This question pops up in the FAQs of nearly every solar-related website and seems to be a great source of fear for many considering the switch to solar. Fear not, however, as we’re going to break down all the required maintenance for solar panels! Whether you live in the ever-dependable rain of the Pacific Northwest, the snowy Midwest, or the relentless sun of the South, read on to soothe that nagging fear of the unknown.
The first thing to know is, if you sign up for a solar lease or Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), your solar company should include all necessary maintenance in the monthly payments you make. After all, they own the system, so they have a vested interest in keeping it working in tip-top shape.
If, on the other had, you own the system through a loan or cash purchase, you’ll need to know about regular maintenance. Read on!
Unless you installed some fancy sun-tracking equipment, your solar system will have zero moving parts. The panels themselves are designed to last for decades out in the elements, with rust-free aluminum frames and special tempered glass that is designed to resist weathering and not let too much stuff stick to it. Some even include a hydrophobic coating that makes them especially resistant to dust and other stuff.
On top of that, your system will come with three or four warranties. Here’s what you should expect from your solar installer:
- A production warranty – This is the warranty people always talk about when it comes to solar. It guarantees your panels will produce at least a certain percentage of their “rating” (in watts) over a long term. The term of a production warranty is almost always 25 years, and usually allows for an annual drop in output of 0.7% per year.
That 25-year warranty defines what’s called the panels’ “useful life,” though it is often the case that panels keep producing electricity for many years after the warranty ends. Importantly, the production warranty only covers panels that don’t break because of other reasons, which are covered by the next two kinds of solar warranty:
- An installation warranty – This guarantees that nothing will go wrong with your panels or home as a result of accidents or negligence by your installer. This type of warranty typically only covers a few years after installation, which should be enough time to see if any problems arise.
- A solar equipment warranty – This covers failure of the panels due to manufacturing defect, typically covering 5 to 10 years after installation, which again, is enough time to tell if something is likely to happen. Make sure this warranty includes replacement or repair of the panel at your home, and not at the manufacturer’s facility, which could be thousands of miles away.
- An inverter warranty – This covers the system’s DC-to-AC inverter, and should last 5 to 10 years. The best inverter companies sell ongoing extended warranty protection for up to 20 years after installation. Usually though, the inverter will need to be replaced once during the system’s 25-year life.
Solar panel cleaning
Regardless of where you live, your solar panels will require a good hosing off from time to time. If you live in the desert or an area with lots of pollen, this might need to happen once every couple months or so. In other parts of the country, cleaning once or twice a year is enough.
You can do the cleaning yourself with good aim and a garden hose. If you want those power-producing panels to get squeaky clean, you can enlist the help of an extendable wand with a soft fiber attachment. Just be sure to hose them down afterward to avoid leaving any soapy residue behind.
When cleaning your panels yourself, keep in mind that you have the terrifying power to void your warranty. Be careful not to scrape your solar panels, as this can cause micro-etching on the surface of the panels and reduce your efficiency. Also, remember not to use any sort of abrasive materials or harsh chemicals while cleaning your panels – for the same reason.
Of course, some solar panels are going to be more difficult to reach (not to mention some of us aren’t very skilled with an extendable arm). If you fall into either of these categories, don’t be afraid to hire a professional solar panel cleaner in your area.
Not only do your solar panels keep kicking throughout the cloudy months, the rain takes care of the maintenance for you. If you get a good downpour every few months, don’t even bother busting out the extendo-squeegee. The rain should be sufficient to clear off any dust and dirt that has accumulated on your panels.
In keeping with their low-maintenance vibe, solar panels fare pretty well in the snow, too. In most cases, since solar panels tend to be installed at an angle and produce a small amount of heat, any snow should fall off your roof regularly. In some cases, it might take a few days after snowfall for your array to clear itself. But if you’re grid-tied, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem as you will have access to backup energy. In especially cold conditions, however, your panels might need a helping hand to keep producing that sweet, sweet electricity.
This helping hand can come from you, but would require some risky behavior (e.g. climbing atop an icy roof, causing a small but deadly rooftop avalanche, etc.). Obviously, not recommended. Instead, you might consider integrating some snow clearing technology. Systems are now available which sense winter precipitation and redirect the necessary amount of panel production toward clearing snow, frost, sleet, and ice from your array.
For the most part though, snow shouldn’t be a problem, as snow will slide off your solar panels more easily than it does your roof. Of course, if you aren’t convinced, ask a solar installer in your area about your concerns.
Worried about your solar panels in wind? Again, not a problem. Panel fixtures are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions, including high wind loads. Just take a look at the picture below. Despite much of the roof having been ripped away by hurricane winds, these solar panels in Florida were designed to hang tough and did just that.
The only thing you have to worry about with wind is flying debris. Be sure to clear any obstructions off of your solar panel regularly, as they could reduce your solar array’s efficiency.
With proper installation, solar panels can withstand nearly every weather condition, from the everyday to the extreme, while requiring very little maintenance on your part. Our trusted installers will ensure that your array is mounted securely and prepared for whatever your local environment can throw at it. The rest is up to you (and luckily, that’s almost nothing!).