Solar panels are one of the most popular and accessible ways you and I can invest in renewable, clean energy. Sometimes in the world of rapid environmental change and high energy bills, it may feel like there's nothing we can do. But installing home solar panels can both cut our energy costs and have a tangible impact on the environmental movement.
But over time, if dust and debris are allowed to collect, the benefits of solar panels can begin to falter. Fortunately, routine solar panel maintenance is simple, infrequent, and can be done by just about anyone.
To take ample care of your investment:
Inspect Your Solar Panels
Frequency: once every 4-8 months, or more frequently in areas with increased environmental concerns (i.e. dust storms, nearby wildfires).
Solar panels need very little care, but it's good practice to keep aware of their condition. This, while less of an undertaking than it sounds, should be done safely—never climb onto a roof unprepared.
Wear sturdy shoes with a good grip on the sole, and make sure to have someone spot you every time you climb a ladder.
Once on the roof, take a good look around your solar panels for unexpected damage. Solar panels are built to last: any serious damage is very rare, and abnormal enough to warrant a call to SunPower Solar for more information. Check to make sure indicator lights are on, there's no roof damage and note any problems to alert your solar company about.
More often than not, inspections will reveal nothing more than an accumulating layer of dirt and dust. If dust is building on your panels, its time to clean.
Cleaning Your Solar Panels
Frequency: once or twice a year.
The most important maintenance, and the only maintenance most panels will need is a routine cleaning. The more clear their surface is kept, the more energy they can produce and cleaning once or twice yearly is plenty to keep solar panels in most areas producing efficiently.
Not everyone is able to safely climb up to inspect and clean their own solar panels. The good news is that many businesses offer solar panel cleaning for $10-20 per panel: well below what your solar panels should be saving you on your energy bills in the long term. Some businesses and homeowners are even beginning to invest in robots, cleaning kits and other convenience products to keep their solar panels clean.
But if you are able to do your own cleaning, it's a simple, money-saving process and chances are, you already have all the materials you need.
Pick a time of day when the sun is up, but the solar panels aren't too hot. Much like a hot saucepan run under cold water can crack, solar panels risk damage when subjected to too drastic a change in temperature. That said, under these basic conditions—the right gear, and the right time of day—cleaning your solar panels is simple and easy.
This method works best for fewer solar panels, with ample room to walk between.
You will need:
A bucket of water.
Optionally, this can include a couple drops of soap. While water should be enough, soap can break through bird droppings or any long-accumulated grime.
A soft-bristled brush
Look for an item you would be comfortable using to wash your car, and rest assured that solar panels are sturdy. Something built to last constant outdoor barrages of falling leaves, small debris, and weather conditions will stand up to any brush that won't threaten to scratch its surface.
A long-handled squeegee
This is to prevent water from drying in unsightly spots that obscure your solar panels from capturing every bit of sunlight. Do squeegee well, but don't forget that minor leftover spots with leave hardly a dent in your solar panel's full energy producing power.
The end of a running hose with a pressurized handle attached.
This is how you will dampen your solar panels, loosen debris, and do most of the heavy cleaning. An attachment that helps you control the hose from the roof makes routine solar panel maintenance a one-person job, and helps provide enough pressure to clean thoroughly: again, think about what kind of pressure you would be comfortable aiming at your car, not high enough to cause damage such as stripping paint (or, in this case, damaging a solar panel's surface).
Stay aware of your footing and your hose's position at all times, and you're ready to get cleaning.
1. Keep a sure footing, feet shoulder width apart and away from the edge, and spray down each solar panel thoroughly with water, top to bottom.
2. Grab your brush or sponge, dip it in your bucket of water and soap and scrub each panel down. Apply enough pressure to remove debris, and remember that if any is sticking too stubbornly, using your hands to scrape at more stubborn spots is always an option.
If you've used soap, now's the time to rinse the panels down with the hose once more.
3. If you're not using soap, after every few panels, take your squeegee and dry the panels to prevent water spots from forming.
For a quicker clean, or for solar panels too close together to safely reach all of them with your scrub brush and squeegee, try a hose with a spray cleaning attachment: this dad recommends Windex Outdoor Glass & Patio. From the ground, you can:
1. Spray down your solar panel array with water, top to bottom.
2. Turn on the cleaning attachment, per package instructions, and spray each solar panel top to bottom with cleaner. Allow the cleaner to sit for at least a 15-20 seconds before rinsing.
3. Rinse your solar panel array again, top to bottom, and allow to air dry. This is another situation in which time of day is key: as long as it's not too hot, your solar panels should dry slowly enough to avoid water spots without squeegeeing.
And that's it!
Your solar panels are clear for the next year to come—but you may choose to clean them more frequently if you have a tree overhanging your roof, live in a heavily dusty area, or just prefer to keep them shining.
In nearly every case, that's all the solar panel maintenance you'll need. For most homeowners, solar panels can be maintained with low cost cleaning and common-sense inspections.
But should your inspection turn up any problems—broken pieces, exposed wiring, nonfunctioning indicator lights or any other kind of damage—this should be taken care of by a professional.
Comment below with any questions, and contact SunPower Solar for more information about warranties, maintenance, and repairs.