365 Pronto Leaders Talk Solar O&M Opportunities, 3G Sunset Solutions at InterSolar 2022

InterSolar North America—internationally recognized as of the top solar photovoltaic conferences and trade shows in the world—held its annual conference in Long Beach, CA, last week. Co-located with the Energy Storage North America conference, InterSolar offers high-quality training sessions, as well as a significant expo, offering a look into some of the industry’s newest residential and commercial developments. The event was held under strict health and safety protocol to ensure the maximum safety of participants.

365 Pronto leaders in attendance included:

Rue Phillips and Natalja Piliusina attend InterSolar2022 in Long Beach, CA.

For the 2022 event’s expo, 365 Pronto joined forces with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), the top certifying body in the solar industry. 365 Pronto has a has a three-year exclusive relationship with NABCEP, providing 365 Pronto access to a 3,500-strong specialty labor pool.

“We were thrilled to be at InterSolar with our partners at NABCEP and to reconnect with the solar community,” said Rue Phillips, 365 Pronto’s co-founder and president. “We met so many fantastic 365 Pronto providers, as well as solar professionals who wanted to learn more about how our platform and solutions can help them expand their business.” 

365 Pronto’s platform links owners of solar photovoltaic assets, electric vehicle supply equipment, as well as related battery storage and Internet of Things devices with a nationwide network of local and on-demand service workforce.

Attendees were especially interested in the opportunities that lie with the platform, as well as 365 Pronto’s custom solutions to help companies and customers navigate the 3G sunset’s impacts on cleantech devices. As early as February, major telecommunications carriers like AT&T and Verizon will stop supporting 2G and 3G devices, impacting as many as 22 million devices, including the solar meters and modems that communicate output to SREC brokers and aggregators, as well as utilities. 

If these devices lose communications capabilities, customers could miss out on important ROI and incentives for their solar system’s production. 

365 Pronto’s custom, wraparound technology and logistics solutions help companies across the county to help residential and commercial solar customers navigate the 3G sunset. For more information about these programs, or to speak to an expert about the 3G sunset’s impacts on cleantech devices, contact mediarelations@365pronto.com.

How to Leverage the Federal Solar Tax Credit

There are many ways governments can encourage job creation and green investment. However, few programs have had more of an impact on the country’s economic and environmental well-being than the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC).

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA),

“The ITC has proven to be one of the most important federal policy mechanisms to incentivize clean energy in the United States. Solar deployment, at both the distributed and utility-scale levels, has grown rapidly across the country. The long-term stability of this federal policy has allowed businesses to continue driving down costs. The ITC is a clear policy success story – one that has resulted in a stronger and cleaner economy.”

This article explains what the federal solar tax credit is, how it works, and why you should claim this generous benefit before time officially runs out.

What Is the Solar Investment Tax Credit?

The ITC is a federal government incentive that lets you claim a 26% tax credit with the IRS after installing any number of sustainable “green” technologies, including both solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and solar-connected storage solutions (i.e., batteries).

The solar federal tax credit is designed to lower the upfront cost of investing in green technologies. However, it differs from a traditional deduction in which you subtract the cost of your solar installation from your annual income to calculate that year’s tax liability. Instead, the ITC is a true credit that reduces the size of your IRS bill, and thus, the total cost of your green energy investment.

Calculating tax credits

How Does the Federal Solar Tax Credit Work?

Being a federal program, the ITC works the same in all 50 states, regardless of:

  • You already qualify for local or state solar incentives
  • You install the panels yourself or hire a professional
  • The installation is off-grid or connected to the utility network
  • The panels go up on your home or on a commercial property

However, if you finance your PV system using solar leases or power purchase agreements (PPA’s), you’re not eligible for the investment tax credit (or most solar incentives in general). Usually, only the PV system owner qualifies for these types of subsidies and benefits.

Here’s how the solar federal tax credit works in actual practice:

  • Step 1: Install (or commission) a PV installation and/or solar-connected batteries. Note that you’re still responsible for covering the immediate upfront cost of the installation – whether you’re using cash, loans, or some other financing method that moves you closer to full system ownership.
  • Step 2: calculate the total cost of the system (parts and labor included). Then multiply this number times the current ITC rate of 26% to determine the size of your tax credit. A PV system that costs $10,000, for example, would result in a $2,600 credit. And if you owed $5,000 in taxes for the year, your new IRS bill would be $2,400 (after applying for your credit).

The example above uses nice round numbers for clarity. But according to Consumer Affairs, the average cost for a 6 kW residential PV system hovers around $15,336. And based on these numbers, the average monetary value of the federal solar tax credit is almost exactly $4,000 ($3,987 to be precise).

