Solar Electric Panel 

Maintenance, and Monitoring

 

Solar Electric Panel (Photovoltaic or PV) Maintenance and Monitoring is an important part of any solar program.  Dirty panels produce less electricity than clean panels.  The challenge for solar electric panel owners is that panel performance can become shaded with dirt and therefore give you less production without adequate cleaning. To maintain optimal energy production, solar arrays benefit from bi-annual solar panel cleanings especially in areas of high airborne particulates (dust, exhaust, coastal salts, organic debris, industrial processes).

 

Your solar panels need to be exposed to sunlight in order to produce power. However, unless you live somewhere with high amounts of smog, dust, dirt or sand blowing around, your solar panels don’t need to be cleaned often. In many cases, annual seasons and occasional rain will be enough to naturally and safely keep your solar panels clean.

However, it may be a good idea to freshen up your panels occasionally if you live in an area with heavy particulates in the air. CAUTION:  Whenever one talks about solar electric panel CMM it is always important to remember that hot glass and cold water don’t go together … so we always recommend that CMM occurs as early as possible in the mornings (preferably sunrise).  If you want sparkling solar panels like when they were brand new, you’ll need to use soap and water.  Just make sure and rinse well and don’t let the soapy water dry on the panels (do don’t do it in the blazing heat of the day!). And don’t scratch your panels. Be gentle.

 

When solar panels are tilted less than five degrees, they average more soiling than panels tilted more than five degrees. Soiling is when dirt, dust, and pollen collect on the surface, reducing the amount of sunlight that hits the solar cells.  Why such a big difference? It’s the same as inside your house. Your flat tables get more dust than sloped surfaces.

 

The flatter your solar panels, the more frequently you’ll want to do regular cleaning and maintenance. The more tilted your panels, natural rain and wind will probably keep them pretty clean, and you’ll need less maintenance.  Here are the other key issues that determine how often you need to perform cleaning and maintenance of your solar panels.

  1. Nearby dusty roads or freeways – the more dust and soot in the air, the more it will collect on your panels
  2. Nearby foliage – plants and trees love to fill the air with all kinds of particulates like pollen. Your panels are helpless against them
  3. Tilt of your solar panels – already discussed above. But if you haven’t yet installed panels, this is something to ask your installer about – especially if a flatter panel will get better sunlight at your location.
  4. Amount of rainfall – more rain means more self-cleaning and less work for you

 

The wind, rain, and sun weather panels are typically enough each year to insure smooth production.  Yes, you can get a measurable performance increase with a monthly cleaning plan … however … we essentially tell our clients to put the panels on the roof and inspect them annually.  So … if you are in a very windy area (lost of dust, dirt, debrief) or local construction is nearby … then cleaning more often is a good idea.  Otherwise squirting them off with a garden hose (first thing in the morning) once or twice a year should be plenty.

Most solar panel arrays are self-cleaning. Solar panel cleaning is not necessary unless you can visibly see built-up dirt on your solar panels that has outlasted multiple rainstorms. More often than not, there is no need to worry about cleaning solar panels.

 

How Do You Clean Solar Panels, and How Often?

When to clean your panels depends a lot on the above factors. More dust, more pollen, less rain, less tilt – you should clean them several times per year. On the other end of those factors, you can do it less often. But once per year is always a good idea, and when in the year you do it also depends on those same issues.

 

For example, if you live near trees that expel a bunch of debris every spring, then you probably want to clean your panels in the month after that’s over with so your panels will be pretty clean the rest of the year. If you get a lot of dust in the summer, you probably want to do it in the fall.

 

What cleaning products should you use for your solar panels?

When cleaning your solar panels, the most important consideration to keep in mind is that scratching or damaging the glass in any way will reduce a panel’s energy production. It’s best to approach panel cleaning the same way you might clean your car. Dish soap and warm water applied with a soft sponge or cloth is the safest and easiest cleaning method. It may also be helpful to use a squeegee to remove dirty water. Remember – avoid damaging or scratching the glass at all costs!

 

On rare occasions, oily stains can appear on your panels. You might find these if you live near a common truck route or an airport, and they can be tackled with a little isopropyl alcohol and a rag. It is essential to avoid using strong cleaning fluids, however, as these can streak and damage the glass.

 

Is it worth paying for a solar panel cleaning service?

Just like going to a car wash, there are professional options for cleaning solar panels – your solar installer may even do it for you, for a fee.  If you have a rooftop system, it may be a good idea to enlist a cleaning service, if only for safety reasons.  ALWAYS be careful when using a ladder.  Cleaning services won’t do a significantly different or better job than you can do yourself, but they are equipped to safely clean and maintain rooftop units. For ground mount units it may not be worth the service fee when you can safely and effectively clean your own panels with a hose, some dish soap, and a soft rag.

 

How to Clean Solar Panels:  It is not really that much different than cleaning a typical window. It is relatively quick and easy to do.

  • The first thing you want to do is to check with your solar panel manufacturer. They might have specific recommendations for cleaning.
  • Solar panels can become incredible hot in sunshine. Clean your solar panels in the morning.
  • Try if your garden hose alone does the job. If a lot of dust and dirt has accumulated you might need to clean more thoroughly.
  • Fill a bucket or spray bottle with warm water and soap – no other special equipment is needed.
  • Clean the top surface (not the bottom surface) of the solar panel with a soft cloth or sponge. You do not have to clean the wiring or racking underneath. Don’t scratch or scrape the glass.

 

Keep solar panels out of shade as energy production becomes inefficient when they are kept from absorbing any sunlight.  In most places, there`s more pollution in the winter, which is why the spring is a good time to do an annual cleaning. Solar panels that are cleaned once and twice a year produce 3.5% and 5.1% more electricity respectively than those that are left unclean.  However, some places do require extra attention.  In the southwest region of the U.S., where rainfall is limited for several months at a time, the accumulation of dirt is far greater. Solar panels that are installed near sources of pollution such as freeways, factories and airports need to be cleaned more often. Other special cases to consider include autumn and winter, where the removal of leaves and snow is important for optimal performance.

 

Should you remove snow from your solar panels?

Snow on solar panels generally doesn’t need to be removed – it will typically slide off on its own. Most panel installations are tilted at an angle, and snow will naturally slide off as it melts. If snow persists on your panels, you can also invest in tools like a solar panel snow rake, which makes it easy to safely remove snow covering on solar panels. It is important not to use a standard broom, shovel, or other non-specialized tool to remove snow from panels, as they can scratch the panel glass and lower your power production.

 

MONITORING

Document the day-to-day performance to improve solar panel maintenance. It is important to write down how much energy has been produced at a consistent time every day and make special note of dates where it is very cloudy. Some of the results will be inconsistent. (Your manufacturer would be able to provide you with the best monitoring system for your solar panels.).  Internet Monitoring systems help you see how much you are benefiting the environment and how much CO2 you are emitting into the atmosphere and are easily accessed with a login and password when an internet connection is available.

 

 

For more information on internet monitoring click here.

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