When talking to potential clients, one of their top concerns is the maintenance needs of a solar array. As busy farmers, it’s understandable that you don’t want to spend tonnes of your precious time ensuring that the solar panels are working properly.
The great news is that solar arrays require very little operations and maintenance (O&M). The hardware is extremely robust, and if you minimize the number of moving parts, you’ll find it highly unlikely that you will experience an issue.
That’s not to say you can ignore them completely. The job of your solar panels is to be as efficient as possible, and sometimes, things like dirt and debris can get in the way of that.
With a little attention now and then, you can ensure that your solar panels continue to produce as much power as possible to reduce your energy bills and keep your farm running. Here’s what you need to do.
Solar Placement: How to Reduce Solar Maintenance From the Outset
Good solar maintenance starts way before you even have the system installed. The key factor is placement, as it can determine whether you’ll need annual maintenance or constant attention.
Naturally, you don’t want to be dealing with solar maintenance on a daily or weekly basis. Therefore, placing the solar system away from areas where it will easily get dirty or accumulate debris is very important.
For example, placing them close to trees that release heavy pollen in the summer months is a surefire way to ensure you’ll be cleaning them every other day during this period. And placing them too close to farming areas that are notoriously dusty – such as fields that require tilling or areas where cattle congregate – also adds to the maintenance workload.
That’s not to say you can’t place solar arrays close to your crops. You definitely can, but choose a spot that is as clear as possible from anything that will cause the panels to get covered in dirt and grime.
It’s also a wise choice to place them away from anything that could potentially cause damage, such as overhanging branches or certain livestock.
If you’re unsure of the perfect placement, we’ve got lots of tips in our Solar Array Placement article. Alternatively, you can talk to one of 8760’s solar experts who will be able to advise you.
Regularly Check Energy Bills
Once installed, your solar system will start generating power on a consistent basis. The amount of power will ebb and flow as the seasons pass but there should not be any significant drop in energy production at any point.
You can monitor your system’s production by looking at your energy bills. If they suddenly shoot up, you’ll know that your solar panels aren’t producing as much power. This means they are not working as they should be and need to be inspected.
Invest in Solar Monitoring
An alternative to checking energy bills is installing a solar monitoring system.
This handy bit of kit will tell you precisely how much energy your array is producing, how much energy it’s consuming, and whether the system is working optimally. Additionally, they can also track and monitor individual components such as batteries, inverters, and the panels themselves.
When the monitoring system detects an anomaly or energy production suddenly drops, it will sound an alert that something needs to be dealt with. Rather than playing a guessing game, you will quickly understand exactly where the issue lies and what you must do to rectify it.
The only drawback of solar monitoring systems is that they require a solid Wi-Fi connection to work properly. This doesn’t usually present a problem if your array is situated close to a building that has Wi-Fi (the farmhouse, for example). However, if your solar panels are out of Wi-Fi range – usually the case if they’re placed in a field – then a monitoring system won’t be a good solution for you.
There are various types and grades of solar monitoring systems that your 8760 Solar developer can inform you of, in addition to recommending the best ones for your setup.
Keep Your Solar Arrays Clean
Keeping your solar panels clean and clear is probably going to take up the bulk of the maintenance activities. In most cases, when energy production drops, it’s usually because something is obstructing the panel’s ability to receive direct sunlight.
Fortunately, the tilt of the solar panels means that it’s harder for anything to stick around for long. Debris is likely to slide off in due course, and it’s very difficult for snow to cling onto.
Dust and dirt are another matter, though, as it has the tendency to build up over time. Therefore, it’s necessary to perform regular inspections to see how the surface of your panels is doing.
Essentially, if you can legibly write “clean me” on your solar panels, then it’s time to give them a wash!
Use a Gentle Washing Method
When the time comes to give your solar array a clean, don’t reach for the jet wash. Remember that solar panels contain a glass panel and excessive pressure can damage them by causing the glass to crack.
In any case, the smooth surface of the solar panels does not allow dirt to get stuck, so pressure washing is overkill and unnecessary. Instead, use a standard hosepipe to rinse the panels. If there are stubborn areas of dirt, a quick scrub with a cloth, sponge, or soft brush will deal with them.
Wash When Cool
It’s very important that you don’t attempt to wash the solar panels when they are hot.
During the summer months, a panel in direct sunlight can reach temperatures of up to 149°F. If you add cold water to the panel when it has been baking in the sun all day, it will swiftly cause the tempered glass to crack.
Instead, wait until the panels are cool. Early to mid-morning is the best time as the panels will have had all night to return to a much cooler temperature.