But what happens if the amount of your solar tax credit exceeds what you owe the IRS?

Rollover Solar Tax Credits

Imagine that you owe Uncle Sam $1,000 in taxes for the previous calendar year. And thanks to your recent PV installation and battery system, you qualify for a solar tax credit of $4,000.

In situations like these, you are allowed to “rollover” unused credits to help pay off future tax bills – until those credits are fully depleted or the ITC officially expires (more on this later).

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History of the Federal Solar Tax Credit

The first federal tax credit for solar was introduced under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, with an upper limit of 30%. The original version of the ITC was scheduled to expire in 2006. But Congress extended the program under the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006. The ITC was extended again for another 8 years under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. And the program received a new extension until 2021, and then another until the end of 2023.

To understand why this solar incentive is still around more than 15 years after its introduction, it helps to look at the impact the ITC has had on both the industry and on society.

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Impact of the Solar Investment Tax Credit

According to SEIA, the solar industry has grown 10,000% since the ITC’s introduction back in 2006. And since 2010, the industry has enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 50%.

Just to put that in perspective, the US Department of Energy reports that solar accounted for less than 0.1% of the country’s total electricity supply. By 2021, that threshold had surpassed 3%.

However, the true impact of the solar tax credit goes much deeper.

The primary goal of the ITC is to make solar more affordable for more people. Doing so helps the entire country transition to a future powered by renewables. But in addition to the immediate savings, the solar tax credit delivers to PV system owners, there’s also a compounding effect, with widespread solar adoption leading to:

  • The creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs. According to the most recent National Solar Jobs Census report from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), the US solar industry currently employs over 230,000 people (despite a 6.7% drop in 2020 due to Covid-19).
  • Huge price drops as solar and battery technology become cheaper. According to CleanTechnica, solar PV is now 9 times less expensive than it was back in 2006. This helps to make installing PV panels more affordable for the average American homeowner, which leads to higher carbon savings for society as a whole.
  • Investment and innovation in solar panels, electric vehicles, on-site storage solutions, smart grids, and a slew of other sustainable technologies designed to help us transition away from fossil fuels.

This multiplier effect explains why Congress keeps extending the federal credit for the solar programs.

But make no mistake.

Like all incentives, the federal solar tax credit (and any relevant rollover credits) will eventually expire. The next section explains when and why.

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The Solar Investment Tax Credit Won’t Be around for Long

The ITC is designed to reward early adopters of solar PV panels and on-site batteries so that both technologies eventually become mainstream. This transition has already started to happen as more homeowners and businesses across the country turn to solar PV and on-site storage to save money, reduce pollution, and become more energy independent.

This partially explains why the solar investment tax credit has already undergone one significant reduction – dropping down from 30% to 26% back in 2019. The program is working as intended. And moving forward, the ITC will pay out increasingly smaller rewards, following the graduated schedule below:

  • All eligible solar and storage solutions qualify for a 26% credit through the end of 2022.
  • Starting on January 1, 2023, the solar investment tax credit goes down to 22%.
  • In 2024, the ITC drops to 10% for commercial customers and 0% for homeowners.

The main takeaway is that if you don’t claim the ITC while you can, you’ll likely end up paying full price for your PV panels and batteries when you decide to make the inevitable switch.

You may be tempted to delay your purchase with the hopes of saving money as PV prices continue falling. But will those panels and batteries be 26% cheaper when you eventually buy them? And what about the many months of utility bills you’ll end up paying while you wait?

When you actually crunch the numbers, going solar and claiming the ITC normally delivers larger financial savings than delaying your clean power investment does.

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How Do I Claim the Solar Tax Credit?

If you have already filed your own personal taxes, claiming the solar ITC is relatively straightforward. You’ll need:

  • Official receipts from your solar and/or battery installation
  • IRS Form 1040, which is the standard form for individual tax returns

As a homeowner, however, you shouldn’t have to file the above paperwork by yourself. That’s because most installers will automatically help their customers navigate the incentive and financing landscape. In fact, they are literally “incentivized” to do so since helping you fill out this paperwork moves them closer to making the sale.

As a business owner, however, you should also consult with a certified public accountant (CPA) or tax advisor. Working with a professional financial expert makes it easier to accurately claim business-specific tax benefits like deductions, amortization, and of course, the solar tax credit.

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Need Help Claiming Your Federal Credit for Solar?

The ITC isn’t the only solar incentive out there. Depending on where you live, for example, you might qualify for other programs like net energy metering (NEM), feed-in tariffs, or any number of utility or municipal solar rebate initiatives.

