Congratulations! You have joined the ranks of an increasing number of people nationwide who have opted to install solar arrays on or around their homes. Installing a solar array wasn’t a small decision for you, and like any big investment, you want to do your best to maintain your system to ensure it lasts a long time. Throughout this series, the experts at IPS will answer some of the most common solar maintenance questions we get and will do our best to inform you on how to care for your system.
DO I NEED TO CLEAN MY SOLAR PANELS?
Over time, solar panels can accumulate dust, leaves, bird droppings, and other debris that can cause a decrease in energy production. However, a moderate amount of dirt on the panels will not generate enough of a decrease in production to warrant cleaning them yourself or hiring someone else to clean them for you. Usually, a good rainstorm or thunderstorm will be all you need to clean the panels. That being said, taking into consideration the following scenarios may help you make a more informed decision about how often you may want to clean your panels.
- Do you live in an area with a high amount of pollen?
- Is your roof an area where a high number of birds gather?
- Do you live near a construction site?
- Do you live near any agricultural property?
- Are there factories near you that produce anything that could accumulate on your array?
If the answer to any of these situations is yes, you may want to consider cleaning the array more often or finding other ways to mitigate the contaminant (i.e., discouraging birds from gathering around your array or trimming trees that shed leaves onto the panels). Before you jump the gun and develop a cleaning regiment right away, it is also good practice to visually monitor your array over the course of a year to see how your array is affected by your local environment and the different seasons.
Perhaps you don’t get much contamination at all on your array. Maybe you do get a lot of contamination, but you get heavy afternoon thunderstorms that clean your array most days in the summer. Take all of this into consideration before you implement any cleaning schedule, as anytime you clean your panels you run the risk of potentially damaging them if not careful enough.
I’VE DECIDED I WANT TO CLEAN MY PANELS. WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO DO THAT?
You’re ready to clean your solar panels and get them looking like new! Here are some tips from SunPower’s website on how you can do this as safely as possible if you wish to do this yourself.
- As a rule, stay on the ground. Never get up on your roof without a secure ladder and proper fall-protection equipment.
- Turn off your system before you start cleaning. Consult your SunPower solar manual to see how you turn off your system to protect it. If you’re unsure, ask your SunPower dealer for help.
- As a rule, avoid using hard or mineral-rich water. It can damage panels over time. If your area only has hard tap water, you can buy an inexpensive water-softening hose attachment to filter out minerals. Otherwise, you can use distilled or deionized water.
- Use soft brushes and squeegees. Don’t use abrasive brushes, pads, or powders.
- Clean early in the morning or in the evening when the panels are cool. During the heat of the day, water and soap can evaporate quickly, which risks smearing the soap and dirt.
- When using a high-pressure water nozzle, don’t get close to the panels. While they’re extremely durable, you don’t want to damage them.
If the panels are easily accessible from the ground:
- Consider using a long-handled, soft-bristled brush or squeegee to clean the panels.
- Use a mild, biodegradable detergent such as certain types of dish soap to avoid damaging the specialized coatings on the glass.
- Allow your brush or squeegee to lay gently on the panel to avoid damage to the module.
If the panels are out of reach of a long-handled brush:
- You may consider using a hose with a high-pressure nozzle with a soap attachment that will reach the panels from the ground. These materials can usually be found at home improvement stores.
- Spray the soapy water onto the panels and then quickly rinse them off with water to avoid the soap drying on the modules.
Finally, if it is not safe or practical for you to clean your modules yourself, you might consider hiring someone to do it for you. Window cleaning companies often are capable of cleaning solar modules. Just ask them ahead of time if that’s something they have done before and/or are comfortable doing. If they have questions on how to do it properly, have them contact IPS for instructions.
Now that you know all about cleaning your solar modules, we’ll move on to, the next blog of this series, where we will talk about how to maintain and monitor the rest of the components of your PV system.
About the Author
Dustin Rothenberg is an Electrical Apprentice and Service Manager for IPS. Previously, he worked Trail Crew for Yellowstone National Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area for six years. He has completed both New Hampshire and Montana Conservation Corps. Dustin is a board member of a dance organization called the Downbeat Vintage Swing Society, which promotes vintage swing dancing in Bozeman. He takes copious amounts of dance lessons, from Rumba, Cha Cha, Salsa, vintage Swing, etc. and dances 3-5 nights per week.