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What kind of maintenance do solar panels need?

3 min read

This is a great question—solar energy systems do require some regular maintenance to ensure proper and optimal functionality. But first, it’s helpful to understand the basics of how a photovoltaic (PV) system works.

Depending on your system configuration and manufacturer, your PV system may have more than what is listed below. But every typical residential installation will include the following components:

- Solar panels: the most visible part of a PV system, these collect energy from the sun. Bouncing electrons create that energy and get routed through some highly conductive wiring to the inverter.

- Inverters: these devices convert power from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) so the power can be readily used by your home.

- Net meters: most residential systems attach to the local energy grid and feed residual power back into the grid so it's not wasted. A “net meter” tracks the power fed to the grid as well as the power consumed from the grid.


Solar energy system maintenance

So now that we understand the main components of a PV system, let’s talk maintenance. The useful life of a PV system is typically expected to exceed 20 years! But you probably can’t expect it to last that long and produce the energy you hope without some basic maintenance. Don’t worry, it’s pretty simple:

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Keeping the panels clean and free from debris

Anything that covers your solar panels will reduce the amount of sun hitting them (and thus the energy produced). Clouds, leaves, soiling (dust and dirt), or other factors can all block sunlight from reaching the panels. Some of this will be out of your control (e.g. clouds) but many potential problems can be avoided with simple maintenance like trimming trees or occasionally cleaning off the tops of your solar panels (as explained here).

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Maintaining communication between your PV system and the internet

Your system may use multiple types of devices and methods to communicate with the inverter manufacturer via the internet, but this connection is essential for your system’s continued and optimal performance. If you have active connectivity from your system to the internet, then production data will be uploaded daily to your inverter manufacturer so PV system production can be monitored and maintained. This is something you’ll want to keep an eye on because it won’t be immediately apparent that connectivity has failed. When your refrigerator stops working, warm milk will quickly clue you in to the problem—if your PV system stops working, it can be difficult to tell until you get your next power bill from your utility.

What if you’re keeping your panels clear and your system communicating, but production still drops?

This happens occasionally and there are a few different ‘usual suspects’ that might be the cause but they require some technical expertise to resolve.

- Inverter failure. Converting power isn’t an easy task so, despite being built for high loads and inclement conditions, it does occasionally happen. Inverter failure usually requires replacement and this can be both dangerous and difficult. It’s best saved for your PV system provider or a certified PV system servicer (like Vivint Solar). Fortunately, warranties on inverters are usually quite long (sometimes up to 20 years) so your cost to fix can easily be recouped by a few months of resumed production.

- Wiring issues. Wires are pretty resilient, but depending on your geography, both moisture and creatures can cause issues. Heavy corrosion near coastlines or in humid environments can eventually cause conductivity issues and small animals like squirrels could chew on wiring. These issues are also best resolved by a certified professional to ensure safe resolution.

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- Panel damage. This is rare because solar panels themselves are extremely durable. For example, Florida’s largest utility reported that during hurricane Irma in 2017, approximately one million panels were in the storm’s path but only 400 of them were damaged. That’s only .04%. So chances are slim that the panels themselves will cause you problems but it’s not impossible. If you have solar on your home and can see visual damage to your panels that you suspect is causing problems with your solar production then we’d recommend getting in touch with your solar provider. If you’re a Vivint Solar homeowner, let us know.

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