However, the solar tax credit is arguably one of the most important subsidies available, given its ability to instantly reduce the upfront cost of installing PV panels or batteries by up to 26%. Better still, the solar tax credit can be combined with other local, state, and federal incentives to deliver even larger savings.

If you have questions about going solar, installing storage, or claiming green incentives, schedule a free consultation with the 365 Pronto team today.

Top Reasons to Upgrade Existing Solar Power Systems

Why would anyone ever upgrade an existing solar power system? After all, most homeowners and businesses are sold on the promise of making a one-time clean energy investment, with nothing to worry about over the 25+ years of their panels’ warrantied lifetimes.

And it’s an appealing pitch – one that is largely steeped in the truth.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are incredibly resilient and impact-resistant (which is precisely why they ship with multi-decade warranties). And this durability can further be enhanced through routine preventive maintenance.

So then why go through the trouble and expense of upgrading an existing solar system if your current one already works?

Let’s explore.

Why Expand or Upgrade Existing Solar Power Systems?

There are actually many compelling reasons to upgrade an existing solar installation. Below are three of the most popular.

1. Maintenance and Servicing

This category might technically count as “repairs” more than a traditional “upgrade.” But whenever a component in the PV system fails or starts to underperform, it’s necessary to replace that part to continue generating solar power and utility bill savings.

Residential roof showing six solar panels in a smaller system.

The panels themselves may be warrantied for 25 years, but solar modules are not the only components in a standard residential or commercial PV system:

  • Inverters and batteries both ship with much shorter warranties (five to 15 years on average).
  • The wires, nuts, fasteners, and bolts in the system usually have no warranty protection at all.
  • Don’t forget the balance of system components like fuses, circuit breakers, junction boxes, and combiner boxes – each with their own warranty guidelines.

Any and all of the above can break. And when that happens, you’ll need to upgrade the original components with newer hardware.

2. Increased Utility Bill Savings

For many solar customers, the goal is to save money on their utility bills by generating more clean energy on-site. And they accomplish this by expanding their existing PV system or replacing older components with newer alternatives.

Adding more panels is probably the most popular expansion technique. In addition to increased savings, this approach also helps to reduce your carbon footprint. However, adding batteries, solar monitoring, or electric vehicle (EV) charging all qualify as upgrades as well.

3. More Power Generation

A well-design solar PV system should be correctly sized to cover the owner’s needs – plus a little extra slack just in case. However, it’s difficult to budget one’s energy requirements far into the future. And many solar customers end up needing to add more capacity as their power consumption requirements increase over time due to the addition of new family members or power-hungry appliances (like electric vehicles).

Moreover, rising utility prices might prompt you to add more solar capacity. The same is true of falling panel prices or the introduction of new incentives or subsidies.

And remember that adding panels isn’t the only way to get more power out of your system. For example, many older solar installations automatically shut down and stop sending power into the grid whenever there’s an outage. Known as “islanding,” this safety feature is to protect utility technicians as they try to repair downed power lines. However, many newer PV installations now come with anti-islanding technology that allows your panels to continue feeding electricity into your home or business – even if the rest of the grid goes down.

Multiple solar arrays on a residential roof

These are just some of the potential reasons why homeowners and business owners expand their systems. But there’s another category of solar customers – those who aggregate distributed energy resources like PV panels, batteries, and EV’s and sell this power on “spot” energy markets. However, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will soon allow aggregators to compete on wholesale energy markets. When this happens, many aggregators will expand or upgrade their existing capacity in order to maximize their profits.

What Does It Take: Upgrade an Existing Solar Power System?

Solar PV systems are customized from the ground up. And this means expanding or upgrading them is an even more specialized task since technicians must work around existing hardware (and sometimes existing software as well – in the case of solar monitoring).

Depending on the system, this can make things either easier or more complex. For example:

  • If the current inverter can safely accommodate more solar panels, there’s no need to install a new one.
  • If the current roof needs structural reinforcement to support more PV modules, upgrading becomes a lot more involved.

When adding or replacing components, it is also important that the amperage, voltage, and current are properly balanced – both at the component level and systemwide. Adding more panels, for example, might give you more theoretical power. But you won’t be able to use that extra electricity if your inverter isn’t rated for that many modules. Similarly, installing an oversized battery might be overkill if you already consume most of the daytime solar electricity your panels generate.

In addition, all upgrades should meet the legal and technical requirements of local regulators, equipment manufacturers, and your utility provider (if the PV system is grid-connected).

Advantages and Benefits of Upgrading an Existing Solar Panel

The decision to go solar is a very personal choice. And the same is true of expanding an existing PV installation, with most system owners ultimately moving forward for the reasons outlined earlier – i.e. maintenance, savings, energy security, and profit maximization (in the case of aggregators).

