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Published on April 12th, 2013 | by Ronald Brakels


How To Maintain And Clean Rooftop Solar? Don’t!

April 12th, 2013 by  

As you can see, my first attempt at solar cleaning fell about 93 million miles short. Image credit: Me

As you can see, my first attempt at ‘solar cleaning’ fell about 93 million miles short.
Image Credit: Me

One question I’m continuously being asked is, “Ronald, what’s the best way to clean and maintain rooftop solar?” As a result, I’ve resolved to never again teach my parrot to say stupid sentences. But if you were to ask me this question, my answer would be that the best way to clean and maintain your solar power system is not to. This is because, unless your situation is unusual, it is a waste of time, effort, and quite possibly money. Now don’t get me wrong, if cleaning and maintaining stuff makes you feel good inside, or even externally, don’t let me come between you and a source of happiness. But most people will be better off if they skip it because it’s simply not worthwhile.

When you first get rooftop solar, your installer may offer to come around and perform a one-year service in return for a potentially substantial fee. I can’t recommend this lowly enough. After all, you did get a 25-year warranty for the solar panels and a 10-year warranty for the inverter, didn’t you? And you did make sure it included onsite repair or replacement so you won’t have to mail your solar panels to China? And surely you got one backed by a third party so that if the installation company disappears your warranty won’t? And even if you didn’t get all that, you at least got a long-term, onsite warranty that you’re confident will be honoured if need be, right? Well, if you got that and if anything goes wrong they’ll have to come and fix it for free anyway, so unless it is an unavoidable condition of your warranty, it makes no sense to pay for a one-year maintenance check. There’s just no point in blowing a load of cash on a maintenance man. Trust me, I’ve had a lot of maintenance men in my time and very few of them have been worth it. I heartily recommend keeping your cash in your pants.

As for performing maintenance yourself, just exactly what would you be planning to do? Rooftop solar has no moving parts and the inverter is just a box that sits there, inverting away like nobody’s business, and is full of technical stuff like wires. Do you have any idea what you could possibly do to it to make the system work better rather than worse? I certainly don’t. Unless you really know what you are doing, I strongly suggest you leave it alone. About the only thing the average person could do is keep the cobwebs off it. Just watch out for redback spiders. I was bitten by a redback spider once and it was the worst experience of my life. No wait, sorry, actually it was the worst experience of her life. If any arachnids are reading this, be warned – don’t mess with a primate that’s a million times bigger than you or you’ll end up taking a trip to squish city.

Another thing solar panel installers may offer to do is come around and clean your solar panels, again for a fee. I don’t get this at all. Without special circumstances, there is no point in getting your solar panels cleaned. That’s what rain is for. Basically, they are self cleaning. Sure, there are exceptions, if you’ve been hit by a dust storm you may want to hose off the panels, and if, for some reason, your rooftop solar is underneath a tree that has recently been taken over by a colony of fruit bats – well, you’ll probably want to move house because I can tell you now you’re in for a crappy time. But for the most part, owners of rooftop solar report very little difference in performance after having their panels cleaned. Even if you’re willing to do it yourself, it’s generally not worth the effort and almost certainly not worth the risk of mucking about on the roof. If you want increased output from your solar panels, rather than clean them, it’s much easier and more cost effective to simply install a slightly larger system from the beginning, so if you lose a little bit of output from dust and grime it’s not a problem.

We know that properly made solar panels have no trouble lasting over 40 years, and solar inverters can easily function for far more than 10 years, so provided you took the care to purchase a decent quality system, you should be able to sit back and do absolutely nothing for over a decade while your solar panels silently work at turning sunlight into power for you, letting you rake in the savings on your electricity bills without any need to blow it on maintenance or cleaning fees. You can instead take your money and blow it in a totally different way. 

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About the Author

lives in Adelaide, South Australia. Now that his secret identity has been revealed he is free to admit he first became interested in renewable energy after environmental mismanagement destroyed his home planet of Krypton. He is keenly interested in solar energy and at completely random intervals will start talking to himself about, "The vast power of earth's yellow sun."

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