Learning how to safely maintain your solar panels is an important part of ensuring you get the most out of your solar system. There are several benefits to keeping your panels clean, and thankfully it’s a fairly straightforward task.
What affects solar panel performance?
Generally, the amount of power your panels produce depends on a variety of factors that include the brand, quantity, and efficiency.
There are also a number of environmental factors that can impact their performance, and these include temperature, wind speed, shade coverage, and humidity. Despite often being overlooked, soling is also a key factor that can lower the performance of your solar array. Dust, dirt, bird droppings, sand, and even smog all chip away at the amount of power being produced.
Depending on where you live in Australia, the amount of power you lose through soiling can vary significantly. But overall regions with higher dust and pollution levels tend to suffer more from the effects of soiling.
Do clean solar panels perform better?
Small particles can sometimes stick to the frame or the front of solar modules, which can lower the amount of sunlight they can absorb. The dust causes the panel’s output to drop, which means the system produces less energy. It’s estimated that the annual amount of power lost from soiling typically ranges from 1.5% to 6.5% but it can be a little higher in the worst-hit locations (this is typically in rural areas with loose soil, or sandy regions).
Learning how to clean solar panels safely is a great way to ensure that you get the most power out of your solar system, however, in almost all urban environments it isn’t essential to do so. In Australia’s coastal areas including Sydney and Melbourne, regular rain ensures that solar panels will generally remain clear of dust or pollution as the rain washes away nearly all of the dust on a panel.
If you have an extended period of dry weather or you get a lot of dust or pollution on your roof, check out our top tips below for keeping your panels clear of debris to maximise their performance.
Solar Power Maintenance
As long as it can be done safely, we recommend inspecting your solar panels from the ground once to twice a year to see if anything needs to be done. Inspecting the system early in the morning or later in the evening is the safest time to inspect a solar system as the energy generated is going to be very low, just make sure there is enough light to operate safely.
Do not do anything that is outside of your comfort zone, or dangerous. Cleaning solar panels is a common service and there are many suitable tradespeople available for this type of work.
Qualified tradespeople are aware of the key safety requirements, correct equipment, cleaning solutions, & optimum times to clean panels and should be contacted for advice if you decide to clean the solar panels yourself.
Inspecting your solar panels
The purpose of giving your panels a once over is to make sure that there isn’t anything obvious that could be affecting the output of power from your system. When checking your installation from the ground, you should:
- Check that every panel is in good working order and that there isn’t any damage to the glass
- Check there aren’t any large objects on the panels, such as sticks or leaves
- Take a look around and ensure that the modules aren’t overshadowed by surrounding objects such as overhanging trees during the daytime (between approximately 10 am and 3 pm)
- If you are going to clean your panels, make sure there aren’t any small objects that may be touching the glass surface of the panel such as little stones or seeds, as this can scratch the glass during cleaning
- On the underside of the module, check for burns or frayed cables.
- Check for corrosion in the cells and on the frames of the panels
- Also, take a look at the mounting system to make sure everything is sitting right, that the screws are all tight and that there is no corrosion
Once you’ve checked the above, you are ready to clean your solar modules if they need cleaning. If you spot any issues when doing the checks above, call a qualified tradesperson for more information before moving on. Solaray customers can refer to their user manual for more information and our contact details.
- The first thing you must do before cleaning your panels is to turn off your solar system. This step protects you and puts your safety first. The instructions for turning off your solar system are in your user manual
- Try to clean the solar panels from the ground
- If you need to get up on the roof, do not ever step on the solar panels or put any weight on them. This can cause small cracks in the glass
- We recommend using a damp sponge to clean the modules if there is sap on the glass, or something that can’t be washed off with a hose
- Ideally, use deionised water. Only use a sponge if you have to; wiping the panels can scratch them if there are any small elements on the glass such as seeds or pine needles.
- Do not use a power hose to clean the panels as it could damage them
- Use a garden hose, and then if necessary a bucket and some soapy water for removing grime, tree sap etc.
- Opt for water that is a neutral temperature and avoid using anything too hot or cold
- Never use abrasive materials or chemical cleaners on the panels. Non-abrasive sponges are your best bet
If you see any exposed wires or broken glass, don’t clean the panels as it could lead to an electric shock. Instead, call a qualified tradesperson immediately. Solaray customers can contact our industry-leading support team using the contact information in your user guide.
Your solar system should be installed with a ground-wire connected to the aluminium frames of the PV modules to eliminate the possibility of an electric shock when touching the frames. However, never forget that PV panels will still be generating electricity, so be careful not to touch any exposed wiring or surface.
How often should you clean your solar panels?
We recommend inspecting the state of your PV modules at least once or twice a year, and typically you will find the panels don’t need to be cleaned. If you live in an area where soiling is an issue and you can see it building up, it may be advisable to clean your panels around once every 1 or 2 years.
When cleaning your solar modules aim for an overcast day and if possible do it early in the morning or in the evening when the system isn’t generating much power and when the panels aren’t too hot. During the day the panels can get up to 70 degrees C, which is far too hot to be working safely. Cold water can crack the glass if the panels are too hot.
You need to move through two main steps when cleaning your solar panels. The first is to inspect the entire array to make sure it is safe, and that nothing is damaged or broken. During your inspection, you can then decide if the panels need cleaning.
When cleaning your solar panels, it is essential to turn off the solar system first and to avoid working during the day.
Overall, learning how to inspect and clean your solar system can help ensure your system is in a good operating condition so that it will be a reliable source of energy for years to come.
Find out more: how solar power works in NSW.