Guide to Solar Panel Maintenance (2023)
Solar panels are very durable, and the best solar installation companies offer 25 to 30-year warranties to ensure performance over the lifespan of your panels. However, it's still important to know about proper solar panel maintenance. The main requirement is regular cleaning — when dust and other particles accumulate on the surface of your panels, it can block sunlight, and electricity production can decrease.
In this article, we at the Guides Home Team will review what you need to know about maintaining your solar panels, including general tips and information, average maintenance costs and solutions to common operating issues.
Residential solar panels need little maintenance other than regular cleaning, but you must use suitable tools and methods to prevent damage. Generally, photovoltaic (PV) modules have simpler maintenance needs than other power generation systems since they have no moving parts subject to mechanical wear. Here are some recommendations on how to clean solar panels properly:
Many solar manufacturers and installation companies, like SunPower and NRG Clean Power, recommend cleaning your PV modules at least twice per year. Depending on site conditions and the weather, you may need to clean your system more frequently. For example, dust will accumulate faster on solar panels if there is a large construction project near your home.
Rain can clean your solar panels for free, washing away built-up material such as dirt and bird droppings. However, you should always conduct a visual inspection after extreme weather, to make sure your solar panels are still in good working condition.
You should never clean solar panels with roof rakes, hard brushes or other tools that may scratch their surface. Also, avoid chemical cleaning agents since they can also cause damage. Soft brushes and squeegees are suitable for solar panel cleaning, or you can use a leaf blower or garden hose.
You can wash solar panels with a garden hose, but you should never do this on a hot summer day. PV modules reach high temperatures under the sun, and the sudden cooling effect caused by washing can cause cracks on their surface. Keep in mind that your solar panels may still be warm after sunset, especially if the weather has been particularly hot.
Dust build-up reduces the energy output of solar panels over time. Many of the solar inverters used in PV systems have mobile apps, which means you can keep track of daily productivity. You can expect low electricity output on cloudy days, but if you notice low productivity in sunny weather conditions, your panels may be covered by leaves or other objects.
If your solar inverter does not have built-in energy monitoring, you may not notice lower-than-average productivity. Low solar energy outputs will increase your energy consumption from the grid, and you will know there is an issue when the next electricity bill arrives. We recommend getting a power monitoring system if not included with your solar panel installation.
Electricity output will also drop if your solar panels or other system components suffer a malfunction. However, this should not be a problem if you have solid product warranties from the equipment manufacturer and a workmanship warranty with your solar company. These warranties should cover performance issues at no cost.
Even with proper maintenance, solar panels will gradually lose performance over time. However, degradation happens at a very slow rate if you purchase high-quality solar panels, averaging just a 0.5% efficiency loss per year. This means you will still get over 90% of your panels’ initial energy output even after 20 years of use.
According to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the annual operation and maintenance cost of home solar systems is around $31 per kilowatt (kW) of installed capacity. This means a 6 kW system has an estimated operating and maintenance cost below $200 per year.
The cost of professional solar cleaning services can vary depending on your location and the size and complexity of your system. DIY cleaning is feasible if you have a ground-mounted system or an easy-to-access flat roof. But due to the risks involved, professional cleaning services are recommended for solar energy systems on sloped roofs.
Getting a solid warranty is critical when purchasing a solar power system. The best solar panels include product warranties of up to 25 to 30 years. During this time, your warranty provider will handle any malfunctions at no additional cost, and your investment is protected.
Keep in mind that solar panel warranties have many terms and conditions, and you can lose coverage for not following those guidelines.
You can also get a warranty for other system components such as solar inverters, PV module racking and home battery systems. However, many of these components have a shorter lifespan than solar panels, along with shorter warranties. For example, solar batteries and inverters generally need a replacement after 10 to 12 years. You should plan replacements in advance to avoid interruptions in solar electricity production.
Solar panels can suffer performance issues like any other piece of equipment. While you can fix some issues, others require professional attention. Below we’ve outlined some of the most common issues that affect home solar systems and offer some solutions.
Solar panels suffer a drastic loss of energy production when covered by shadows since less sunlight can reach their surface. Professional solar technicians will try to place your solar panels in an unshaded area during installation. However, growing vegetation and other rooftop equipment can create new shadows, covering your solar panels.
Many home solar panels are connected together using a string circuit, meaning all PV modules in the circuit are affected when one is unproductive. A concentrated shadow covering just one of your solar panels can decrease the electricity output of the entire array.
Tree branches that grow above your solar panels should be trimmed regularly to prevent shading. Other rooftop equipment such as solar hot water collectors and air conditioners should be installed so they will not cast a shadow on your home solar system.
Dust and other waste materials can accumulate on your solar panels and have the same effect as shadows. These materials can block incoming sunlight, and electricity production drops as a result. As mentioned before, you should clean solar panels regularly to ensure high productivity.
In a traditional solar system, individual modules are connected in a series circuit using junction boxes on the back of each panel. The entire circuit connects to a solar inverter, which converts the direct current (DC) output of your solar panels into the alternating current (AC) input used by your home devices.
If a junction box or connection between solar panels malfunctions, current cannot flow, and electricity production drops to zero. If no electricity is generated — even during daylight hours — you should contact your solar system provider as soon as possible. Other electrical faults can also cause a complete loss of production, which you will want to rule out.
Yes, but solar panels have much simpler maintenance requirements than other power generation systems. As long as you keep the surface of your solar panels clean from dust and other particles, they can generate electricity for decades.
Many solar panel manufacturers and installation companies recommend cleaning your system at least twice a year. You may need more frequent cleaning depending on site conditions. For example, solar panels accumulate sand if used near a beach or desert. Or they might be exposed to more dust if there is a nearby construction project.
Having an annual inspection from a qualified professional is also recommended since you can detect and fix minor issues before they cause a system malfunction.
The NREL has determined that solar panel maintenance costs around $31 per kW per year. This results in an estimated cost of around $186 per year for a 6 kW system or $310 per year for a 10 kW system. Actual costs can vary depending on the complexity of your solar PV system and external factors like skilled labor costs.
Under normal conditions, solar panels only need regular cleaning. Although solar panels can last for more than 25 years, you will need to schedule an inverter replacement after 10 to 12 years since this component has a shorter service life. The same applies if you add a home battery to your solar panel system, which also lasts around 10 to 12 years.
Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.
Tori Addison is an editor who has worked in the digital marketing industry for over five years. Her experience includes communications and marketing work in the nonprofit, governmental and academic sectors. A journalist by trade, she started her career covering politics and news in New York's Hudson Valley. Her work included coverage of local and state budgets, federal financial regulations and health care legislation.below $200 per year Leonardo David Tori Addison