How to clean your solar panels

Published: 23 January 2020

In this article, we’ll explain how to clean your solar panels and how often you should do it. It’s one of the after-thoughts that a lot of people don’t consider as a future task to add to the calendar.

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Once you have your panels on the roof, it’s important to maintain them and ensure you’re getting the most out of your system. So, how do you clean and maintain your solar panels?

Does cleaning solar panels help with performance?

The solar panels’ performance is entirely related to a set of environmental factors: solar radiation, humidity, temperature, shade, wind speed and more. Another element that deeply influences the performance of an array is soiling. Soiling loss factor is associated with losses due to dust, dirt, sandstorms, bird droppings and smog.

Depending on the region where the solar PV system is installed the soiling loss factor will vary, mainly depending on the amount of dust in that location.

In Australia, we have many regions with deserts, sand, dust & severe storms – leaving behind to a variety of environmental debris. These fine particles adhere to the solar module frame and glass, making it less efficient and therefore, producing less energy. Although this study was made to find out the impact of soiling on the modules’ power output, the usual reduction expected for soiling can vary from 1% to 10 % annually. This is why cleaning your solar panels is crucial. We’ve even seen numbers like 30% loss in production due to heavily soiled panels.

Here we will share some basic tips on how to keep your panels in optimum shape for the best energy production.

Solar maintenance:

There are two main phases during the maintenance of solar modules: inspection and cleaning.

1. Inspection

During the inspection phase, it is necessary to follow these steps:

  1. Verify that every module is in good condition and that there is no sign of any damage on the glass surface.
  2. Make sure your modules are not being shaded by new objects that were not considered during the design phase (check that with your solar installer at the moment you install the system).
  3. Verify that no sharp objects are in contact with the surface of the modules.
  4. Check for any sign of burns on the backs of the panels or on the PV cables.
  5. Ensure the mounting system is well-adjusted to the modules.
  6. Look for any signs of corrosion on the frames or in the cells.
  7. Check if the wiring behind and towards the combiner box is in good state condition (no sign of damage due to rodents’ bites, corrosion, heat or humidity)

Once you ensure that all these aspects are checked, then you can move onto the cleaning phase. If any of these elements are present in the installation, you must call your solar installer for assistance before cleaning.

2. Cleaning

The cleaning phase must take into account the following considerations:

  1. First and most importantly, before even looking for a sponge, disconnect the solar array by turning off the switch on the combiner box. It is crucial for your safety to do so.
  2. Use a dry or wet sponge to do the cleaning of the panels.
  3. Use deionized water to wet the sponge. You must not use water with a high mineral content since those particles will adhere to the glass, becoming a focus of humidity or dirt.
  4. Never use a high-pressure hose to clean the modules.
  5. Try to avoid considerable temperature differences between the water that you use to clean the modules and the temperature of the panel.
  6. Never use an abrasive or chemical material to clean the modules.
  7. Never, EVER clean a solar module with broken glass or with signs of exposed wires. This is dangerous and could lead to an electric shock hazard.

Cleaning solar panels is a common trade these days and there are many suitable tradespeople available for this type of work in each state. If you’re not sure about who you should enlist to clean your panels, we will happily provide some recommendations. Feel free to give us a call on 1300 133 556.

How often you should clean your solar panels

The right maintenance schedule for PV modules should be inspected every 6-12 months, with cleaning to be done yearly or bi-annually – depending on the visible amount of soiling. It’s best to get professional advice if you’re unsure.

When you choose to clean your solar panels, it is advisable to do it during early morning (6:00 am) or late afternoon (5:00 pm). This will reduce the possibility of electrical shock hazard, will reduce the energy output that you lose during the maintenance procedures and will also make the manipulation of the modules even easier since the temperature on them will be much lower (panels can reach temperatures of up to 70 ºC or more, so they can get pretty hot!).

Qualified tradespeople are aware of the safety, correct equipment, cleaning solutions, & optimum times to clean panels and should be contacted for advice if your attempting to do it yourself. 

Key takeaways:

The maintenance of solar panels involves two main phases: inspection and cleaning. Within the inspection phase, it is crucial to check for damage, burns or mechanical instability in the PV system. During the cleaning phase, it is essential to turn off the DC switch on the combiner box and use deionized water to clean your modules. It is also advisable that at least two people be present during the maintenance.

Your solar installer will design the system with a ground wire connected to the aluminium frames of the PV modules to eliminate the possibility of shock hazards when touching the frames, so you can be confident to touch the modules. However, never forget that PV panels will still be generating electricity, so be careful not to touch any exposed surface.

For more information, visit How Solar Works!

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