Solar panel maintenance: why it's important and what you need to do
Not much should go wrong with a high quality solar panel system that’s been properly installed by a reputable installer. But regular maintenance can go a long way in helping to ensure that your panels are working correctly, safely, and efficiently.
Whether you’ve already got solar panels or you just want to know what’s involved before you take the plunge and get some installed, we go through what you need to do to help your panels last longer and when to get them serviced.
How long do solar panels last?
Generally speaking, solar panels have a lifespan of around 25 to 30 years. This doesn’t mean that solar panels will stop producing electricity altogether after this period, but that energy production will likely decline significantly.
This number varies depending on the manufacturer and quality of panels, external forces like damage caused by extreme weather conditions, how well they’re installed, and of course, how well you maintain your solar panel system.
Without proper maintenance, solar panels can degrade quickly. Doing regular maintenance on your solar panel system will help ensure that they’re operating as intended, are safe, and are working efficiently.
How about other components of a solar panel system?
Despite the average lifespan of solar panels being around 25 years, individual components of the solar panel system have a higher chance of degradation than the actual panels themselves.
- Racking: this is the structure that securely mounts solar panels onto a rooftop or the ground, and is vulnerable to harsh weather conditions like sun, rain, and hail.
- Inverter: an inverter typically needs replacing every 10 to 15 years - a manufacturer has to replace it if it fails within the warranty period.
- Solar battery: it’s often recommended to replace the solar battery after 10 years, but this depends on the manufacturer.
Do solar panels need to be cleaned?
Yes. If you want to prolong the lifespan of your solar panels and ensure that they’re working efficiently, then they need to be cleaned as well as properly maintained.
How often do solar panels need to be cleaned?
It’s recommended by the Clean Energy Council to undertake maintenance - including cleaning - once a year to ensure that your solar panel system is working efficiently and safely. However, for some, the cost of a yearly service may not be worth the improvement in energy efficiency. Some manufacturers recommend inspection and maintenance only once every 5 years.
However, if you’re concerned about any part of your system, then you should get it checked.
You should also call a professional in the following situations:
- Before you move into or buy a property with an existing solar system.
- If you notice a change in the system’s output through your monitoring method or energy bill.
- If the system produces a warning or alert.
- If you’re concerned that animals - such as pigeons or possums - are damaging your system.
- If you want to check if there’s a buildup of debris on the system.
How to make your solar panels last longer
1. Keep your panels clean
When doing solar panel maintenance, do what you can, and then call in a professional. If you can, use soap and a non-abrasive cleaning cloth or sponge on the glass panels so that you don’t scratch them. Use a long-handled broom to brush away debris if your home is single-storey.
You should also keep checking them to ensure there isn’t a dusty film covering them, as this can hinder their efficiency.
A buildup of dirt, debris, and grime can cover cells for a long period of time, which can cause hotspots. When cells are covered, they stop working, which places more strain on the areas of the panel that aren’t obstructed by dirt and are still working. Not only does this reduce energy efficiency, but this overheating can also cause and exacerbate microcracks, which develop over time due to exposure to weather.
2. Keep your panels out of the shade
There shouldn’t be new shade that wasn’t there when the solar panel system was installed. This may mean you need to trim back a tree that is starting to cast shade on the panels. Even a bit of shade can cause you to lose a lot of your panel’s output.
3. Monitor your panels
Regularly monitoring your panels can let you see if there are issues on your panels or racking, any exposed wires, or other areas of concern that may need further attention. These can then be looked at by a solar panel technician, who can check how the different components of the system are functioning.
4. Record the performance of your panels
Recording the performance of your panels by taking note of the energy your system produces daily can help you pinpoint when issues start to occur. For example, if the output of your system decreases dramatically and there’s no predictable cause like changes in the weather, then you can know straight away when something is amiss and get it checked out as soon as the issues start to arise.
What to expect during a service
A service (including a solar panel cleaning service) should be undertaken by a licensed electrician or a solar panel installer accredited by the Clean Energy Council (CEC). You can search for an accredited installer on the CEC website.
The Clean Energy Regulator (CER) has said that regular maintenance of your solar panel system should ensure:
- solar panels are clean, secure, and don’t have any defects
- there aren’t parts of the system that have deteriorated
- vents are clear of any debris
- switches are fully functioning
- wiring hasn’t been damaged and hasn’t deteriorated
- electrical checks are carried out to ensure the different components of the system are working as intended
- fittings and cables are secure
- the inverter display panel is reviewed for recorded faults
- access to the isolator switches isn’t impeded
- emergency procedures for shutdown and isolation are on clear display
Standard maintenance by an accredited installer will cost somewhere between $200 and $300 depending on your system’s size. This cost may increase if repairs are needed, but repairs may also be covered by your warranty.
The bottom line
Keeping your panels in good condition will help them perform efficiently and give you good returns in savings on your energy bills. Working with a reputable solar panel installer who can also help you with maintaining your panels will go a long way in ensuring that they work efficiently for as long as possible.