All You Need To Know About Solar Panel Maintenance

Solar Panel Maintenance

Throughout the lifespan of solar panels, they may require periodic cleaning and maintenance. The placing or occurrence of dust, debris, and the effects of the weather can impair the performance of the photovoltaic cells. The performance of regular maintenance of your solar panels ensures that they are always working at their best efficiency.

Have you ever wondered what "maintenance" exactly means for solar panels? And how often do you need to clean them? Is there anything technical involved, and do you need to hire a professional? Is there any simple way to cut down on solar panel maintenance costs?

Solar Panel Maintenance Cost

The maintenance of solar panels is both easy to perform and inexpensive. On average, the cost of the solar energy system is roughly $450 per year. In this case, we considered one annual inspection and two cleaning sessions. In case of the availability of the PPE (personal protective equipment), one can save around $300 by doing the cleaning duties yourself.

In case you’re not used to working on roofs, paying these professional fees is safer and more convenient. This cost might be higher in case of PV cell damage or if you live in an area that requires constant solar panel cleaning.

Solar Panel Maintenance Checklist

Maintenance of the system is an important matter of consideration while installing solar systems. Proper maintenance ensures the system's optimum workability. In other simple words, the working conditions of the system and its life is sustained for as long as possible. Solar systems can indeed be easily maintained when they are paired with diesel generators; however, they are not maintenance-free. Here we have mentioned some of the tips that will highlight the preventative maintenance of major components of a PV system. Let us go through the major components of a solar system and its functions and then provide a checklist for reference.

Array Installation And Wiring

The panels have to be properly installed in such a way that maximum sunlight reaches the panels because more sunlight will generate the maximum energy output. The array is often thought to be maintenance-free, but regular inspections must be carried out to make sure of the performance. A visual inspection of the module should be done in order to keep track of cracks, discolorations, dirt accumulations, etc. If any defects are found, they should be noted so that they can be monitored in the future.

The conditions of module mounting, along with the wiring, should be checked. The observation of proper grounding of the array mounts, proper insulation of module wiring, and whether the grounded conductors are properly installed and the array mounts are properly secured and sealed should be monitored. Adequate precautions have to be taken while performing the maintenance on solar panels when they are located on rooftops, as there is a risk of falling off.

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DC Connections

In a large solar photovoltaic (PV) array, multiple solar modules are connected in a series like a string to increase the voltage to the proper levels for the inverter. Multiple strings of solar modules are then combined in parallel to multiply the string output currents to higher levels for input into the inverter. The combiner box combines all these strings together. These combiner boxes are also known as the DC box. DC box is generally used in larger commercial and utility plants. The DC box consists of overcurrent protection fuse assemblies for the strings and combines them into a single main output. In case of overcurrent and overvoltage, these DC boxes protect the inverters from damage.

Wire Size

There are two common conductor materials used in commercial/residential PV installations: copper and aluminum. The cables can be solid or stranded. Copper wires are sized with the help of a gauge scale. The lower the gauge number, the higher the current it can handle safely. Commercial solar panels generally use 10-gauge wires. This allows 30 amps of current to flow from a single panel. For multiple panels, a combiner set is a mandatory part to safely transfer the power to the charge controller.

Wiring installations should be tracked for cracks and deterioration of the insulation material. Inspections for any corrosion or burning must also be checked. If any defect is found, then they have to be consulted with the installers, and all ground wires must also be verified.

Utility External Disconnect Switch (UEDS)

A Utility External Disconnect Switch (UEDS) is a disconnect device. This is used to isolate a PV system to prevent it from accidentally transmitting power to the utility grid during routine or emergency maintenance. It should be easily visible and accessible. Disconnects come in a variety of sizes, which starts from 30amp up to 800amp. The proper planning of your system is necessary to determine which disconnect sizes you need.

Charge Controllers

A charge controller is a kind of regulator that prevents the batteries from overcharging. It monitors the arrival of the current and voltage from the panels and further transmits them to the batteries. The condition of the charge should be considered to check whether the controllers are fine to ensure proper monitoring of the battery voltage or not. The wires from the charge controller to the battery bank can generally be the same or larger gauge than the main set from the PV array. Some charge controllers tend to lower the voltage coming from the panels and tend to increase the current going to the batteries. Caution must be taken in selecting the correct wire size. It has to be made sure in case of an off-grid system; the charge controllers are grounded for protection.

