Solar Panel Maintenance – Hint: Don’t Bother Cleaning | DroneQuote
By DroneQuote | Posted January 23, 2020
Solar Panel Maintenance – Know Before You Install
Reading Time: 5 Minutes.
A common question property owners ask is how much solar panel maintenance is involved after you install solar. In this article, we’ll cover what goes into maintaining your solar panels in tip-top shape and producing as much electricity as possible throughout the year. You may be surprised to learn how little solar panel maintenance goes into owning solar.
Before we start, we’ll share with you that how you go about maintaining the solar panels and the rest of the system may depend on how you acquired the system. If it is a lease your level of responsibility may not only be very low but you may actually not have permission to do much else beyond simply cleaning the solar panels. If you own the system you have a lot more flexibility for options the catch is in order to keep the installer’s warranty, you have to make sure the work is done by them for anything more than cleaning.
Solar Panel Maintenance: Monitoring
We’ll start with monitoring because it’s the most common issue with solar panel systems, but worry not, it’s not any real work and you can easily do this yourself. Keep in mind that this only applies if your solar panel system has a functional monitoring system installed.
Sometimes when a homeowner resets their internet router, buys a new internet router, or does something that may interrupt the internet feed to the monitoring system it causes the monitoring to think that the solar panel system is not functioning or is turned off.
Resetting the monitoring by unplugging and plugging the power supply to the monitoring usually fixes the issue. If that doesn’t work, try resetting your internet modem and the monitoring system at the same time. And if that still doesn’t do the trick, you can follow troubleshooting instructions for your monitoring software.
Oftentimes monitoring is the root cause of an issue, but sometimes solar panel maintenance goes beyond app-based monitoring. Read on for more tips.
Solar Panel Maintenance: Cleaning Solar Panels
To be frank, we do not necessarily believe in cleaning solar panels, well not in the traditional sense of the word. What we mean by that is we do not believe it is worth the time, money, or risk involved with cleaning solar panels in a similar way to how you would wash your car. Sure, there may be a level of dust that accumulates on the solar panels over the year, but oftentimes a good rain will help wash most of that away. Now if you happen to have a tree nearby that sheds a lot of pollen or leaf matter that may accumulate on the panels, it may make more sense to blow off or rinse off the panels more regularly with a stream of water.
I have had solar on my roof since 2015 and since then I have experimented with cleaning my panels during different times of the year. I found that the biggest gain in production came when I cleaned the solar panels during the summer since there were more sun hours for electricity generation. The opposite is true during the winter when sunlight hours are at their lowest, so it makes less sense to clean the panels in the winter months. Overall though, the increased production even during the summer was so negligible that I stopped cleaning my panels after two years of ownership – it just wasn’t worth the hassle and risk of climbing my roof to do it. I’d even go further in saying that it surely wouldn’t be worth the money to hire a cleaning crew for the panels, again I would defer to simply hosing them off from the ground or waiting for a nice rain to rinse them off.
If you do feel compelled to get on your roof to clean the panels, be sure to do so as safely as possible.
Solar Panel Maintenance: Inspecting Panels
Inspection is a better way to categorize solar panel maintenance. By this, we mean that it’s far easier to climb the roof to have a look at the condition of the panels, the conduit, the fittings, junction boxes, and the solar panel itself. This is especially true if you are considering putting your house up for sale so that you can have a complete report of the solar panel system health readily available for the next homeowner – this is literally worth money because it can help you make a case for the value of your home with solar panels if everything is fine with the system. It is easy to think of the solar panels as the complete system, but all of the components installed alongside the solar panels are every bit as critical to the functionality of the system.
The lack of any real moving parts means that “wear and tear” is going to be very minimal, but make no mistake, wear and tear does take place. The weakest point of the overall system integrity is going to be any part made of plastic PVC. Junction boxes made of plastic and left exposed on the roof will eventually break and allow water in. You want to see that your installer placed junction boxes underneath the solar panels themselves to protect them from the sun. This is especially true if your installer ran plastic conduit on the roof, this is a corner that too many cheap and low-quality installers cut in order to show a lower price – which will only come back and haunt the homeowner.
