instream idea in the last decade or two. Case in point, the US alone is now home to over 3 million solar power installations.
While some of those installations grace commercial buildings, many of them reside on the homes of average citizens. Of course, like most systems you find in a home, you must conduct at least some maintenance on solar panels to keep them operating at peak efficiency.
If you’re not sure how you should go about cleaning solar panels, keep reading. We’ll walk you through the essential things you need to know to maintain solar panels.
Is It Really Necessary?
A homeowner might rightly ask if solar panel maintenance tasks like cleaning are really necessary. Sadly, it’s not a simple yes or no sort of question.
A coating of dust won’t necessarily influence the efficiency of your solar panel system that much. It can remain under five percent, all other things being equal. On the other hand, dust and other contaminants on your solar panels can reduce efficiency by 20 percent or more.
You might also ask, won’t the rain keep them clean? Rain can help to dislodge dust, but dust isn’t the only thing that might land on your panels. For example, if you live on a heavily traveled road, road grime can accumulate and simple rain typically won’t remove it.
Similarly, pollen and bird droppings can land on your panels. Both of those can prove unusually sticky. Rain might wash some of it away, but not all of it. Plus, not everyone lives in a place with regular rainfall.
The Southwest, home to a lot of solar panel systems, is notorious for its infrequent rain. As a general rule, you’re better off cleaning your solar panels occasionally than not cleaning them.
The next question for most solar panel owners who decide to embrace periodic maintenance cleaning is how often they should do it. Again, this isn’t a question where one answer can fit the needs of every homeowner with a solar energy system.
The reality is that energy production will vary across the course of the year based on weather and total sunlight hours. With that said, after the first year with the system, you at least have an energy production baseline. You can use that baseline as a gauge of whether the system is performing up to snuff.
If you see a consistent 5 or 10 percent drop relative to the prior year, there’s a good chance that your panels will benefit from a cleaning.
With those essential questions out of the way, let’s dig into some of the methods you can use to clean your panels.
The good news for homeowners is that not every cleaning method involves ladders and climbing around on your roof. If your panels just have a light coating of dust or other contaminants, a garden hose is often sufficient to rinse them clean.
Your typical garden hose with a nozzle attachment can exert a bit more pressure than your average rainfall. That can help dislodge slightly more stubborn dust and pollen.
You shouldn’t turn a high-pressure stream from the nozzle on your solar panels, though. While solar panel durability is pretty good under most normal conditions, they aren’t designed to withstand compact streams of water. It’s simply too much pressure concentrated in too small of an area.
You can unintentionally damage your panels while trying to get them clean.
In some cases, the problem isn’t necessarily dust but an accumulation of natural debris on the panels. A few common examples include:
- Pine needles
- Fallen branches
While most of these things won’t damage the panels, they can inhibit solar panel performance by blocking light. The exception is when a particularly heavy limb comes loose from a tree and falls on your roof.
However, any limb heavy enough to damage your panels is probably heavy enough to damage the roof itself. In that scenario, you have bigger problems than the condition of your solar panels.
When you spot branches on your panels, you need to remove them. If possible, pick them up off of the panels gently. If not, pull them as gently as you can to avoid or limit damage to the panel surface.
For leaves or pine needles, your best option is gently sweeping the panels with a soft-bristled broom to remove the majority of the leaves and needles. You can typically get the rest with a hose.
If a basic rinse with a hose doesn’t do the trick, your next best bet is basic soapy water. You should, however, consult with the manufacturer’s guidelines before you take this step. Some panels react badly to some cleaning products or can only take specific cleaners.
Assuming there are no cleaner restrictions, a little dish soap in a bucket with warm water and a sponge will help you take off more stuck-on bird droppings, pollen, or road grime.
Rinse the panels in advance with a hose. Then use a soft sponge to apply the soapy water to the panels. You should rinse the panels again after you wipe them with soapy water.
Not every solar panel installation service offers it, but some do offer cleaning services for solar panels in addition to installation services. You can look for a company that offers those services if you’d prefer not to climb up onto your roof to clean your solar panels.
Maintenance on Solar Panels and You
While maintenance on solar panels isn’t especially onerous, it’s also easy to overlook. After all, how often do you forget about things you only do a few times a year?
For many homes, simply rinsing the panels with a garden hose is enough. If not, you can always jump to soapy water and a sponge. You can even enlist professional cleaning services for the job if climbing on your roof isn’t on your bucket list.
Looking for more home maintenance tips? Check out the posts in our Home Improvement section.