Avoid Using Abrasive Chemicals
Because dirt is so easy to remove from solar panels, there is no need to use any harsh or abrasive chemicals to clean them. Besides increasing the maintenance costs, using chemicals can actually damage the special coating applied to solar panels and reduce their efficiency.
Never use anything more than water and a mild dish soap. In most cases, water will be more than sufficient.
Keep Vegetation Down
An often overlooked aspect of maintaining panels is the job of keeping the surrounding vegetation down. The amount of work this involves entirely depends on what you have growing underneath the panels.
Most types of grass won’t require more than an annual mowing to keep it below the bottom edge of the panel. However, if you have mixed vegetation, you never know what might spring up to obstruct the view. Additionally, creeping vegetation like vines and brambles can cause problems if you let them go unchecked.
A great – and hands-off– solution for keeping vegetation down is to introduce some sheep into the area where your solar array is installed. Sheep are one of the few livestock options that can happily coexist with solar panels because they don’t cause any damage.
The sheep will eat the vegetation, removing the requirement for you to do it yourself, and the panels provide the sheep with shade and a cooler environment when it’s hot. The only downside to adding sheep is that you will need to put up a fence to stop them from wandering off.
Perform Regular Visual Inspections
One of the more vulnerable areas of your solar installation is the electric wiring and equipment. For example, rodents are notorious for chewing through wires and any wires connected to a solar system are fair game.
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with how everything looks once the installation has been completed. You can even take photos of everything to refer back to. This will make it a lot easier to determine if something looks amiss or isn’t quite right.
While inspecting your equipment, check your inverter; are the lights on, and is the fan running? If yes, then your system is working. If not, there might be a problem.
Sometimes, all it takes is restarting your system, so learning how to do this is a great way to get your system up and working again quickly without unnecessarily calling a repair service.
If you do notice anything wrong and restarting the system is ineffective, don’t attempt to fix it yourself as this can void your warranty. Instead, get a professional to come and take a look at it. They can perform any required maintenance without affecting the warranty.
Have Your Solar Array Regularly Serviced
It is recommended that you get a professional to come and service your solar installation once every two years. Rather than performing a superficial check, they can look deeper into the inner workings to see if everything is working as it should.
Although doing this will cost money, it’s an ideal preventative tactic as a professional will be able to spot problems early on and nip them in the bud. This stops them from becoming bigger – and more expensive – issues later down the line.
The Benefits of Fixed Tilt Solar Racking
Many solar companies will sing the praises of tracking systems that tilt the panels in accordance with the sun’s position. It’s true, they do increase the solar panel’s efficiency but they have the disadvantage of being more expensive to install and maintain.
The tracking systems are run on electricity and, therefore, have a lot more wiring and moving parts than a fixed system. This dramatically increases the likelihood of a fault or problem occurring.
Furthermore, if an object such as a tree branch gets wedged in the tracking system, this can quickly cause it to malfunction and even break down.
At 8760 Solar, we use fixed systems because our clients prefer the lower maintenance needs and the reduced costs that come with it.
Need More Information?
We hope that we have demonstrated that solar panels require surprisingly little maintenance, especially if you’ve taken the time to install them in the right area.
If you’d like some help deciding where to place your solar system, allow us to come and run a thorough analysis of your farm. When determining the most suitable locations, we also take your needs and budget into consideration, which then allows us to create a bespoke solution for your farm.
To speak to an 8760 expert, text “READY” to 719 470-0254 or get in touch via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Maintenance Procedures for a Solar Installation?
The maintenance procedures for a solar installation include regularly inspecting the system for damage or problems and cleaning the panels with water whenever they get dirty. It is also worth installing a solar monitoring system which will alert you if anything goes wrong.
How Often Do Solar Panels Need to Be Cleaned?
Solar panels should be cleaned when they get dirty enough to write “clean me” on them. If your panels don’t tend to get dirty very often, you should still perform a maintenance clean twice a year as this will help prevent dirt from building up.
Is It OK to Pressure Wash Solar Panels?
It’s not okay to pressure wash solar panels. The force of the water can damage the glass and other components of the panel. Instead, you should wash the panels using a standard hosepipe with nothing more than plain water and dish soap.
Do Solar Panels Need Servicing?
It’s recommended to have your solar array professionally serviced once every two years. This ensures you catch any issues early on and prevents them from becoming bigger problems.
Do I Need to Turn Off Solar Panels to Clean Them?
You need to switch off your solar panels before you clean them. The panels use electrical components, which increases the risk of receiving an electric shock when you apply water to them. Cutting the power before cleaning them makes it a much safer task.