But because upgrading isn’t free, one must balance the projected cost of expanding against the perceived benefit. For example:

  • Repairing a broken or underperforming system is an investment that nearly always pays for itself.
  • Upgrading to boost utility bill savings is something you can forecast prior to commissioning any expansions.
  • Energy security is difficult to price since every customer is different. But if having a baby or adding an electric vehicle increases your utility bills, it becomes easier to run a cost/benefit analysis.
  • As an aggregator, it makes sense to add as much new solar capacity as they can reasonably sell (at a profit).

Solar Panel Addition

When upgrading an existing PV installation, the solar panels themselves are the most likely component to be replaced (although this will change as batteries and electric vehicles gain in popularity.

While it’s possible to mix and match PV modules of different wattages (or from different manufacturers), this is not considered best practice since this approach requires more setup and testing. It’s often easier, cheaper, and faster to replicate the original panels as much as possible.

Inverter Replacements and Upgrades

Solar inverters are another common “upgrade” contender. They have shorter lifetimes than PV modules, which means most system owners will have to replace their own inverters at some point over the next 25+ years.

In addition, if other components are added elsewhere in the system, you might need a newer inverter to handle the extra load.

Are You Using an Old Solar Inverter?

If so, that might be okay. Solar inverters come with ratings that clearly outline how much energy they can safely handle. And this means any experienced installer or solar technician can tell you how many additional panels you can add. If you’re over that threshold, you may need to upgrade your inverter.

Why Should You Upgrade Your Inverter?

PV panels get all the glory. But your inverter is what makes that solar power used in your home or business. That’s because PV panels generate direct current (DC) electricity – while most appliances rely on alternating current (AC) power.

The inverter is responsible for making this conversion:

  • If your own inverter allows you to use all of the energy your panels generate, then keep it.
  • If it’s not up to the task, upgrading your inverter could deliver significant financial and environmental savings.

Innovation is another reason to replace a perfectly working solar inverter.

Your current one might have the right rating but rely on outdated technology. String inverters, for example, work in a similar fashion to older Christmas lights. A broken panel or partial shading can negatively impact the entire system.

By contrast, microinverters treat each panel independently, which allows you to generate and use more solar power even if a single module in the system is underperforming due to cracks or shading.

Replacing a Failed Solar Panel

We’ve already discussed adding PV modules to an existing system. However, it’s far more common to replace a broken solar panel.

Damaged solar panel

Even though the technology is incredibly resilient, things like falling debris, extreme temperature changes, or the inevitable march of time are all things that can damage PV panels before their warranty coverage ends:

  • Defects and internal malfunctions are normally covered under these warranty policies.
  • Cracks, shoddy installation workmanship, and damage from external causes aren’t usually covered.

Either way, repairing or replacing that panel is the only way to restore your PV system’s former output.

Factors to Consider When You Upgrade an Existing Solar Power System

If you decide to expand or upgrade your existing PV installation, here are 4 important things to consider.

1. Energy Needs

You probably budgeted your energy needs as best you could when installing your initial PV system. But the world is changing fast, and our energy requirements keep going up as we buy more gadgets and electrify more of our lives.

Making energy efficiency improvements within your home or business can help reduce some of this consumption. And you won’t need as many panels when upgrading. Even still, installing more capacity than you need can be a wise investment. This doesn’t always mean adding extra panels. For example, you can upgrade an existing solar system with more storage. Doing so allows you to power more of your nighttime activities with the solar power in your batteries (instead of buying that electricity from the utility).

2. Spatial Constraints

You need sufficient space to install or expand whatever you’re upgrading:

  • Most PV systems are rooftop installations. But if you don’t have enough real estate to add more modules, ground-mounted systems or solar carports may be an option.
  • Inverters and batteries usually go in the garage or electrical room. But many newer models of both types of components are weather-resistant and can be safely installed outdoors.
  • Adding electric vehicle charging requires having sufficient clearance in the garage (or municipal permission if installing on the street).

3. Compatibility

Another key consideration involves making sure all the components are correctly sized and configured to work with the other components in the system. This balancing act is tricky enough when installing a new installation the first time around. But it becomes significantly harder when working with legacy hardware installed by someone else.

4. Moving Your PV System

Having to move an installation isn’t something most solar customers have to think about – at least not in the very beginning. However, there is a very real possibility you may change properties over the next 25 years.

Fortunately, removing an existing PV system and installing it at a new location is doable. And in fact, some homeowners and business owners do precisely that – while also adding newer or more powerful components along the way.

