Solar panels are a fantastic way to save money on your new home. You pay less in utilities every month and in some places you can even sell unused solar energy back to the electric company.
However, those solar benefits don’t come without a little work. Solar arrays only bring the best returns when regularly cleaned and carefully maintained. Fortunately, taking caring of a solar array is a relatively easy task.
The basics of solar array upkeep
To keep your solar panels running at a higher efficiency, set a regular cleaning and maintenance schedule. Most arrays are fine with yearly mechanical inspections and tune-ups from the manufacturer or installer, whereas cleanings — done by either you or a professional — should happen more often.
The exact frequency of cleanings your array needs will depend on a lot of factors. Among the biggest things to consider is where you live, as environmental conditions can have a huge impact on solar panels. If, for instance, you live in an area with heavy pollution or little rainfall, you’ll need to clean your array more often than you would in a wetter, cleaner climate.
Another factor to consider is the angle of the panels. Sediment builds up easily on panels that lie flat, meaning those arrays will need to be cleaned more often. Panels that are angled, on the other hand, typically require less upkeep, as much of the dust and debris rolls off or gets cleared away by precipitation.
Once you’ve looked at your specific array and set an upkeep schedule, you can start getting ready for your first cleaning.
Before you start scrubbing down your dusty panels, you’ll want to prepare a few things. First, read the instruction manual that came with the panels. That booklet will typically contain information about how to best clean your particular array, as well as warranty-nullifying practices to avoid.
Next, figure out how you’ll access the panels. Ground-mounted arrays are easy to clean without leaving terra firma, while rooftop arrays are a little more complicated. Cleaning a rooftop system from the ground will prove more time-consuming, but it’s definitely safer than attempting to clean the array on a ladder or a sharply angled roof. In fact, you should avoid climbing onto your roof to clean your panels unless you have proper safety restraints or a harness.
Finally, pick a day and time to do the cleaning. Summer is a popular season for cleanings, though any day where you won’t have to contend with snow or ice will be fine. If you’ll be cleaning during hotter months, get started in the early morning or late evening, as midday heat will cause fast water evaporation and leave panels streaky. Further, if the array is hot from sitting in the sun, cold water from a hose could crack your panels.
Cleaning the panels
If you’ve taken the proper steps to prepare for the cleaning, you should be all set to tackle the chore. Here’s a quick rundown of the general cleaning process.
- Gather your cleaning supplies. You can either purchase solar power cleaning kits, or create your own. Either way, make sure you have the following:
- Non-abrasive towels or sponges
- A hose
- A squeegee
- Eco-friendly soap to minimize damage to plants at the base of your array
- Optional for rooftop arrays: an extender pole to attach your sponges and squeegee
- Using a dry towel or sponge — attached to your extender pole, if needed — gently dust the panels and get rid of any leaves or large debris.
- Spray the panels with your hose, and then wash them using your sponge and soap.
- Rinse the panels again, then use the squeegee to clear away the excess water. This final step is critical, as hose water will usually leave streaks and mineral deposits if left to air dry.
If any of the above steps make you nervous, or if you have a particularly hard-to-reach array, don’t feel obligated to undertake this task alone. Instead, consider hiring a professional solar panel cleaner. Many times, your installer will offer a cleaning service recommendation, so start your search there.
After the array is clean, you should notice a jump in overall efficiency — your panels will likely be producing a bit more energy. If that doesn’t seem to be the case, reach out to a solar professional for a mechanical checkup. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the savings benefits of having a clean, green home.