Part Deux: Solar System Maintenance

Ok… so the last blog was regarding if and when you should consider cleaning your solar panels.

Hopefully you got some value out of our experience over the last 15 years of designing and installing

these systems.

So…part deux? (that’s “two” in French for those who don’t remember the second greatest movie ever made – Hot Shots, Part Deux!) Don’t tell me I’m not worldly.

Ok…so what’s the second part of the conversation, you ask?

Well, we’ve discussed whether you should have your solar panels cleaned periodically (and the answer was: maybe yes, maybe no – but you should have enough details from the previous post to make that choice).

What did we miss on the last post?

The rest of the system. That’s what.

Your Solar array/installation is comprised of up to six components:

1) The solar panels (duh!)

2) The inverter(s) (either a central string inverter or micro-inverters – you should know what you have for your installation)

3) Module level electronics (optimizers OR rapid shutdown devices)

4) The racking that holds the solar panels

5) Pipe, Wire, and Boxes to get your power from the roof to your home/business

6) Separate AC Combiner panel (combines inverter outputs into one feed to your home or

business)

So, let’s take these other items piece by piece

1) The Solar Panels – We’ve discussed in the previous post (in detail) if you should consider

cleaning these regularly – but if you didn’t read it, just know that geography, regional

vegetation, and tilt of the panels all contribute to how well mother nature will clean these for

you (or if you should lend her a hand from time to time).


2) The Inverter(s)

a. Micro Inverters – these are inverters that are bolted under each solar panel and do their

job on your roof. There is nothing to do here. They are protected from the elements by

being hidden under the panels which also makes them inaccessible without removing

solar panels – so hands off on these babies.

b. String inverters (examples are Fronius, Outback Power Radian, SolarEdge, Sunnboy (by

SMA), Solectria). These are central inverters that hang either in your garage space or

outdoors – depending on your needs at the time of installation. Depending on the

brand, you should consider at least vacuuming the dust off of the inverters every six

months (Please – for the love of god – resist the urge to use compressed air to blow the

dust off the inverters! Imagine if you had something near the corner of your eyeball and

I said, “hold on right there while I get my can of compressed are to blow that sucker off

your face” – you’d be horrified, right? Well same goes for electronic equipment – you

should not blow things into or off of the equipment – because there’s a decent chance

you’ll blow the dust and grime further into any openings where it can be detrimental to

the equipment longevity).

Other than that, just make sure that your string inverter looks mechanically sound and

that there’s nothing obviously wrong with it. These inverters tend to be “bullet-proof” –

we have inverters from 2008 still making power over a decade later with no issues. They

don’t need much more than a wipe-down and/or a vacuum every so often. Vacuum any

vent openings and if your inverter has screens/filters over the openings, turn off the

inverter and clean the filters. That’s it for this part


3) Module Level Electronics (optimizers or rapid shutdown devices): These products (just like

micro-inverters) sit under your solar panels and are inaccessible to you unless you decide to

dismantle your solar array. There’s nothing to clean or maintain on these parts and pieces. They either work or they don’t – and because your system has monitoring, you’ll know if they aren’t working pretty soon after they fail. Do they fail a lot? Nope – but I just wanted to make it clear that there’s nothing to do here either.

4) Racking – the backbone of your solar installation. Whether you have a roof mounted system or a ground mounted system, the racking is what keeps the solar panels attached. These parts are made of a variety of materials: Aluminum, stainless steel, galvanized steel. Each of the chosen materials has been designed to minimize or eliminate any “galvanic action” (aka: corrosion) from mixing dissimilar metals together in your system (stainless steel won’t corrode when it comes into contact with aluminum. Same goes for galvanized steel and aluminum). In general, your components that comprise your racking system should also be very maintenance free. If it’s a ground mounted system, the components used were designed for direct contact with the dirt. If it’s a roof mounted system, the components were designed to be lightweight and strong (hence stainless steel and aluminum).


Things you should look for regularly (2x per year?) would be debris surrounding your racking

system. That means finding a place to stand next to your home (or business) where you can look UNDER the solar array (between the roof and the solar racking system). You want to see daylight and no debris that has been washed under the solar array by mother nature. Other things that we’ve seen happen: the cute lil critters like squirrels and chipmunks LOVE to nest under your solar panels. If you see a cute lil nest – sorry, but it’s time for these squatters to be evicted! They love nothing more than to spend their protected evenings chewing on your solar panel wiring. Is that covered by warranty you ask? Unfortunately, no. We cover what we can control – which is our execution of the installation. Once we have done our job, we stand behind it, but it’s up to you to make sure these cute lil squatters find another place to lay low.

If you have a ground mounted solar array, you have vertical posts protruding from the ground that create the structure that the solar panels are attached to. Things to look for regularly are debris collecting around the posts. This isn’t written in the manufacturer’s instructions, but you should spend some time each year making sure that mother nature hasn’t left a deposit of old leaves and grass clippings at the base of your solar panel posts. It’s VERY unlikely to do much (if anything) because these posts are designed to install directly into the dirt which means they were designed to resist water, corrosion, and many other things. Nonetheless, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of regret, right?


5) Pipe, Wire, and Boxes that bring the power from your solar array into your home or business. Good news here – there’s not much to do here either. Your system was installed using weather- appropriate materials designed to be installed where they were installed and resist the pressures mother nature exerts. Much like the wiring in your home or business – there’s really no maintenance here. Unless you see something obviously wrong (a conduit has come apart or a nest of bees has decided to call one of your junction boxes home), then do what you need to do here – paint them if you want (just don’t paint over any labels that were field installed during your solar installation).


6) AC Combiner panels – This is the box with a few sets of circuit breakers (just like your main

electrical panel) where we combined the outputs of all your panels into one main output for

your home or business. Just like your house electrical panel, there’s nothing to do here. MAYBE remove the cover (if you feel qualified to do so) and vacuum out the dust once a year. But remember – you probably don’t do that for your main electrical panel, and this is just like that one, so if you don’t do anything there, then there’s likely nothing to do here.

That’s about it. I think we’ve covered what to expect when your expecting (a solar array installation) insomuch as ongoing maintenance is concerned. If you follow these suggestions (as well as the previous post concerning cleaning your solar panels), then you’re likely to have decades of worry-free operation!


Thanks for reading

Josh

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Catchy title, right? Why on earth would I even suggest that your solar panels don’t require maintenance – or do they? Well…the answer to that question is quite complex – but only if you subscribe to t