However, many solar customers choose to leave the PV system in place for the next owner. That’s because solar-enabled homes often sell for more. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), every $1 in annual utility bill savings from your solar panel can increase the resale value of your home by as much as $20. Better still, the U.S. Department of Energy reports that solar homes also spend less time on the market.

If the property value increase is enough to finance an entirely new PV system out-of-pocket, this represents the ultimate upgrade.

Conclusion

There are many reasons to upgrade an existing solar installation – even one that works perfectly well. If the return on investment is attractive enough, moving forward may be the right option for you.

If you’re looking to increase returns, savings, or energy security, trading an existing solar system for an upgrade isn’t the only option. It may be possible to get more out of your PV installation without spending a fortune upfront.

To discover how be sure to read our comprehensive guide on Solar PV System Maintenance.

365 Pronto and SRECTrade Help Massachusetts Solar System Owners Stay Ahead of 3G Sunset, Preserve SRECs

Massachusetts ranks among the highest solar-producing state in the country. With more than 118,000 solar installations spanning commercial and residential use, it produces more than 3,380 megawatts of energy—accounting for nearly 20 percent of all energy output.  

A large part of the Cape Cod State’s success with solar can be attributed to its robust solar renewable energy credit (SREC) program. Several state governments—including Massachusetts—currently offer this renewable energy initiative for individuals and businesses that install solar systems on their homes and buildings. Each quarter, solar owners earn an incentive based on the energy their solar system produces. While the value varies by state, SRECs are a critical tool to incentivize solar adoption—and a key engine for return on investment for solar owners. 

For Solar Owners, a Different Kind of Sunset 

SRECs are a reliable part of solar owners’ bottom lines; however, an upcoming sunset stands to threaten their quarterly payments. As early as February 2022, major telecommunications companies will phase out their support for more than 22 million 2G and 3G devices nationwide. This includes mobile phones, smart-home devices, electric vehicle charging stations, and the meters that monitor and communicate solar system output. 

For solar customers—as well as the organizations that track and package SRECs—whose solar output monitoring devices work on 3G networks, this sunset presents a critical issue for the return on investment on their systems. Without a way to monitor and determine the value of their solar production, they could miss SREC payments—leaving hundreds of dollars of incentives on the table at each minting. The only way for these customers to guarantee that their systems continue to communicate with their SREC broker is to replace the outdated solar meters with ones that communicate over 5G networks. 

With shipping containers still sitting at ports around the world, pandemic-related workforce concerns, and increased demand for cleantech devices, the current worldwide supply chain issues create an added layer of urgency for solar customers. Meters may not be in stock—or could spike in price—by the time the 3G sunset arrives, and many businesses lack the purchasing power to coordinate a large shipment of meters to keep prices in check.  

A Reliable Partner When the Stakes Are High  

SRECTrade is one of the industry’s largest SREC transaction and management firms, having facilitated more than $600 million in environmental commodity transactions across North America. Currently, SRECTrade provides SREC transaction and management services across 9 different state markets. 

The 3G sunset presented SRECTrade with a need for a technology and logistics partner to guide the massive solar meter replacement project for its Massachusetts SREC market customers. SRECTrade needed the project to be done quickly and efficiently, and to minimize the financial impacts on its customers, so it enlisted 365 Pronto to help.  

365 Pronto’s cutting-edge platform has helped customers in Massachusetts and across the country access a network of local and certified technicians to service their solar systems, EV charging stations, and related battery storage and Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices. 

As SRECTrade’s logistics and technology partner for their solar meter replacement program in Massachusetts, 365 Pronto worked closely with SRECTrade stakeholders, customers, and local solar technicians to provide a full-service solution.  

Delivering High-quality Customer Service, Preserving Trust  

A change of this magnitude—especially close to the winter holiday season—could be unwelcome news for many customers. 365 Pronto and SRECTrade took great care to build a program that minimized the impact on customers and maintained SRECTrade’s excellent relationship with its customers. The integrated communications, technology, and logistics solution included: 

  • Wraparound communications consulting, featuring customer-facing information available at multiple entry points, such as email, post cards, on SRECTrade’s public-facing website, and behind the log-in of its customer portal. The sophisticated email campaign was designed to inform customers about the upcoming sunset and encourage them to reserve their meter while there was still supply and a guaranteed price. This effort resulted in conversion rates twice the industry average, and with rapid customer action. 
  • A custom landing page and secure place for SRECTrade customers to purchase their meter replacements easily and securely.  
  • Close partnership with SRECTrade’s customer service team to support potentially tens of thousands of inbound and outbound questions from residents seeking information about their meter. 
  • Management of ordering the replacement meters and delivering to the service providers for installation. 
  • Coordination with 365 Pronto’s network of local, certified, and on-demand service providers to install the meters when they arrive. 

