid damaging your solar panels.
One thing to note is that you do not have to clean your panels often. Only if there are visible stains which can affect the efficiency of the panels. Check your bills and compare them with old ones to see if there is a drop in efficiency. Otherwise, do monthly checks for your solar panels to see how much debris build-up has accumulated.
Take advantage of your free professional checkups
As state above, this depends on your solar panel dealer or how long you have had your solar panels. There are also other factors to consider before calling for professional maintenance and checks such as:
- Your solar panel’s warranty (usually 20-25 years)
- Where you live
- What season it is
- The efficiency of your panels based on your electricity bills
Most dealers for solar panels are more than happy and accommodating to check up on the performance of your solar panels.
Check for any shades
Because solar panels, the Photovoltaic (PV) ones, rely on direct sunlight to generate electricity, it is imperative that they are exposed to the sun. So what happens when a tree, a post, or another building blocks them off and gives them shade? They get reduced efficiency, meaning less electricity.
In fact, the amount can be a lot bigger than you expect even if just a portion of the solar panels that got shaded. If just one of the solar panel’s cells gets shaded, you are looking at a 75 percent reduction in efficiency. That is a huge performance loss. So always be sure to check your solar panels if there is anything that is giving them shade.
There are ways to mitigate something like this though, such as:
- Bypass Diodes – Devices that can be embedded in solar panel modules. These cut off the electric current of the shaded part and lets the unshaded parts of the solar panels perform optimally.
- DC Optimizer – Compensates for the voltage and current of the shaded solar panel part, making the panels perform operation efficiently.
- Microinverter – The best, but probably the most expensive way of mitigating shades. It is pretty much a more advanced DC Optimizer for each solar panel.
Of course, the best way of ensuring that your solar panels perform efficiently is to anticipate efficiency loss before it even happens. We’re talking about monitoring the performance and keeping tabs on your solar panels.
We mentioned earlier that you can actually check your electricity bills in order to monitor performance, that is actually only one way to do it. While it is free, it can get tedious and adds to the list of things you need to worry about. Thankfully there are devices which can do the monitoring for you.
Depending on your dealer or solar power manufacturer, you can purchase a monitoring system which keeps track of your solar panels’ efficiency and reports them to you. The advantages of the said monitoring system are:
- Being able to see just how much electricity your solar panels are generating.
- Solar panel system diagnostics such as what is wrong with other components or how everything is adding up.
- Can be connected to the internet so you can monitor your solar panels’ performance at work or outside the house.
- Other statistics like greenhouse gas reduction among other things.
Keep in mind that the prices of these monitoring systems vary per solar panel dealer. Some might offer them as a one-time payment, others might offer them as subscription-based devices.