All About Solar

SOLAR 101

Operation and Maintenance of Rooftop Solar

You have solar panels on your roof – now what? Your solar energy system doesn't require much maintenance, but there are still a few things to consider once you've installed solar on your property. 

Solar Panel Cleaning:

  1. Why do you need to clean your solar panel?

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, solar panel cleaning is generally not necessary. In most cases, occasional rain will be enough to naturally and safely keep your solar panels clean and free of debris that could lower production.

It may be a good idea to freshen up your panels occasionally if you live in an area with heavy particulates in the air. Here are answers to some of the top questions solar panel system owners have about cleaning solar panels and how to do it safely.

  1. How to clean 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.

  1. Is it worth paying for 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. 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.

Solar monitoring systems:

  1. What is solar monitoring system?

A solar monitoring system can help make you more aware of your PV system’s performance. It offers information about energy consumption and generation, optimizing energy usage, and damage to your solar system, among other topics. It’s important to monitor your solar setup in some manner – without monitoring, it can be difficult to figure out if your solar panels are operating at their best.

  1. How solar monitoring systems work?

Solar monitoring systems operate through your solar system’s inverter(s). Companies will often offer solar inverters that come with a proprietary monitoring software setup.

As your solar inverter converts DC current into AC current for use in your home, information about power levels and production is collected and sent to cloud-based monitoring systems and their companion apps. Homeowners can access this information several ways, including through mobile apps and paired smart home devices. Some monitoring systems offer on-site monitoring as well, and wire information from the inverters directly to a monitoring device on your property.

Most monitoring systems can be setup to have cellular capabilities, allowing you to access system data stored in the cloud from mobile devices without needing to connect to your WiFi network. As a result, if your personal internet connection is lost, you may still be able to access your solar monitoring system.

Systems with power optimizers don’t rely on a wireless connection to transmit data, so monitoring continues during internet outages. Depending on the interface you have set up, you may also be able to access your monitoring data even when your internet is down. However, this isn’t the case for microinverter monitoring systems. They rely on a WiFi connection to monitor each panel individually, in real time. This means that when the internet goes down, so do your monitoring capabilities.

Aside from displaying energy consumption and generation data, monitoring systems offer many tools to help you understand your solar energy setup. Monitoring software often can help detect problems and defects with panels, and recommend repairs to your setup. You can often also track historical data from your system. For example, monitoring systems offer data on historical weather-based performance, so you can know how the weather has impacted your solar production in the past, and what you might expect in the future.

Solar O&M Packages:

  1. What is solar O&M packages?

Solar operations and maintenance (O&M) packages are protection plans for your solar investment. You can think of them as a sort of “homeowner’s insurance” for your solar panels. If a tree falls on a portion of your house, home insurance plan will likely cover a large portion of the repair costs. The same is true of solar O&M plans.

If your solar system is underperforming, whether as the result of environmental, equipment, or other reasons, your O&M provider can perform physical repairs to your panels, inverters, or whichever portion of your array is affected. Solar operations and maintenance plans will also cover regular checks on your system to confirm that it is operating at peak performance.

  1. Benefits of solar O&M packages

A strong solar operations and maintenance service package provides many benefits to residential customers. When you’re comparing your options, consider whether the following services are covered:

  • Site visits.O&M plans should include regular times throughout the year for your provider to come and physically inspect your solar system. From these site visits, your O&M provider will be able to diagnose problems with your system and take action to bring your electricity production back to normal.
  • Pest control.A common threat to solar systems is pests. Birds and rodents may nest in and around your array, leading to the potential for fires or electrical damage. Critter guards can help to alleviate this issue, but O&M companies often include pest control in their plan to counteract this common solar issue.
  • Well-designed solar panel systems rarely need cleaning. However, if you live in an area with high amounts of particulates and dust floating around, your O&M provider should if they find them losing efficiency due to dust or any other material dirtying your panels.
  • Electrical systems checks.Damage to the electrical systems connecting your solar array to your home and the grid need to be maintained as well. O&M plans should cover checks to all of your wiring and electrical systems that make sure the energy you produce is being transported and used correctly.
  • Solar inverter maintenance. Solar inverters (particularly string inverters) have a shorter lifespan than solar panels themselves, and need to be monitored closely for degradation. A good solar O&M plan will pay extra attention to your solar inverters to ensure your panels will be able to convert produced energy to usable electricity.
  • Hiring solar crew and personnel. In order to complete maintenance projects on your solar array, specialists and panel experts need to work with your system. A good solar O&M plan will find reputable repair crews to keep your panels maintained.

 

Reference: Energy Sage