The 2G/3G sunset was out of SRECTrade customers’ control; however, by getting ahead of the sunset, SRECTrade continued its track record of exceptional customer service. Now, customers can navigate the 3G sunset with the confidence that their solar systems will continue to communicate output and provide a critical return on investment for years to come.  

For more information about how to leverage these industry-best results and get ahead of the 2G/3G sunset, contact mediarelations@365pronto.com

ABOUT 365 PRONTO, INC: 365 Pronto, Inc. is the world’s first predictive platform that uses proprietary technology to match cleantech asset owners with local, on-demand, certified service providers. This cutting-edge, user-friendly solution is revolutionizing cleantech operation and maintenance—all without contracts, membership fees, obligations, or bidding. Service made simple. Additional information is available at www.365pronto.com.   

Is Commercial Rooftop Solar Right for Your Business?

The mechanics behind solar photovoltaic (PV) technology are the same regardless of location or how many panels are used. As the size of a solar project increases, there are more overall things to install, configure, and test before bringing a new system online. Larger solar installations introduce complex permitting and documentation requirements when seeking the necessary approvals from local utilities and regulators.

As a result, many businesses turn to commercial rooftop solar installers who specialize in more extensive and more challenging projects.

Aerial view of commercial rooftop solar.

What Are Solar Solutions Available for a Commercial Building Owner?

Commercial solar companies offer the same range of services as residential installers, with the main difference being scale. When PV systems grow beyond a specific size, it’s not uncommon to involve several different solar contractors. Oftentimes, each specializes in various aspects of the project. Players in this field don’t always refer to themselves as “commercial rooftop solar installers.” They might go by “solar project developer,” “PV contractor,” or even “engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) provider.”

Moreover, you won’t necessarily find everything you need under a single “roof” (so to speak). Some commercial PV contractors only specialize in solar project development’s design and installation stages. Others offer their business clients the full range of services below.

Commercial Roof Service #1: Solar Financing Assistance

Using cash to pay for your commercial rooftop installation delivers the shortest payback period and highest returns. Unfortunately, most business owners don’t have that kind of liquidity. This explains why a growing number of commercial project developers now guide their clients through the process by helping them source and apply for the various solar financing options below.

1. Solar Loans

With a solar loan, you borrow money from a bank or green lender to pay for your commercial PV installation (parts and labor included). But because you can use your monthly utility bill savings to pay down this loan balance over time, you are never technically paying “out-of-pocket.” And this makes using solar loans a very affordable option for commercial property owners who can pass the relevant credit checks and approvals.

2. Solar Leases

With this approach, a third-party (“lessor”) covers the total upfront cost of the installation for you – although there is sometimes a nominal fee that you may have to pay. Once the solar leasing agreement is in place, you then pay a fixed rate for the clean electricity the PV system generates over the 10 to 25 years of the contract. This fixed rate is set at a lower value than grid electricity, allowing you to begin saving right away. Better still, solar leases tend to have a more relaxed credit check and approval requirements than traditional loans do.

However, when using a lease, solar is no longer an investment that delivers predictable returns. You are simply buying electricity from a cleaner and cheaper provider. And thus, you’ll never break even.

3. Power Purchase Agreements (PPA’s)

PPA’s are almost identical to solar leases except that you (as the lessee) only pay for the clean electricity your business consumes. Any unused solar power goes back into the grid, with the PV system owner (i.e., lessor) receiving either:

  • Utility credits if enrolled in net energy metering (NEM)
  • Solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) if they live in a participating state

4. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE)

Similar to a conventional loan, PACE financing provides you with the cash you need to cover the total cost of a new PV installation. You then use your utility bill savings to pay down the PACE loan balance (through your annual property tax bill).

PACE financing is a smart option in the residential market since many people own their own homes and are accustomed to paying annual property taxes. This financing approach might be worth exploring if you own your commercial property.

In addition to affordable financing, many commercial solar installations also qualify for a range of green incentives to help drive down the upfront and long-term costs even more. Below are some of the essential subsidies available to commercial solar customers:

  • The Federal Investment Tax Credit provides you with a 26% tax credit from the IRS when you install commercial rooftop solar panels. This 26% threshold will continue to be downgraded over the next couple of years – ultimately dropping to 10% by 2024.
  • Net energy metering and feed-in tariffs (FITs) are incentive programs that compensate solar customers for any excess electricity they send into the grid. With net energy metering, customers qualify for utility credits to future bills. You receive cash payments for any solar power you “sell” to your utility provider with feed-in tariffs.
  • State and local rebates provide solar customers with “cashback” once their PV systems come online. These are highly location-dependent, with the exact eligibility requirements and payout amounts differing from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Working with a commercial rooftop installer specializing in your geographic market increases your odds of finding and applying for local solar rebate programs.

