How do I keep my solar system running well?

solar system runningIn my last post, I answered a question I often hear from solar system owners - "Is my solar system working?"

In this post, I'd like to discuss ways to keep your investment reliably delivering those valuable financial and environmental benefits. Specifically: "How do I keep my solar system running well?"

The best way to ensure your system keeps producing is to monitor the output. All solar power systems have an energy monitoring system. And statistics show that a monitored system produces more than an un-monitored one simply due to quick failure recognition.

As described in my previous post, most inverters come with a proprietary, reasonably priced monitor that will alert you if your system under produces or trips offline. If you don't already have one, your solar company can install energy monitoring which generally cost under $1,000 for a standard residential project.

But this is assuming you have a stable internet connection for the information to appear in the monitoring portal. Note that more sophisticated devices can monitor your home's consumption and solar production. This allows you to easily assess your 'net' energy consumption from the grid.

Many homeowners are told that solar is 'maintenance free'. While solar is incredibly reliable, solar preventative maintenance keeps your system operating optimally. While we don’t recommend homeowners to go up the roof, many solar systems can be visually inspected at ground level. If you spot a problem, ask your installer or a solar service company, like HelioPower, to fix it.

How on-going solar maintenance can help

First, visually scan every solar panel. Look for broken glass (from golf balls, rocks thrown by the neighbor kid, rare panel failures, etc) which will be obvious. Solar modules are made with tempered glass, so a broken panel will look completely shattered. Next, look under the panels for loose and hanging wires. All wires need to be secured under the solar system. Over time, hanging wires can move with the wind causing:

  • Roof damage.
  • Abrasions in the wire insulation.
  • And an unwanted system shutdown with a ground fault.

While you are looking at the array, check to see if any tree branches or other vegetation are creating shade on the panels. While some types of inverters do a better job at accounting for shaded panels, anything blocking your solar panels from direct sunlight should be removed. We recommend full, unobstructed sunlight on the array between 9AM-3PM at a minimum.

Next, check to see if the panels are clean. Dirt is like shade on your panels and production is reduced commensurate with the amount of dirt covering the cells. If dirt is blocking 10% of the solar irradiance, then you are losing 10% of your production. As a general rule, we like to clean residential solar arrays once per year in early summer to prepare for energy harvest season. No need to obsess about it, however. A thin film of residue on your array is fine, but a thick layer should be removed. In many climates, rain is enough to keep modules clean on a sloped roof.

Finally, check your wall mounted string inverter. It should be in a shaded location without any vegetation or household items blocking airflow. If your unit comes with fans, it may have a filter grill that should be removed and washed or blown out with air and replaced. Remember to keep your inverter in the shade and your panels in the Sun!

Keeping your solar monitored, clean and un-shaded is a great way to ensure a highly productive and reliable renewable energy system for years to come. Please contact us today!