The Ultimate Guide to Solar Panel Maintenance

Are you practicing good solar panel hygiene? Find out here..

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Solar panels can be a big investment. After all, the average home solar panel system can cost upwards of $10,000 to install. As a homeowner, you want to get the most out of your purchase by maximizing the lifespan and performance of your solar panels.

Thankfully, solar panels are relatively easy to maintain. In fact, you may not have to do a single thing for years after your solar panels are installed.

Solar panels produce electricity by harnessing the light of the sun and require absolutely no direct technical upkeep for power generation to continue. Most solar panels are warrantied to work at large capacities for a lifespan of 25 to 30 years, with many left working for a decade beyond that.

Of course, in the real world, problems do arise that require you to take action to maintain your renewable energy system. Some solar panels, or parts of a solar power system, could be defective or fail before their expected lifecycle. More often than not, however, there are external circumstances that affect the ability of a solar panel to perform at its peak capacity.

In this article, we outline the steps you can take to monitor your solar panels performance, maintain your solar panels against third party problems, how to replace defective parts of your solar power system, as well as what to do at the end of the life of a solar panel.

Monitoring Your Solar Panels Performance

Depending upon your particular solar panel system, there could be a few different ways in which you can monitor the daily performance of your solar panels. If they are not producing as much electricity as normal, or if they are not producing any electricity at all, then you will know that something has gone awry.

Digital Monitoring Platforms

In a home solar panel system, most modern installations come equipped with some sort of monitoring system. Whether this be a website or an app, if you hired a professional solar installation company to handle all parts of your system, then you probably have digital access to see the daily kilowatt production through your solar inverter.

Checking Your Meter

If you do not have any digital monitoring capabilities for your solar panels, you will likely still have a meter that feeds the energy to and from your house to the grid. In the middle of the day, when the sun is out and your solar panels are producing energy, the number on your meter will actually go down. If the number on your utility meter is going up while you should be producing and using your own solar energy, that means your solar panel system is likely not working at all.

Checking Your Electric Bills

One of the worst ways to find out that your solar panels may need maintenance is on your electric bills. If your bill has gone way up due to the fact that your solar panels weren’t producing as much energy as they should, then you’ll want to fix that problem immediately.

How to Monitor Your Off-Grid Solar Panel System

If your solar panels are not connected to the grid, in a cabin or a vehicle, there are a few ways for you to check to see if your solar panels need maintenance.

If you have a charge controller, there may be an LED screen that shows the solar electricity input your system is producing. Obviously, if it is not detecting any or less power, something may be amiss. If your charge controller does not have a monitoring system, then you may not know your panels are not performing until you’ve drained your battery and it is no longer charging as usual.

Replacing Parts of a Solar Energy System

If your solar panels are not producing any energy at all, then it is likely that you will have to replace a part of the system. This is quite common, as there are many parts of the solar power system that can become damaged or broken due to internal ware or external forces.

Replacing Your Solar Inverter

One of the most common causes for solar panel system failures is a defective inverter. These high powered devices are responsible for converting the DC power produced by your solar panels to usable AC electricity. Inverters are rated to have a lifespan of about ten years. Therefore, it is very likely that you will replace your inverter at least one time during the entire life of your solar panels.

If you need to replace your inverter, it is highly recommended that it is done so by a master electrician. Electricity is dangerous, and if it is approached incorrectly, could be fatal. Before performing any sort of maintenance on your solar panels, it is crucial that you temporarily shut down your entire home’s electricity.

Replacing a Solar Panel

If your system is producing less electricity than normal, it is possible one of the solar panels has failed, as they operate completely independently of one another. With the proper monitoring system in place, most electricians should be able to identify which solar panel is no longer working.

Again, it is highly recommended that the original installer, if available, handle all subsequent part replacements for your solar system. If you do not have electrical experience, do not attempt to replace one of your solar panels.

Replacing Extraneous Solar Parts or Wiring

It is a good idea to inspect your system every few years if you suspect that your solar panels are underperforming. Sometimes, the metal railings and brackets that keep the solar panels in wires in place may become rusty or corroded. Deprecating parts should be replaced.

The wiring of a system is perhaps the most susceptible to external damage. Although most of the electrical work is protected by a metal conduit, weather or pesky critters can damage and break pieces of crucial material. Keeping an eye on the state of your entire system is a good habit to develop while your system is producing energy.