Given the sheer scope of many commercial PV projects, most installers will help you navigate the financing landscape by connecting you with relevant lenders or leasing providers. It’s also worth remembering that while the upfront cost for commercial rooftop solar panels is often much higher than for residential installations, you’ll usually pay a lower price per watt thanks to economies of scale. Remember that many incentives – including net metering and the Investment Tax Credit – go to the PV system owner. You probably won’t qualify for most subsidies as a lessee if you lease your installation.

Commercial Rooftop Service #2: PV System Design and Installation

The next phase involves designing and installing your commercial PV system with financing in place. There are significant differences between commercial solar installations and their residential counterparts.

For example, the average size of a residential solar panel is 65” x 39” – with about 72 PV cells. By contrast, a standard commercial panel measures 70” x 39” with closer to 96 PV cells. In addition, residential roofs are usually pitched, while commercial ones tend to be flatter. Flat installations are easier to work with since contractors don’t need to penetrate the roof. However, special racking and mounting may be required to achieve the optimal tilt for the installed solar panels.

There’s more.

Whereas matching load, voltage, and current is relatively easy to do when installing enough solar capacity for home appliances, this balancing act becomes much more complicated when the goal is to power office equipment or industrial machinery:

  • Will transformer upgrades be necessary?
  • Are new electrical panels required?
  • Will the installation need insulated wiring?

Factors like these explain why commercial solar installations can take up to an entire month to complete, whereas a typical residential PV installation might only take a couple of days. Moreover, many utility markets use different permitting and approval requirements for PV projects that exceed 10 kW. And even a tiny change to the original specifications can trigger another formal review, causing the permitting process to start all over again.

The good news is that commercial solar customers often qualify for more overall design options. Rooftop installations are by far the most popular. But ground-mounted PV systems are standard when sufficient land is surrounding the property. And many business owners commission solar carports that offer the dual benefit of free electricity and shaded parking (which can be a massive bonus in the sunniest regions of the country). Some solar carports can even be configured to charge electric vehicles (EVs).

Commercial Rooftop Service #3: Solar Storage Installations

Adding on-site batteries is an increasingly popular option for solar customers who want to maximize their savings over the lifetime of their PV systems. Batteries allow you to store daytime solar power for nighttime rather than grid electricity.

This marriage is a natural fit for many residential customers since their homes are often empty during the day when PV panels generate the cleanest electricity. These customers can then use the free energy stored in their solar batteries once they come home.

Installing on-site batteries is less common among businesses that follow regular working hours. It’s simply more cost-effective to use daytime solar power as it is being generated. But there are many businesses with heavy nighttime power requirements, from nightclubs to factories to hyper-illuminated car dealerships. And adding storage allows them to manage their costs better since they have the option of using whichever electricity is cheapest at that very moment – whether it comes from their solar panels, batteries, or the grid.

Commercial Rooftop Service #4: Solar Monitoring

Solar monitoring is usually an optional add-on service designed to provide customers with peace of mind in the residential market. This monitoring allows homeowners to track the performance of their PV systems, with some platforms sending automatic alerts whenever solar output deviates unexpectedly.

Monitoring is also optional for most commercial rooftop installations. But adding this technology is highly recommended since tiny performance dips can translate to huge losses as the solar installation grows. It’s technically possible to detect these dips by carefully scanning each utility bill. But most business owners don’t have the time to inspect every monthly or quarterly electricity statement. This is especially true since solar is often billed as a “set it and forget it” technology during the original sales pitch.

There are plenty of consumer-side solutions that will allow you to monitor your PV system’s performance. And depending on your own needs, any of these may be sufficient for your commercial solar installation. However, using a bespoke platform from your installer might be a better option. That’s because both you and the installer will receive real-time alerts. And often, these notifications are very detailed – enabling contractors and technicians to pinpoint the exact location of potential issues within the PV system. As a result, the underlying problem will likely be resolved faster, allowing you to begin generating savings again.

Commercial Roof Service #5: Solar Maintenance and Servicing

Many commercial rooftop solar companies offer maintenance and service agreements to ensure their customers’ PV systems remain in optimal working condition. These service agreements common different varieties, including:

  • Scheduled maintenance at set intervals (i.e., quarterly, yearly, bi-annually). Also known as preventive maintenance, these types of service agreements allow you to catch issues early on and fix them before they mushroom into more extensive and more expensive problems.
  • Emergency maintenance for whenever issues crop up unexpectedly. Being reactive, you can only fix problems once they’re detected. Monitoring will help in some cases. But frayed wires, slipped panels, or rusty mounting are all issues that can exist for years without negatively impacting PV system performance. And by the time these problems are discovered, repairing them can be prohibitively expensive.

