If you've invested in a solar energy system for your house, you may think that after installation, you're all set. There are, however, some specific things you can do to continually help the efficiency of your system. If your system isn't producing power at its maximum capacity, then you're loosing the full benefit of your investment. A properly maintained system can last much longer and produces more energy than a system that is neglected. To ensure your system is properly maintained, check first with your manufacturer; they will likely have guidelines and tips for caring for your system. In addition, the following tips can help you maintain the efficiency of your system.
There are many weather-related causes of reduced efficiency for your solar energy system. But regular cleanings can help to protect your investment and prolong the life of the system. Here is a quick list of different elements, how they can reduce your systems efficiency, and what you can do to keep your system running smoothly:
- Snow– Snow covers the solar panels and reduces their efficiency. The good part? Snow eventually melts. The bad part? Snow eventually melts. Melted snow can seep into the joints and cracks of your panels. If that moisture freezes, it expands and can cause cracking and other damage to the panels and mounting units. A light dusting of snow is easily blown away by the wind, but heavier, wetter snow would need to be removed manually using a roof rake or a roof dryer. The weight of snow can also cause damage to your panels support system if too heavy of a snowfall is allowed to accumulate. So the sooner you're able to remove the heavy, wet snow, the better for your system.
- Wind– Carrying tiny particles of dirt, pollen and grime, wind is a solar nightmare. Much like wind weathers down a mountain, it can chip away slowly at your solar panels. Installing your panels on a side of your house that is less exposed to wind is a priority. A strong enough gust could pry the panels loose or throw larger debris onto the panel, damaging the system. Keep your trees trimmed. Loose branches and broken limbs are likely projectiles in a windstorm. Be sure to have your system checked after any severe wind storms. When dirt, pollen and dust accumulate on the surface of the panels, it reduces efficiency by blocking the sunshine that is meant to be absorbed. You'll want to wash down your panels as often as needed, depending on how often and how extensive dirt, dust and pollen accumulates. A good garden hose is a great way to wash off the dust and dirt left behind after a windstorm. If your system is easy to reach, you can also try a bucket of warm, soapy water and a light sponging.
- Rain– Rain can help and hinder your solar panels. Rain can wash away dust and debris that has built up on your system. The downside: if it's raining, then you're not collecting sunshine and producing energy.
- Temperature– There is pretty much nothing you can do to prevent extreme temperatures from hampering the solar panel's ability to create energy. It should be noted, though, that if temperatures are consistently too hot or too cold, then the panels won't produce efficiently. It's wise to consider how much extreme temperatures can affect your system before you invest.
More on snow
Snow and ice are perhaps the largest cause of solar system issues. When snow begins to flex its frozen vapor muscles, here are a few extra tips to help you maintain your system:
- Wait it out- eventually the snow will melt. If the weather is fair and it's only a light dusting of snow, it will likely melt off quickly.
- Sweep it off- This idea is possibly the most dangerous for you and your system. Climbing ladders and using lightweight tools– like brooms, or blowers– to remove snow can be an option, but this method is not highly recommended because of wet and/or icy conditions. Aside from the possibility of hurting yourself, you also are at a higher risk of damaging your system more than the snow. Use caution and common sense; if it's too dangerous it's best to just wait for the snow to melt.
- Tilted panels- It's possibly too late if your system is already in place, but if you have yet to install a system, and you know that snow is a likely issue, build the system on enough of an angle that snow will slide off. This way, snow is less likely to accumulate and obscure the panels. A more high-tech solution you could try is to create a hydraulic system that could tilt your panels as needed. This idea could potentially be a pricey one and not worth the effort.
- Apply warm air- There are systems that blow warm air on your roof and solar system. There are backpack blowers or larger propane systems. Just like sweeping, using these systems could possibly be dangerous, depending on the location of your system and the pitch of your roof. With the help of PVC pipes, plastic hoses and a leaf blower you could use warm air to speed up the melting process. This has potential if you could figure out how to do it in an aesthetically pleasing way. If you’re the handy sort of person, it's likely that there are plans for a system like this available on the internet.
- Throwing/ soft projectiles– Depending on the pitch of your roof, it's been said that using soft projectiles like foam darts from a kids dart gun can be effective in causing "avalanche-like conditions." It's also more likely that, come spring, you'll have a wide variety of darts, balls, and other soft projectiles piled up on your roof or in your rain gutters.
- Roof rakes – While it takes a lot of manual labor, these are a safe alternative to sweeping or applying warm air to your roof. However, you would want to be careful about hooking the rake on your system and pulling too hard on the panels. You could also possibly scratch the panels, so you'll want to avoid the areas closest to your system.
- Ice Melt– We all know that chemicals like calcium chloride and salt can hasten the melting process. Filling an old sock with ice melt and placing it above (not on top of) your system can help. It's not clear what the long term affect might be on your system and your roof– especially a metal roof– and this approach may need some additional research.
- Heat tape– Heat tape is another great idea for keeping snow and ice from gathering on your panels. This method, however, needs to have been in place long before the snow flies to be effective. It's never safe to get up on your roof, so if you plan to place and use heat tape to keep the snow off your system please do so in dry safe conditions.
As your system ages, some parts may need replacing. Also, if a part is damaged, you'll need to replace it to keep your system running at full efficiency. Your system should have a long-lasting warranty to help with these repairs. Read through the warranty information carefully, and be sure to fill out and return any forms necessary. It's a smart idea to keep a copy of your warranty and purchase on file so that the information is easy to find in case you ever do need a repair.
As a homeowner, it's important to maintain your home. If a solar energy system is part of your home, you need to care for that, too, by cleaning, repairing and maintaining your system. If you need additional help and ideas on how to care for your solar energy system, we'd love to help. Simply give us a call!