Several residential, commercial, and industrial establishments are installing solar panels to tackle power outage issues that come with grid supply. Solar panels help tap into solar power, which is a renewable and sustainable source of energy. However, solar panel maintenance is essential at regular intervals for optimal performance.

Here is a detailed guide on solar panel maintenance issues and ways to manage them.

Do solar panels need to be maintained? 

Usually, solar panels need little maintenance over their lifespan of 20-30 years.

However, being located on rooftops means they will collect dust and grime due to pollution and other climatic conditions. Moreover, solar panels consist of different components which might need a periodic inspection. At times, the solar panel parts may turn out faulty or damaged a few months after the installation. All these factors will adversely impact the production of solar energy. 

The good news is that solar panel maintenance and cleaning will ensure that electricity is produced without any interference. 

How often do you need to maintain your solar panels? 

The question of how often solar panel maintenance is required depends on many factors such as brand, quality of inverter, seasons, wattage, etc.

The maintenance timeline varies from one brand of solar panel to another. You can check the instruction manual given by the manufacturer to find out about the maintenance schedule.

You can remove the dirt, debris, and leaves on a fortnightly or monthly basis. This ensures that solar panels get unobstructed sunlight. 

During the months of heavy snowfall, the sunlight is bare to a minimum. Similarly, leaves fall in a large number during the autumn season. Hence, you need extensive maintenance and cleaning during winters and autumn.

Common causes of solar system damage

Solar panels have come a long way due to advanced technologies. However, they are still not immune to the following damages:

  • Severe Weather and Mishaps

Though a durable layer of tempered glass safeguards each panel, extreme weather catastrophes like a powerful snowstorm, hail, cyclone, and hurricane can lead to breakages. A tree or its limbs (branches) may also fall on the solar panel due to strong winds. .

  • Arc Faults

When conductors discharge a high power of electricity, it emits heat which creates arc faults. The solar panel wire can break due to this heat and start an electrical fire. Usually, inverters have built-in arc fault protection, but there can be severe damage if it is not working.

  • Critter Issues

Birds, squirrels, raccoons, and other rodents are known to make their homes under solar panels. They can chew the wires and create solar panel maintenance issues. Similarly, some animals like monkeys can jump on the solar panels in uninhabited territories, causing them to break.

  • Debris

Debris such as leaves, twigs, and dust can cause minor scratches on the solar panels. Such micro-scratches can reduce the capacity of panels to absorb the sunlight and thereby lower the energy output.

  • Ground Fault Circuit Interruption (GFCI)

GFCI occurs when electrical current from solar panels reaches the ground. This happens when the junction box has excessive moisture, panels are broken, or wire is damaged.

How to maintain solar panels? 

Are you wondering what solar panel maintenance consists of? Well, it is not rocket science. It is pretty much easy. You can either do it yourself or call a professional, depending on the gravity of the repair and maintenance problems.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Common solar panels maintenance issues

The typical solar panel maintenance issues you need to address are:

Inverter issues

When solar energy production goes down, an inverter is likely to be the main culprit. You may get an error message if you are using a string inverter. In the case of solar panels with microinverters, there is a need to go to the rooftop and check.

Wiring damage

Solar panels either have a series wiring system or a parallel wiring system. Both systems are prone to becoming loose due to heavy winds or other weather conditions.

Circuit breaker trips

External elements like heat or rain can affect the breaker panel. This may lead to an unreliable connection between the breaker panel and the solar system. 

Sometimes, the breaker panel itself may be faulty at the time of installation. This could cause the circuit breaker to trip.

Damaged or incorrectly installed conductors are another reason for circuit breaker trips.

Solar panel replacements

Solar panels need replacements on rare occasions such as extreme forces like hurricanes, tornados, or falling trees. At times, manufacturing flaws are also responsible for replacement. 

Should you clean your solar panels? 

Yes, you should clean your panels occasionally in order to maximize its energy output. You can actually do  the cleaning by yourself. The best time to clean the solar panels is in the early mornings or evenings or on an overcast day.

However, it would be best to take safety precautions such as using a safety harness and a hard hat. It is advisable to follow the manufacturer’s user manual when it comes to cleaning your panels. 