What is the Best Way to Clean Your Solar Panels?

Cleaning solar panels is perhaps the only true maintenance that many solar panel owners may have to consider throughout the system’s 30 year lifespan.

Solar is extremely popular in warm areas that receive a lot of sunlight throughout the year. Unfortunately, places like the Southwest of the United States are so dry that infrequent rains cause a significant amount of dust and debris to build on top of solar panels.

The thin layer of particles on top of your solar panels will affect the power output they are capable of. Just like in the sense that solar panels are still able to produce electricity on a cloudy day, dust and debris on top of your system will cause its performance to decline.

Hire a Solar Panel Cleaning Company

The absolute best way to clean your solar panels is to hire a company to do it. In areas with lots of solar, there are many companies who specialize in cleaning your solar panels on a recurring basis. Although you will have to pay for their services, the cleaning will pay for itself with the increased output of your solar panels on your electric bills.

Let Mother Nature Do Her Job

If you do not want to hire a solar panel cleaning company, you can still take matters into your own hand. In areas with frequent rains, most solar panel cleaning takes care of itself. Heavy downpour can easily wash away any built up residue on your rooftop electricity plant.

Spraying Water on Solar Panels

In lieu of heavy rainstorms, your garden hose will do just fine. Although it will not be in quite as good detail as a proper professional cleaning, spraying down your solar panels with the water from your garden hose is plenty sufficient to keep your panels dirt free.

How to Remove Snow From Solar Panels

In some parts of the United States, like Colorado, the sunshine is delivered in between days of heavy snow. If your solar panels are covered in snow, it is unlikely they will be producing electricity at all, as they are completely absent from sunlight. Again, you have a few options to consider if your solar panels are covered in snow.

Wait It Out

The average roof in the United States is going to have a slope of about 20 degrees. Unlike the staggered placement of roof shingles designed to prevent snow from sliding off, most solar panels are smooth and slick enough for snow to slide off. Therefore, with a little bit of sunlight to help it melt, the snow covering your solar panels will likely slide off within a few days of the snowfall.

Take Matters into Your Own Hands

Most industry experts do not recommend that you attempt to clear the snow off of your solar panels, as it can become harmful to the system as well as potentially endangering yourself. With that in mind, there are some people who rely on their solar energy and need solutions to remove the snow.

There are products available online referred to as “roof rakes” that are designed to remove snow from hard to reach places. Using one of these on your solar panels would be a relatively easy way to remove the snow.

As in with dust and debris, others have had success with spraying the snow with water in order to speed up the melting process. This should only be done if the temperature outside is above freezing, as spraying water could create problems with the development of ice on your roof.

Keeping Solar Panels Free of Birds and Other Animals

Another one of the most common solar panel maintenance necessities in the world is keeping the solar panels free of birds or other animals that can tamper or damage the system.

Due to their shady covering, solar panel systems make for the perfect habitats for birds, squirrels, opossums, and other animals to nest. In fact, the soy-based wire coating commonly used in solar installations may actually attract unwanted critters, as it tends to emit a vanilla-like smell during the heat of the day.

For these reasons, it is strongly suggested that solar panels be installed with a solar screen, also known as critter guard, in order to prevent animals from nesting and accessing the area below your system. In doing so, the added protection will prevent additional maintenance from being required somewhere down the line.

What to Do When Your Solar Panels No Longer Work

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. If your solar panels are now performing at below 80 percent capacity after 25 years and you are ready to replace them with newer, better panels, then you will want to seek out the proper way to dispose of your solar panels.

Thankfully, almost all the material in modern solar panels can be recycled. Solar panels are primarily made up of glass, plastic, and aluminum which are all substances that are regularly recycled today.

Additionally with today’s technology, about 85% of the silicon wafers that are used to generate electricity within the panels can be recycled and reused in the next generation of solar panels. Failure to properly dispose of solar panels is slowly becoming penalized in different regions of the world, as keeping renewable energy sustainable is extremely important in reducing carbon emissions.

Final Thoughts

We hope this guide was able to explain some of the ways to identify and resolve issues surrounding the maintenance of your solar panels. Thankfully, by purchasing solar panels you have already done most of the work in generating clean, renewable energy for the next thirty years or so.

With all of the services readily available, if you are planning to clean or repair any part of your solar panel system, it is widely recommended that you seek out a professional before potentially causing harm to the system or yourself.

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