As far as the solar panels go, inspecting solar panels will give you an understanding of their physical condition. While it is not very common that solar panels themselves have any damage, it is not unheard of. Large hail can, in fact, break a solar panel, as can the neighborhood kid with a ball or a rock. The good news is that even when solar panels are shattered, they still function.
An inverter like Enphase or SolarEdge will allow for panel-level functionality so you may not even notice there be a drop in output whereas a string inverter like an SMA Sunnyboy may cause the string to see a greater dip in output. The images to the left shows a shattered solar panel and the barely-noticeable decrease in output on the monitoring portal. That broken panel happens to be on my roof, and given that the output decrease is minimal, the cost of replacement does not justify the action.
Solar Panel Maintenance: Replacing Panels
If you have a complete panel failure that comes to your attention during solar panel maintenance, chances are good that you may be able to file a warranty claim with the manufacturer. Panel failures that stem from physical damage caused by hail, a rock, or some other impact, may not be covered by warranty. If you are not climbing the roof or using a drone to inspect the solar panels then you may be able to notice an issue by simply looking at the monitoring. Although even a broken panel will still put out a lot of electricity, it can be easy to miss physical damage because the output may not raise any red flags. Speaking for myself, it wasn’t until I actually flew the drone over the panels that I noticed something wrong.
Replacing a solar panel is not very common, but if you do have to replace a solar panel it is encouraged that you do not take on this level of the maintenance yourself for a few reasons. First, it is dangerous to get on the roof with a large solar panel if you are not experienced in climbing up and down roofs carrying solar panels. Second, if it is a lease the responsibility would fall on the leasing company. Finally, if it was a purchase, the company that installed the system may void their warranty on the system if they do not do the work themselves.
Solar Panel Maintenance: Replacing Inverter
The inverter is the heart of the system and also the component that will fail – this we can guarantee you. If you have a single point inverter like a Fronius, SMA, or SolarEdge, the lifespan is anticipated to be somewhere around ten years. The inverter replacement can actually be defined as solar panel maintenance because without it, the panels won’t function. If you have a single point inverter with monitoring installed, you will be notified if there is a critical issue via email if your installer set up automated notifications or if you did that yourself. This can easily be done in the settings of the monitoring application found on your phone. If you do happen to get this notification or notice that the application shows zero output and you have verified that the monitoring or internet source is not the issue, then now would be a good time to call the solar installer or the leasing company.
Replacing an inverter is not a tall order especially if it is easily accessed at ground level. Replacing a microinverter involves more work because you have to climb the roof, remove the solar panel, and then remove the inverter.
If your system is comprised of microinverters you can anticipate their lifespan to be somewhere between 20-25 years. Microinverters last longer than single point inverters and may require less maintenance because of their prolonged lifespan. This is due to the fact that a microinverter has a significantly lower workload than a single point inverter, where a single point inverter handles the workload of the entire system, a microinverter only handles the workload of the panel, to which it is attached. The drawback to a microinverter system is that if you have one inverter failing, chances are that other inverters will fail not too far into the future.
You may potentially have multiple service calls sent out to your home to replace each microinverter as they fail. This is a reason why sometimes it makes more sense to use a single point inverter with power optimizers as a SolarEdge system would offer.
Solar Panel Maintenance: Very Little To Actually Maintain.
When all is said and done, solar-panel maintenance is actually a very low effort. We think that you will find yourself more preoccupied with what to do from the savings of having installed solar than you will actually be out doing any sort of maintenance. One of the biggest benefits of using DroneQuote is that you have a very high-resolution survey completed after the installation of your solar panel system. What this means for you as time wears on a clear baseline of the condition of the system time of installation so you’ll be able to compare the current status of your system do when it was first installed. If you’re looking to install solar or roofing, get started for free with multiple quotes from different installers and see why DroneQuote is the smart way to go solar or put on a new roof.
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