Maintaining your solar panels may seem like a no-brainer to most. As with most modern-day technology, maintenance is key to prolonging the lifespan.
However, when it comes to cleaning your solar panels, you also ensure that you get the most efficiency out of them.
Remember, your panels efficiency is really just a measurement of its ability to convert sunlight into usable electricity.
In other words, a solar panel with 23% efficiency, will convert 23% of the suns solar irradiance into useable electricity.
Let's take a look at why solar panel maintenance is important and how you can go about it in the right way.
Why do you need solar panel maintenance?
In order to understand why you need to maintain your solar panels, we think it is important that you understand how solar panels work.
Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity via whats known as the photovoltaic effect.
NASA explains how this concept works quite well:
"When light energy strikes the solar cell, electrons are knocked loose from the atoms in the semiconductor material. If electrical conductors are attached to the positive and negative sides, forming an electrical circuit, the electrons can be captured in the form of an electric current -- that is, electricity. This electricity can then be used to power a load, such as a light or a tool."
Take notice of the first sentence above: "When light energy strikes the solar cell".
In order for the photovoltaic effect to take affect, light energy needs to reach the surface of the solar cell.
Anything or anyone standing in the way of this, will stop the photovoltaic effect from taking place.
Without the photovoltaic effect, electrons can not be knocked loose, meaning electricity will not be produced.
What are some common reasons solar panels produce less electricity?
- Tree growth
- Bird scat
- Pretty much anything standing in between your solar panel and the sun.
How can I tell if my solar system needs maintenance?
The easiest way to tell whether your solar panels need some maintenance is to go up and take a look at them (assuming you have a roof mounted system).
Are they covered in dust, is something growing over them, is sunlight hitting them correctly without any interruptions?
These are the questions you will be wanting to ask yourself.
If you answer yes to any of the above, then it is about high time you get to maintaining your panels.
You may think, ah well just a small piece of my panel is covered by some plant growth, no biggie.
Well, we are here to tell you, you could be missing out on a lot of electricity production because of that small amount of plant growth.
Any obstruction has the same affect as shading.
How devastating is shading?
In his book Renewable Energy and Efficient Electric Power Systems Stanford University’s Gil Masters shows how shading just one out of 36 cells in a small solar module can reduce power output by over 75%.
Yup, shading just 1/36 of the cells can reduce power output by 75%!
So, this likely shows just how important it is to keep your solar panels properly maintained.
Best method for keeping solar panels clean
9 times out of 10, the best way to clean your solar panels is just by running cold water over them. That's right, what you really want to use is simply just pure water.
According to Climatebiz, you can do this by using a deionisation (DI) unit, reverse osmosis (RO) unit, or a combo (DI/RO) filter.
Now, depending on the type of dirt build up, you may need to introduce a pressurised hose or soft brush.
The end goal is to remove anything that covers your solar cells. Be that dirt or shade caused by an overgrown tree.
How often should I clean my solar panels?
You will often hear manufacturers/professionals tell you to clean your solar panels once every 6 months.
However, the truth of the matter is more relative. Location decides how often you need to clean your solar panels.
For example, if you own a beach house with solar panels. Salt crust buildup may occur more frequently than every 6 months, meaning you will need to maintain your panels more frequently.
Or for example if you’re in a particularly pollen-heavy area, you will need to see to it that you clean your panels more frequently.
In conclusion, monitor your solar panels and their electricity production. Should their production be seeing a steady decline, then it may be time for you to get to cleaning.
Overall, solar panel maintenance is very important. After all, the very reason you installed a system in the first place, was to offset your electricity consumption.
Anything getting in the way of that will decrease your ROI.
When something as simple as hosing down your panels can prevent this, it is hard to see why you wouldn't do it.
One such reason could be the fear of getting up onto the roof in order to clean your panels.
This fear is warranted as there are always inherent risks when scaling your building.
For this reason we recommend contacting your local solar installation business. These types of businesses almost always have maintenance as one of their service offerings.
(Lastly, just a quick tip from us. If you do plan to clean your panels on your own, we recommend doing so in the early morning as this is when your panels will be at their coolest. Remember, solar panels may get as hot as 149°F during the summer.)