While solar panels are most certainly an investment worth undertaking, they are admittedly sensitive pieces of equipment that requires a little bit of upkeep. Failure to keep up with maintenance will see the efficiency of your panels decline dramatically, costing you energy and money. Fortunately keeping them in tip-top condition it not too difficult at all, especially if you follow these handy tips on solar panel care.
Cleanliness is Next to Godliness
If there’s one major advantage to solar panel maintenance, it’s that there are few if any moving parts. This means that most of what you’ll be doing is simply keeping the main surface areas clean and free of debris. This is an important task – panels are less effective if they are covered in a layer of dirt. Usually, the main contributors of muck to your system will be dust, bird droppings and grime from rainwater, all of which can easily be removed with some soapy water, although specialized solar panel cleaner is best. It is best to do all this during the morning, so as to prevent drastic temperature fluctuations.
When washing with water, always use a wiper to remove any excess water. This will stop marks as the water dries.
Remember the Whole
It is not just the panels that need to be checked as well. When inspecting your solar panels, be sure to check the wiring and any connecting parts in case something has gotten loose. Clearing debris from the inner workings will also prolong your panels’ lifespans. For this reason, always inspect your solar panels after particularly blustery days.
You may also wish to check the frames and casing surrounding them as well, since any cracks or loose areas may let in water from rain or morning dew. Needless to say, water and sensitive electronic parts are not a good combination.
Be Mindful of Nature
If you live in a particularly green area, you may also find your panels at risk from the various animals living nearby. Squirrels and chipmunks are a common hazard, as they may begin to chew through wires if you are not careful. Birds and insects may also build nests beneath or even within your solar panels, which may block off critical working parts or disrupt the wiring. Dissuading local fauna by removing any nests found and laying down repellent will go a long way towards keeping your solar panels healthy.
Trees and shrubs are also a concern, as their growth may block off necessary sunlight. If you find that they are obstructing too much light, remove or cut them back.
Watch the Weather
In general snow doesn’t pose much of a problem to your panels, as the incline means most snow will fall off before it can truly settle, and what’s left will melt even if there’s not any sunlight. If you have had a particularly bad snowstorm, however, it may be worth checking the panels anyway just in case.
Rain in general does not affect solar panels either, however you may want to give them a quick wash in the case of heavy rain. Sometimes the rain leaves dirt smudges behind as it dries, which may reduce your panels’ efficiency.
Learn Your Panels’ Output
It is a good idea when you first get your solar panels to check how much power they give out each week, particularly during certain weather. Doing so will give you an understanding of how much energy on average you can expect them to produce, which in turn will better alert you when they are underperforming. If this happens, you know it may be time to check your panels.
For this reason, it’s an excellent idea to install a solar panel monitoring system. This removes a lot of the number crunching for you, presenting instead pre-calculated readings from your panels, as well as any detected problems within the system itself. There’s also additional information such as how much CO2 emissions you are reducing, which may help if you want to receive tax benefits.
Build a Regular Check Pattern
Get into the habit of checking up on the system frequently. There’s no real need to watch the panels constantly each day, but you may want to do it more than once a month either. A weekly or biweekly pattern is more than enough to monitor an average set of solar panels, as well as deal with any build-up of debris or dust.
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The writer, Christian Mills, is a student of environmental sciences at University of Central Florida. For a local solar solution, he turns to the experts over at Bob Heinmiller Solar for a professional installation or maintenance work he can't handle himself.