Solar panel maintenance: Everything you need to know
Solar panels are a great investment that can provide you with cheap, renewable solar energy for the next 25 years or more.
But a key question is, how do you maintain them? Are solar panels like your car, requiring regular tune-ups to stay in peak condition? Or are you supposed to just leave them be?
Read on for the answers to the most common solar panel maintenance questions.
Solar panels generally require very little maintenance in order to function, so yes, you can usually just let them be. The only thing they need is a periodic light cleaning to make sure dirt, leaves, and other debris aren't obstructing the sun's rays.
The only time you may need more extensive maintenance is during periods of heavy snowfall, as inches of snow can hinder solar panels performance.
If your panels’ energy output starts to decrease, you can monitor it via an app. Lower energy output could be a sign that your panels are obstructed by something, like debris, and cannot generate their typical electricity amount.
By integrating a solar panel monitoring system into your setup, you can track how much energy your panels produce on any given day, and how much they produce over time. This allows you to see exactly how various external factors affect your panels' performance and how well they're maintaining their efficiency across their life. The monitoring system will also alert you if a panel breaks or malfunctions so that you can repair or replace it.
Let's take a closer look at how to make sure your solar panels last as long as possible.
If your panels are tilted, you’re in luck: rainfall will actually clear away debris that's accumulated on them. However, during the dry season or extended periods without rain, it's important to clean them manually.
It is generally recommended that you perform solar panel cleaning between two and four times per year. While that might seem like a lot, the good news is that this doesn’t require much work. All you really need is a leaf blower or a quick spray with a garden hose, and your panels will be clean and in top condition.
In winter, you may need to clean your panels after a heavy snowfall. If you're using water to clear the snow away, make sure it's lukewarm. You can also use a squeegee with a long handle.
It is important to note that you should never use hot water when clearing snow off the panels. The panels are made of tempered glass, and the extreme temperature disparity between hot water and cold panels can crack them.
When it comes to maintenance, the only real difference between ground-mounted solar systems and rooftop solar systems is that ground panels are easier to access, and therefore easier to keep clean. If you notice a buildup of snow or other debris, you can simply sweep it off with a soft-bristled broom.
Solar panels are designed to be durable. Top-quality solar panel installations allow PV systems to withstand all kinds of weather, from wind and rain to snow and more.
You’ll be glad to know that solar panels hold up well against hail, as found by the Department of Energy. They can even survive hurricanes, as evidenced by the limited damage to solar systems in North Carolina during Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Of course, they are not 100% indestructible; on rare occasions they can suffer damage by hail, hurricanes, tornadoes, or lightning. But as long as you have a good warranty, you should be able to have any damaged panels repaired or replaced.
Somewhat ironically, the type of weather that most commonly affects panels is heat. When the temperature gets over 77°F (or 25°C), panels lose efficiency approximately 1% per degree.
However, by elevating them a few inches above the ground or roof, you allow for air circulation, which can help cool them down and maintain energy production. Solar panel performance in hot temperatures is not something to stress too much about, your solar installer will take local climate factors into consideration when installing panels.
If your panels need to be repaired or replaced, it's best to hire a professional.
If they're losing efficiency and still under a performance or power output warranty, then call the company that installed your panels. They will send someone to assess the situation and either fix the problem or replace the panels.
If your panels have sustained physical damage, that's often covered under a separate equipment warranty. You can work with your solar installer to find out who can best replace those panels. Either way, don't attempt to install solar panels or make repairs yourself unless you're experienced with home solar systems.
Read more: How long do solar panels last?
It is important to ensure that the solar panels you install come with a good warranty; if your solar panels' efficiency does start to decrease, it can potentially cost you thousands of dollars over the years.
If your solar panel is covered under a warranty, the company who installed it will provide a replacement. A good solar company will give you a warranty of between 15 and 25 years, and guarantee that your panels' energy production remains at 80% or above for that entire time.
All in all, maintaining your solar panels is pretty easy. If you notice dust, debris or snow piled up, a quick clean will ensure that your panels operate effectively. Additionally, be sure the panels you get come with a good warranty so if your panels do break, they get replaced.
Do that, and your panels should continue to operate at peak efficiency, bringing you clean, renewable solar power for years to come. Learn more about installing solar panels in your home in our beginner's guide.