Solar Panel Maintenance
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Solar panel maintenance involves regular cleaning and inspections to ensure the system functions properly. Solar panels may need to be cleaned at least every few months and sometimes more often if they're located in dusty or dirty areas. However, according to some experts, rainfall is usually enough to keep them clean. Inspections should be performed annually by a qualified solar panel installer or electrician. Regular maintenance can help extend the life of your solar power system and, over time, can help maintain power production.

Regular system maintenance checks are essential to keep your system operating correctly and avoid costly repairs. Solar panel maintenance generally involves keeping the panels clean and free of debris and checking the system regularly for potential issues. Some signs that your solar system may need servicing include an increase in energy bills or a warning light on your inverter.

Solar panel maintenance is essential in reducing the risk of solar panel fires.

Fire and Rescue NSW data shows that the number of solar panel fires has increased five-fold over the past three years, from 22 in 2018 to 139 in 2020. Servicing solar power systems can help reduce the risk of fires, as many are caused by incorrect installation or faulty DC isolator switches. Regular servicing is, therefore, an essential factor in preventing fires.

Solar panel fires are preventable if a licensed installer installs the solar panels and they are well maintained by a professional.

What's the best solar maintenance time frame?

The Clean Energy Council (CEC) recommends scheduling an annual maintenance visit to keep your solar power system in top shape. Some experts feel this may be an unnecessary expense. Still, annually scheduled servicing can help keep your system safe and running efficiently. Man experts and solar installers agree that every five years should, in most cases, be sufficient.

What issues could prompt an inspection?

If you notice any immediate issues with your solar system, it's always best to get a professional inspection to ensure everything is working correctly. Some warning signs could include:

  • A sudden decrease in your solar panel system's production or an increase in your electricity bill
  • A warning or alert generated by the system's monitoring software or inverter
  • A build-up of debris, such as leaves and branches from nearby trees

What's involved with solar panel service?

A solar panel service typically involves a visual inspection and an electrical assessment to ensure everything is in good working order. Debris and grime may be removed from the panels or rooftop during the service, but a complete cleaning will likely cost extra.

A good service should check:

  • All the panels are clean, mounted securely and have no defects
  • No defects in switches or isolators
  • The integrity of wiring and conduit
  • Electrical checks to confirm all system components are working correctly
  • The isolator switch is easily accessible
  • Inverters fault display function is working correctly
  • Emergency shutdown instructions are displayed correctly

During a solar panel service, one of the critical things that technicians will check is whether water has found its way into the DC isolator. The CER has flagged this as the most common safety risk associated with most rooftop solar power systems.

Risks associated with DC isolators

DC isolators are a vital safety feature for solar PV installations and can help protect firefighters from electrocution in the event of a house fire. However, DC isolators can pose a fire risk themselves if they are not properly maintained. DC isolators should be regularly inspected to ensure they are in good working condition.

According to a report by the CER, DC isolators have been identified as a significant cause of house fires in Australia. The report analysed data provided by states and territories, which showed that DC isolator switches located in exposed positions on roofs were particularly prone to causing fires.

DC isolators can pose a fire risk if water gets into them and they are not properly maintained. According to inspection data from the CER, 3.3% of solar systems inspected have been classified as unsafe or potentially unsafe due to this issue. While many of these systems may not pose an immediate risk, they could become dangerous over time without correctly identifying and repairing.

Burnt electrical cable
Burnt electrical cable.
Burnt out junction box.
Burnt out junction box.
Failed cable and resulting damage.
Failed cable and resulting damage.

If your solar system has a DC isolator switch, you may wonder if this poses a fire risk. While it is true that DC isolator switches are often the cause of fires in solar systems, the overall risk is still relatively small. This is especially true if you have a high-quality switch installed by a reputable solar panel installer.

If you have a DC isolator switch with a metallic shroud, it should last the lifetime of your solar system. These covers protect the isolator from the elements and keep it functioning appropriately. If your DC isolator is installed correctly, you can expect it to last many years. Suppose you need to replace your DC isolator. In that case, the hardware is relatively inexpensive, costing around $50 plus labour which will vary depending on the job's complexity.

Related article: DC isolator crisis

What's the cost of a solar power system service and check?

Depending on the size of the solar panel system and the individual provider, a standard solar panel service usually costs between $200 and $300. The prices may differ if repairs are needed. However, in some instances, the service may be covered by your warranty.

Who should I get to provide the service?

Only a licensed electrician or a Clean Energy Council-accredited solar panel installer should perform any service or maintenance on a solar power or battery storage system. Solar power systems are complex and potentially dangerous, so only experienced, and qualified professionals must carry out the work.

Solar panel cleaning

Most solar panels will stay clean with rainwater washing away any dirt or debris. However, if your meetings are in a particularly dirty or dusty area, they may require more frequent cleaning. A professional clean can cost $10–20 per panel, so weighing the cost against the benefits is essential. In most cases, regular cleaning is unnecessary and will cost you more than it's worth.

Solar Panel Cleaning in Progress.
Solar panel cleaning in progress.
Solar Panel Cleaning Brush.
Solar panel cleaning brush.
Solar Panel Drying with Squeegee.
Solar panel drying with squeegee.

If it's been a while since your panels have cleaned well and are starting to look dirty, you might be tempted to climb up and do it yourself. This is not recommended as it can be dangerous. Instead, you can rinse them off from the ground with a hose or follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning. Just be careful not to damage the panels, as this could void your warranty.

Related article: How Often and What Should I Use to Clean My Panels?

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