A Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Panel Maintenance

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If you’ve recently had solar panels installed on the roof of your home or are considering installing them, there are some things you should know about their care. But first, a little background on how they work.

Converting Photons to Free Electrons

Solar cells, also known as photovoltaic (PV) cells, are usually made of semiconductors like silicon and convert sunlight directly into electricity. The solar modules placed on your roof are merely groups of electrically connected cells packaged into solar panels. When sunlight strikes these cells, they absorb some of the light. This dislodges electrons in these semiconductors so they can flow freely. The electric field in each PV cell forces these freed electrons to flow, creating the electric current that powers the various devices in your home. The more direct sunlight each PV cell can absorb, the more power you get out of them.

The Good News

Solar panels have no moving parts, so they don’t require a lot of maintenance. Once properly installed, solar panels will provide years of service, rain or shine—yes they even work on overcast days, although not as efficiently. But unless they’re struck by lightening or damaged by a hurricane or falling tree, they will continue to generate electricity.

That said, there are some things you’ll need to do to keep them operating at full efficiency.

Routine Inspections

You should make a habit of inspecting your solar panels two or three times a year. If you live in a dusty area or have problems with pest birds on your roof, you’ll need to check your panels more often. Look for dirt, leaves, bird droppings and other debris that can block out sunlight. Be careful when inspecting your panels. Unlike roofers, most homeowners aren’t too familiar with walking on roofs, so wear sturdy shoes and gloves. If your panels are too high or your roof angle is too steep, call your solar panel installer to check your panels. Most of the top installers will handle maintenance for you, which means you can stay safely on the ground, reaping the benefits of renewable energy.

Cleaning Solar Panels

It’s best to wash panels early in the morning, late afternoon or on overcast days. Spraying cold water onto hot panels may crack them. Begin by removing any loose leaves or branches. To clean off dust and bird droppings, spray them with a garden hose. Wait a few minutes after wetting the panels down to allow the dirt, grime and bird droppings to soften, then clean the panels with soapy water. Use a soft, spongy squeegee on a long pole (like those used to wash tall windows). Rinse off the soap and debris with your hose. Again, if your panels are too high to reach, consider calling a local solar panel cleaner.

If you live in a particularly dusty area or you don’t want to clean panels yourself, consider getting an automated cleaner—like the Heliotex system. These devices work like sprinklers and can be programmed to automatically clean your panels on a regular basis. You’ll still have to inspect your panels for leaves and damage from falling objects, but routine maintenance will be a lot easier.

Keeping Birds Off Solar Panels

If you live in an area that draws a lot of birds, your solar panels may fall victim to excessive bird droppings and nesting debris. These can block your panels and significantly reduce their efficiency. If you have a bird problem, consider calling a bird control professional—like Bird B Gone. They can recommend effective and humane ways to keep birds off your roof.  These can include bird spikes, which make it difficult for birds to land on your roof and solar powered sonic devices that intimidate birds with bird predator and distress sounds.

Solar panel maintenance is the best way to make sure your panels are always operating at maximum efficiently. Check with your installer to see what makes most sense for you and your home.

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015