After the Installation: Solar Panel Maintenance and Durability

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Estimated reading time: 8 minutes 

It is just as important to learn about solar panel maintenance and durability as it is to understand the purchase and installation processes.

When selecting a solar company and system, obtaining the required permits and approval, and getting panels installed, you may not be primarily concerned about what happens after the job is completed. 

Solar panel installation

But let’s compare a solar installation to a wedding.

Leading up to the big day, there’s a lot of necessary preparation and a lot of excitement (hopefully), but a couple should keep in mind that the event is not the end goal—happily ever after consists of day-to-day living with its mixture of triumphs and problems.

With solar panels, the system design and installation processes require time and effort, but once the day has come and your system is up and running, you will be able to see amazing benefits that build over time.

However, a reality of both solar installations and marriage is that maintenance is required. Just as you wouldn’t ignore your spouse for months and then pretend that all is well, you shouldn’t just forget about the panels on your roof.

Problems can arise, so the purpose of this article is to help you be more aware of potential situations and their solutions. We’ll focus on some of the primary questions and concerns that solar owners have about keeping their PV systems safe and efficiently producing energy throughout their lifespan.

We’ll cover the following questions:

1. Should I install a critter guard?

2. What do I do when it snows?

3. Do I need to clean my panels?

4. Are wind, hail, hurricanes, etc., likely to damage my system?

The good news is that your relationship with solar panels should require much less maintenance than a marriage. At Project Solar, we provide customers with only the best panels that have 25-year production warranties. They’re built to last, and they shouldn’t require frequent meddling or tune-ups.

1. Should I install a critter guard?

Solar Critter Guard

Even if you’re someone who mercifully allows the neighborhood vermin to chow down on your garden year after year, you don’t need to feel bad about drawing a line when it comes to your solar panels. 

As Robert Frost wrote (clearly in reference to solar panel critter guards), “Good fences make good neighbors.”

There is a necessary space between a solar panel and your roof which allows for ventilation. This space does some really useful things like keep your roof from catching fire.

This space also creates a super cozy home to animals (or pests, depending on your perspective) looking for shelter. 

Before you start envisioning a critter guard as an impenetrable fortress that will block rays, have no fear. A critter guard will not affect your solar panels’ efficiency because it just fences off that important space underneath the panel, keeping critters from creating messy nests or destructively gnawing in dangerous places. 

Critter guards also prevent debris accumulation (leaves, sticks, etc.) that can also become hazardous.

Solar Critter Guard

A critter guard is typically constructed of metal screening that resembles some heavy-duty chicken wire. The metal is coated with PVC to protect from the elements.

While many solar companies offer critter guards, it usually isn’t factored into your system’s price, so you will need to ask for it specifically.

At Project Solar, we offer critters guards as an add-on for $0.10/watt. We have IronRidge critter guards, and the SnapNrack critter guard is also an option which can only be used with SnapNRack rails. 

2. What do I do when it snows?

Snow rake solar panels

Sunny, cool weather is actually a prime condition for producing solar energy (panels become less efficient if they overheat), so even if you live in a colder climate, solar panels can definitely still be a good option.

However, panels can’t produce electricity if they are covered by snow.

Snow is rarely heavy enough to damage panels since quality panels undergo pressure tests to assess durability and quality. Additionally, panels are installed at an angle, so snow will usually slide off on its own accord.

If accumulating snow is a persistent issue for you, there are other solutions to help you manually clear off your panels. 

Snow on solar panels

For example, there are snow rake tools made specifically for solar panels. A snow rake is essentially a rubber squeegee with an extendable handle so that in most cases, you can clear off your panels without mounting the roof (which is inadvisable especially when it is covered in snow and ice).

If the placement or height of your panels makes it impossible for your rake to reach, then you will have to take a different approach. 

At all costs, avoid using tools that would scratch or damage your panels in any way. Even small scratches will cause the production efficiency of your panels to deteriorate. 

There are a variety of techniques that you may find on the internet like throwing balls on the panels to shake off snow, mounting an icy roof (especially without a safety harness), using a broom to sweep, and using snow-melting salts, but we’d advise against these potentially harmful approaches.

Some strategies may seem ingenious initially, but many will cause damage that is not worth the instant gratification you may feel by clearing your panels.

3. Do I need to clean my panels?

Cleaning Solar Panels

 Before you clean freaks jump on your roof with Windex to give your panels an extra shine or start scrubbing persistent splotches of bird poop with iron wool, know that while a level of cleanliness promotes your system’s efficiency, you don’t need to be cleaning your system super regularly.

