Why Solar Panel Cleaning is Important

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Contrary to what some believe, solar panels are not an “install and forget” system. These panels have to be cleaned regularly to ensure optimum performance. Lack of maintenance can result in corrosion and permanent damage.

Cleaning solar panels improve efficiency and helps it last longer. Solar panels can be cleaned with a garden hose, sponges and water.

Higher Energy Production

Solar panels produce energy by turning sunlight into electrical current. If the panel is obscured by grime, it limits the amount of sunlight that can be converted. Less efficiency means less power for you.

Dirt, dust, bird droppings, bugs and leaves are just some of the things which can make your solar panels dirty. These are going to accumulate if the solar panels are not cleaned and will reduce efficiency.

Clean solar panels produce more power than dirty ones. With a good sized solar system you can run a lot of appliances or have backup power available. Make sure though you have a sufficient number of batteries available. You will need those to store solar power.

Related: Do Solar Panels Have Batteries?

Longer Lifespan

Tidy solar panels have a longer lifespan than dirty ones. You also get greater efficiency.

I already mentioned how dirt can reduce the amount of light solar panels can absorb. Aside from that, dirt, dead bugs, leaves and other debris can cause permanent damage.

If solar panels are exposed to a lot of dust and dirt, it won’t take long for these elements to buildup. Now imagine how much dirt gets on the panels after years.

The combination of dirt and debris might crack the panels. Or a heavy downpour or snow (with the added weight of the dirt) can break the panels.

Damaged solar panels are not easy to fix and don’t come cheap. Having your solar panels cleaned – or doing it yourself – costs much less.

Warranty Requirement

Solar panel warranties are good for up to 20-25 years. But some warranties state that regular maintenance must be performed on the solar panels so they will last for the given period.

What this means is that the solar panels will last 25 years provided it is cleaned regularly. If it’s not, there is a chance the panels will fail sooner.

If the warranty says clean the solar panels and you don’t, that could void the warranty. This can be a problem if the panels get damaged due to the dirt.

Even if the warranty doesn’t tell you to clean the panels, removing dirt and contaminants improves performance and durability. With regular care, solar panels can last much longer.

Better and Faster ROI

Buying solar panels is an investment for the future. Just like any investment we want the ROI (return on investment) as soon as possible.

Keeping solar panels free of dirt speeds up ROI. Clean panels generate more electricity which you can use.

The more solar power it generates, the more you can use and the faster your solar system will pay for itself.

Dirty solar panels produce less electricity and vulnerable to damage. If one or more panels need to be repaired, it’s going to take even longer for your ROI.

How to Clean Solar Panels

There are many ways to keep solar panels dirt free. The following are the most common.

Manual Cleaning

You will need:

  • Sponges
  • Garden hose
  • Water
  • Hard hat (Acerpal makes excellent hard hats like this one)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Ladder (the 17ft ladder from Oarlike is a good one)
  • A helper

You won’t need a ladder if the solar panels are on the ground. But if like most homes the panels are on the roof, a ladder is needed.

Safety tips: make sure there is someone to watch over you as you climb the ladder. Wear a hard hat. Do this only when the weather is clear.

If the debris are just on the panel glass, wipe it off with the sponge. But if you have a large system, it might require several sponges and lots of water.

If the debris are in the solar panels, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the screws on the solar panel caps.
  2. Use a sponge to remove the dirt and debris. Avoid sponges that disintegrate easily because the pieces might get dislodged in the cells.
  3. Rinse with water after you have removed the dirt. Standing water can lead to corrosion so wipe the surface dry.
  4. Put the screws back on.

Hire a Professional Solar Cleaner

There are many solar panel cleaning services available these days. The company you bought the panels from might offer a cleaning service for instance.

This is one of the most common methods and it’s easy to see why. If you are not comfortable climbing up your roof, you can always hire a solar panel cleaner to do it.

Solar panel cleaners are professionals and trained for this. So you don’t have to worry about using the wrong materials or damaging the panels.

Natural Sponges and Brushes

These are made out of wood, plastic, rubber and other natural materials. These sponges and brushes do not use soap and are well suited for solar panel cleaning.

What makes brushes ideal for solar panels is the soft bristles. The surface of a solar panel is delicate and easily damaged. Hard brushes can scratch the panels and cause more damage than the dirt it’s trying to remove.

Nanoparticle Coated Solar Panels

Nanoparticle coatings are coatings that can be put on solar panels to get rid of dirt and debris. These are often used while the panels are still encased and not yet installed. But it is possible that in the future, nanoparticle coatings will be commonly available.

Robot Solar Cleaners

There are machines designed specifically to clean solar panels. The technology is still new but already shows a lot of promise.

These robots clean solar panels automatically. It can go in the panel and clear out the debris which can be difficult to do by hand.

Robot cleaners are highly efficient and eliminate the risk of scratching or otherwise damaging the cells.

These robots can recognize the shape of your roof so it won’t fall off the edge. Specially designed arms collect dirt and debris. These are then placed in containers built into the robot.

Vibration Tech

This is a self-cleaning method for solar panels that eliminates the need for water. Also called vibra clean or vibrator, these devices are equipped with a motor that vibrates the panel. At the right frequency the movement removes dirt and debris without requiring you to touch the surface.

Does Rainwater Clean Solar Panels?

You are probably wondering if rain is enough to clean the panels. Rainwater does help, but what if your solar panels are really dirty and there’s no rain?

Water removes light dirt and dust, but if the panels are caked with grime, more thorough cleaning is needed. As you will read shortly, rainwater can actually be problematic.

Why Do Solar Panels Get Dirty?

Dirty solar panels have low energy output. The dirtier the panels the longer and more expensive they are to clean.

Knowing the reasons why solar panels get dirty is one of the keys to good maintenance. Here are the most common contaminants.

Dirt and dust. Dust and dirt will reduce the amount of energy your solar panels can make

Dead bugs and bird droppings. These debris can land on the cells or get caught between them. This can clog the system and prevent the panels from functioning properly.

Rainwater. You’ve probably heard that rainwater does a good job of cleaning solar panels. Rainwater can remove debris, but too much can cause problems.

A heavy downpour might crack the panels or water can seep into the cells. This can lead to corrosion and render the panel inoperable.

Leaves. These pose the same problems as bird droppings. Leaves can get sandwiched among the cells. This can limit the system’s electricity output.

How Often Should You Clean Solar Panels?

Solar panels should be cleaned at least once every 12 months. But there are situations where you might have to do it more often.

As I have pointed out, you cannot and should not depend on rain. Rain does remove some dirt but too much can leave standing water on the solar panels and cause corrosion.

And if the panels get really dirty during summer, it might take a while before the rain comes. Even then the rain might not be enough.

Keep in mind that the once a year cleanup is only a guideline. If you just cleaned the solar panels three weeks ago but a snowfall happened today, you might need to do another cleanup when the weather clears.

In the end what’s important is that your solar panels do get cleaned. It makes a huge difference in terms of performance and will save you a lot of money.