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In order for solar modules to work effectively, keeping them clean from outside debris like pollen, leaves, dust or bird droppings is especially important. For starters, clean solar modules will produce more energy, in turn saving money on energy bills. In fact, dirty PV panels could result in as much as 25% loss of energy production - a sufficient amount in terms of both electricity output and monthly bill costs.
Secondly, routine cleaning will prolong the life of the solar system and save you money from potential repairs. A typical recommendation is one cleaning every two to four years, but it's important to consider the climate. Drier, dustier climates will need cleaning more often than rainier climates. Seasonal removal of debris can be done on an as-needed basis.
Because solar energy is intermittent and largely weather-dependent, it's unlikely your system will produce energy 100 percent of the time. But if you establish a routine cleaning regimen, you can rest assured that your modules will perform at their best. Read on for necessary equipment and basic procedures to follow to prolong the life of your system.
Essential Equipment for Cleaning Solar Panels
To care for your solar modules, there are a few pieces of equipment that are necessary to make sure the panels don't get damaged during the cleaning process.
Ladder and Safety Harness
In order to safely reach your panel installation, you're going to need a ladder. Even if your installation is on the ground, you'll probably need a smaller step ladder to reach the tops of the modules. For added safety, we suggest wearing a harness - especially if your roof installation is on higher peaks of your home. OSHA requires the use of a harness for any height over 6ft.
Solar Panel Cleaner
The key here is to make sure you use a non-abrasive cleaning solution or gentle soap specifically for solar panels, otherwise you run the risk of causing corrosion or leaving behind streaks that can affect your system's energy production. We strongly advise that you consult with your panel manufacturer for recommended cleaning solutions or an approved list of cleaners in your area as each module is different. Damage that occurs outside of your manufacturer's cleaning specifications could result in the loss of your warranty.
Microfiber Brush + Squeegee
Another important tool to ensure a thorough cleaning is a microfiber brush so it doesn't scratch the surface of your PV panels. An extendable pole and built-in squeegee are also recommended. If you can't find a brush you like that includes a built-in squeegee, make sure to purchase one separately as they are extremely useful for removing water from glass without leaving behind streaks or residue.
Flow-Through Wash Brush
A flow-through wash brush allows for the integration of water flow so you can wash and scrub at the same time. This tool especially comes in handy if you find the majority of your panel debris to be dust and/or pollen.
1. Review Your Manufacturer Manual
Even with the most extensive knowledge on solar panels, it's important to read the manufacturer's manual and call customer service before you get started to understand the details and technicalities of your specific module type. Not following your manufacturer's cleaning instructions can void your warranty. A few critical things to be aware of include:
- How to turn your system off (and back on again)
- Any suggested maintenance tips for your specific installation
- Best contacts should your system need repairs
2. Turn Your System Off
Before you begin cleaning your PV system, make sure you turn your modules off to avoid shock or electrocution risk, or unnecessary damages to your system. We also recommend you wear hot gloves as turning your system off only guarantees no current; voltage from the sun can still occur.
3. Review Panels for Damage
Inspect your solar panels for any unusual damage and double check to make sure all wire connections are in the correct locations. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, contact your solar installer or a qualified electrician to inspect and fix these issues before moving forward with your wash.
4. Practice Caution While Cleaning
During the cleaning process, be sure to use all equipment carefully so as not to accidentally bump or break your solar panels. You will also want to make sure your water pressure isn't too high so you don't get water into any seals on the system. Pressure washers are NOT recommended for panel cleaning.
5. Snow Removal
If you live in an area that receives snow, consider investing in a solar panel snow rake to safely remove snow manually without scratching your panels. If you notice ice on your panels, do not break it as this could damage your panel glass.
How To Clean Your PV System
Once you've completed your pre-cleaning steps and shut off your PV modules, you're ready to clean your solar system. Follow these four steps to ensure a job well done.
Carefully remove any loose debris from your panels with your microfiber brush. This includes things like leaves, small twigs, bird droppings or other flora that may have gotten onto your panels.
Spray your panels with deionized water and gently scrub off any remaining debris with your flow-through brush. If you can, avoid using any solar cleaning solution. If your panels require a little extra TLC, go for a non-toxic, non-abrasive solar cleaner.
Next, rinse your solar panels with deionized water and squeegee them dry for a streak-free finish.
Once your panel surface is dry, you'll want to proceed with caution when drying the panel's edges as they can be quite delicate. This is best accomplished with a gentle, lint-free cloth. Of course, if any of the above steps make you nervous you can always seek help from solar-cleaning experts. The video below is a great demonstration on what you can expect should you call in the professionals.
In order to properly clean your solar modules, you will need to purchase special equipment so as not to damage the system. Fortunately for homeowners, all of the necessary tools needed to ensure an effective clean are readily available. Before purchasing said tools, make sure you read your manufacturer's manual and consult with their customer service professionals to make sure you understand the specific care your PV system requires. If you're at all uncomfortable with cleaning your panels yourself, reach out to panel cleaning experts in your area. Maintaining a proper cleaning regimen for your solar system is important to preserve energy production and efficiency. A great way to measure your home’s energy output and consumption is to pair your modules with a smart panel to keep track of your energy usage month to month.