When/if you do clean your panels, it shouldn’t be an intense process. 

If you live somewhere with high amounts of dust, smog, dirt, sand, etc., then dirty panels could be a real concern. Layers of grime can lower your panels’ energy production. 

However, you do not want to do anything that scratches your panels since any kind of surface abrasion or damage also decreases system efficiency. For this reason, also avoid using chemicals on the panels.

When in doubt, play it safe. By incorrectly cleaning your panels, you slow down the production of your system more than a smidgen of dust would.

Dust build-up on solar panels

Here are some of the approaches you can take if dirty panels become a problem for you:

  • If you are uncomfortable cleaning the panels yourself, you can also enlist the aid of a cleaning service.
  • If you have your system through a solar lease, the company that is leasing you the system is responsible for the maintenance of your system, so if your system requires cleaning, you will have to notify your company. 
  • You can hose down panels or clean them with a non-abrasive sponge or soft cloth and some gentle, dish-soapy water. 

Even though your panels are expensive and sensitive in some ways, they definitely should be waterproof, so don ’t worry about rain or getting panels too wet when cleaning them. A panel’s solar cells are protected by a metal frame, specialized sealant, a layer of glass on the front side, and a backsheet made from durable, polymer-based material.

4. Are wind, hail, hurricanes, etc., likely to damage my system?

Let’s be real, there are some natural disasters that you’re not going to be able to plan for and that could potentially damage your panels . . . along with the rest of your house. Usually, if weather can damage your panels, it’s not because they’re the weak link—it’s because you’re going to be dealing with other inevitable damage as well. 

The unfortunate reality is that (like the Tesla Cybertruck’s windows) solar panels are not indestructible, and crazy weather and natural disasters are not typically covered in a panel’s equipment warranty.

Like the Tesla Cybertruck's windows, solar panels are not indestructible

Although the equipment warranty does not typically cover a panel’s weather damage, homeowners insurance usually will cover solar panels, but that is something you’ll want to verify with your insurance

Fortunately, quality solar panels are built to last through harsh weather conditions. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that of the 50,000 solar energy systems installed in the country between 2009 and 2013 indicates, only 0.1% of all systems were reported to be affected by damaged or underperforming modules each year. 

In most cases, solar panels are tested and guaranteed to withstand hail up to 25 mm (1 inch) in size, falling at approximately 50 miles per hour. Along with hail testing, engineers also consider winds and hurricanes. The typical aluminum and glass casings of a panel's cells also make the panel highly waterproof, and most solar panels are certified to withstand up to 140 mile-per-hour winds

To contextualize this, there are 5 categories of hurricanes according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. A category 3 hurricane is the earliest category to be considered major, and characteristically has 111-129 mph winds. A category 4 has 130-156 mph winds.

According to the scale, when there is a category 4 hurricane, “well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls.” So, by the time a hurricane’s winds are severe enough to damage your panels, your roof itself may be gone with the wind.

Aptos, one of Project Solar’s most popular panel providers, goes through additional testing to guarantee durability that can weather storms. 

Aptos panel durability

There are additional measures that can be taken if extreme hail is a concern.

For example, automatic angle-changing devices are starting to be offered by some companies as a system add-on. These devices are handy when it comes to hail because moving the panels to a steeper angle would cause hail to only graze the panels rather than hit them head-on. 

Currently, the price of these devices are quite prohibitive, more than $1,000/panel, so although they are an extra safety measure, they don’t make a lot of sense financially. 

Another solution that some have used is to coat panels with methacrylate—a strong bond of polymer plastic that creates a protective layer.

Ultimately, it would be wisest to have a good sense of the weather you experience in your area and also understand the capabilities of the panels you select. Most are much more resilient than you may think. 

Project Solar systems use Enphase microinverters, which means that you’ll be able to track the production of your panels through the Enlighten app. After a storm, you can use the app as a tool to identify issues. Be sure, however, not to touch or clear damaged panels without professional guidance or assistance. 

Storms and solar panels 

Conclusion 

At Project Solar, we utilize 3rd party engineering firms to design and assess wind and snow load possibilities, and your design is tweaked to accommodate your weather needs. The city then reviews the plans and issues a build permit. Equipment will be supplied according to your needs, and our #1 priority is making sure that you can have a rewarding relationship with your panels post-installation.