Battery Maintenance

A battery is a device that stores electrical charges. Batteries should be checked and properly maintained to extend the life of the system. The terminals of the batteries are protected from shorting; they are labeled properly with safety procedures. It checks the cell electrolyte level for correct acid volume once a month. It should be checked if it is an acid battery. Another important measure is the state of voltage. After measuring each battery's voltage, it should be recorded and maintained in a log sheet. It becomes essential to match the gauge and the wire lengths when combining batteries in a battery bank. If not checked, then the battery bank’s life can be shortened and resulting in safety issues.

Inverters

While solar panels are responsible for generating electricity, the role of the inverters is to convert the power and feed it to home appliances. The great performance of the inverter is an essential part. Solar Inverters have display panels that indicate the system and current inverter performance. Solar inverters may incur some problems, and oftentimes, these issues are easy to fix.

Improper loading is the biggest problem that happens because of the damage to the fuses. Another probability is due to the tripping of the breakers. Proper care must be taken to ensure the inverters don’t come in contact with dust or water. The disconnects are properly labeled, and the inverter is properly grounded.

Solar Panel Maintenance Checklist

How To Reset Solar Panels

The first step to be taken with your solar system is a hard reset. This is usually done in case the inverter is reflecting red or yellow light. Here we have mentioned some of the steps of follow:

Step 1: Turn off your inverter

Locate your inverter, which is usually in the garage or on an exterior wall, and lift open the bottom panel. Find the AC/DC toggle switch and power down your inverter.

Step 2: Turn off your AC disconnect

If you have an AC disconnect in your garage, which would be available in a gray box with a black or red handle, turn this off.

Step 3: Turn off your solar disconnect box

Next to the solar meter, there is a gray utility disconnect box with a black or red handle. Turn this off. This may make a loud popping sound.

Step 4: Turn off your electrical service panel

Turn off the main breaker(s) on your electrical service panel. It will be labeled as “Photovoltaic.”

Step 5: Wait for 30 seconds.

After waiting for 30 seconds, everything will turn back on in reverse order.

Step 6: Turn on your electrical service panel.

Turn on the main breaker(s) on your electrical service panel. It will also be labeled as “Photovoltaic.”

Step 7: Turn on your solar disconnect box.

Below the solar meter, there is a gray utility disconnect box with a black or red handle. Turn this back on. This may also make a loud popping sound.

Step 8: Turn on your AC disconnect.

This may or may not apply to you. If you have an AC disconnect in your garage (it would be a gray box with a black or red handle), turn this on.

Step 9: Turn on your inverter.

Locate your inverter, and lift open the bottom panel. Find the AC/DC toggle switch and power on your system.

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Some Of The Common Problems Which Will Be Incurred With Solar Panels On Roofs

Roof Position, Structure, and Tilt

Sometimes the roofs have an ideal position and slope for achieving maximum solar panel efficiency.

Roof Strength and Leaking

Solar panels can be quite heavy, which can be around 40 – 60 pounds of weight (20-30 kg) per panel. The weaker roofs may depreciate faster due to the added stress and any possible cracks suffered during the course of the system’s lifetime.

Cleaning / Efficiency / Overheating

The efficiency of your solar panels can be decreased. If the panels get dirty or are seasonally covered in snow, their efficiency gets affected. Even sometimes, a single bird dropping can affect the energy production of the entire unit, but the cleaning of the solar panel can be difficult and dangerous at the same time.

Fire Hazard

Generally, it’s a bad idea to put a fire hazard on top of everything you own. But the installation of the same can reduce manufacturing error, installation error, or damage over time.

What Would Be The Annual Solar Panel Maintenance Cost Per Year?

The annual maintenance and recurring costs of the solar panels are almost negligible since there are no moving parts and the input fuel (sunlight). For optimum performance, the system only requires timely cleaning of modules and basic preventive and corrective maintenance. However, for off-grid systems where batteries are used, the maintenance costs are higher on account of battery replacement; this can be done every 3-5 years. This ensures high generation and low maintenance cost, regular monitoring through data loggers is highly recommended. Typically, the maintenance costs for smaller Solar PV systems are about 2% of the initial system cost, and for larger systems are about 1% of the initial cost.

Conclusion

Solar panels come with larger price tags. But the best part about it is they require less maintenance and have significantly longer lifespans. The only demand for the panel is regular maintenance and an annual inspection. As far as your panels are working properly, they won't require additional maintenance throughout the year.