For more on solar panel cleaning, read ‘How to Clean Your Solar Panels: Steps and Best Practices’.

Is it possible to monitor the health of your solar panels? 

Yes, you can access historical and real-time data to pinpoint and troubleshoot solar panel repair and maintenance problems. All you need to do is to install an on-site meter. This device measures the clean energy output of the solar system. 

This device then feeds this information into a database that you can easily track and monitor on the cloud with the help of a smartphone monitoring app provided by the manufacturer. 

How do I know if my solar panels need maintenance? 

The best way to understand solar panel maintenance issues is to check whether the system generates the optimum output. You can do this by either comparing your electricity bills for the last few months or years. You can also see the output data on the monitoring software.

If you notice significant discrepancies or inconsistencies, it is a red flag that your solar panels need maintenance. 

Tips for solar panel maintenance

Here are some useful tips that will ensure your panels generate maximum output:

  • Clean the solar panel glass with a garden hose and a microfiber cloth. You can also buy solar panel cleaning kits.
  • Remove leaves and dust to avoid shading of solar panels and help them absorb sunlight efficiently.
  • Trim the overhead trees at regular intervals.
  • Install automated sprinkler systems to clean the panels automatically.
  • Avoid using an abrasive sponge or harsh soap and materials to prevent scratches.
  • Do regular inspection for any signs of leaks, drainage, water damage, or loose wire issues.

Solar panel maintenance checklist

You should keep a solar panel maintenance checklist handy for timely inspection and to detect flaws. Your checklist should cover the following:

Daily solar panel maintenance

  • Monitoring of the inverter display for the green light. If the green light is not there, it indicates an issue.
  • Documentation of the daily output performance, especially if it is a new installation.

Monthly or Quarterly solar panel maintenance

  • Cleanliness of panels in terms of shading and accumulation of debris.
  • Scratches, corrosions, browning, breakages, and moisture penetration.
  • Voltage fluctuations.

Annual solar panel maintenance

  • Condition of the mounting hardware.
  • Continuity of the earth connection.
  • Junction box and fuse box for water damage.
  • Condition of isolation devices.
  • DC voltage supply into the inverters.
  • Resistive joints on connections of the inverter and fuse box.
Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Who can undertake routine maintenance of your solar panels? 

Maintenance and repair of solar panels can be an arduous task. Hence, it is advisable to call professionals from solar panel maintenance companies. 

These professionals will inspect both inverter and solar panels to ensure that they are connected and charging correctly. They will take a look at battery terminals and fuses. They do critical and non-critical repairs. They also undertake several other preventive and corrective checks that you may have missed or overlooked.

Some solar panel maintenance service providers also offer a cleaning schedule. So, you can avail of their annual maintenance and cleaning contracts. It will save you a lot of time and effort.

When to call a solar maintenance company?

You need to call a solar maintenance company under the following circumstances:

  • The power output is less than optimal.
  • The solar panel has stopped working.
  • Solar panels installation is flat, and it is difficult to climb the rooftop by yourself.
  • You need an annual inspection by a professional.
  • You are a residential, commercial, or industrial establishment with large or several installations.

How much does solar maintenance cost? 

When you are buying a solar panel, the question ‘what is the standard cost of solar panel maintenance’ may pop up in your mind. Well, the cost of solar panels is dependent on several factors:

  • Location
  • Type of solar system (ground-mounted or rooftop)
  • Type of installation (tilted or flat)
  • Types of inverters (stringed, microinverters, central or hybrid)
  • Number and quality of components
  • Number of solar panels
  • Types of solar panels (monocrystalline, polycrystalline, or thin-film)
  • Warranty coverage
  • Usage condition (new or second-hand)
  • Cost of removal and reinstallation in case of roof repair

There is no hard and fast rule regarding the cost of solar panel maintenance. However, you should check for manufacturer warranty and installer guarantee to reduce the maintenance cost at the time of purchase.

Conclusion

Solar panels are very durable and low-maintenance equipment during their lifespan. However, they need a routine inspection, maintenance, and cleaning just like any other equipment. This will ensure that you don’t end up incurring massive costs in unnecessary repairs or replacements. The best way to maintain solar panels is to track the production output regularly to identify deviations and address them proactively.

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