Just as with solar monitoring, maintenance is 100% optional. But both are highly recommended for larger solar installations. More components mean that more possible things can go wrong with your system over the 25+ years of each panel’s warrantied lifetime.

How Do I Know If My Building Is a Good Candidate for Solar Power?

That’s a fair question since not every property is eligible for solar power generation. Your commercial building, for example, must receive sufficient sunshine – either on the rooftop directly or wherever you intend to install a ground-mounted system or solar carport. If neighboring trees are creating too much shade, it may be possible to trim them back – provided you get permission from the landowner and local agencies.

If installing panels on your commercial rooftop, the building must be structurally sound – i.e., strong enough to support however many boards you plan on adding. This may require redoing some or all of the roof, which can significantly add to the total cost of your installation. And unlike the PV panels themselves, roof upgrades usually aren’t eligible for federal incentives like the Investment Tax Credit.

Fortunately, any experienced commercial rooftop contractor should be able to assess your building’s solar eligibility. And since most property inspections are free, you have nothing to lose by scheduling one (or several).

How Much Does a Commercial Solar PV System Cost?

Thanks to increased competition and innovation, solar panel prices continue to plummet in price, with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reporting that the average residential, commercial, and industrial customer now pays 64%, 69%, and 82% less than they did just ten years prior.

Because of these price decreases, locking down the current cost of a commercial rooftop solar array is difficult. Solar isn’t usually priced by the panel or module to further complicate things. Instead, the actual cost is measured in price-per-watt, which factors all the components, labor, and time required to bring a PV project online. According to the Center for Sustainable Energy, solar panel prices currently hover between $2/W and $4/W after applying incentives like the Investment Tax Credit or local rebates.

However, the exact cost of your own commercial rooftop solar array will depend on the size of the system, what technology is being used, and how you choose to finance the project.

In addition to installation costs, there are also ongoing maintenance costs, which can vary considerably depending on the scope of the service agreement (if any) and the size of the installation itself. Maintenance and monitoring are justifiable expenses for many business owners if they allow you to detect and fix problems early on quickly. However, both can be overkill if the cost of these services exceeds the savings reclaimed by correcting issues.

What Kind of Financial Returns Can I Expect from Commercial Solar Power?

There are many different reasons to go solar – including energy independence and environmental protection. But for most business owners, generating measurable financial returns is the number one goal. This makes sense since solar is still a significant upfront investment even with incentives and financing. And you want the cumulative savings from your solar installation to offset these costs so that you break even as quickly as possible. All solar electricity generated after that is free for the lifetime of your system.

Because PV panels are warrantied for 25 years, solar is a very safe investment that can sometimes outperform the S&P 500. However, several key factors can influence what kinds of returns your commercial solar installation will generate over its lifetime.

The actual cost of the solar project matters, with larger and higher quality PV systems carrying heftier price tags than smaller or lower quality installations. Either way, applying for as many incentives as possible can help drive down these costs, which in turn increases your returns.

Below are other factors that can directly impact the ROI of your commercial solar investment.

How Much You Pay for Grid Electricity

Because solar power offsets grid electricity spending, those who live in more expensive utility markets will save more money by installing PV panels. Equally important, those savings only grow with time as grid prices continue to increase. That’s because solar panels help today shield you from rate increases tomorrow.

How Much Solar Energy Is Created, Used, Stored, or Sold

The amount of energy generated impacts the types of returns your investment will cause. And this is a function of the PV system’s size, solar exposure, and components being used.

But arguably more important is what you do with that energy once it is created:

  • Solar energy consumed in real-time offsets daytime electricity spending – precisely when utility rates are often highest
  • Excess solar fed into the grid can generate credits (if enrolled in net metering) or cash (if enrolled in a feed-in tariff program)
  • Batteries allow you to store, consume, or feed solar power at times that maximize your savings
  • Making energy efficiency improvements can help improve the ROI of your solar investment since you won’t need as many panels to cover your electricity needs
  • Electrifying more of your business allows you to power more of your operations with free solar energy rather than natural gas

The US Department of Energy has a Commercial Solar Decision Guide designed to help you determine whether a PV installation makes financial sense for your business. It is a dated and dense read, but it provides the broad strokes of what financial consideration should factor into your decision-making.

An even faster way to determine the potential ROI of your commercial solar installation involves scheduling a free property inspection with an experienced installer. They can analyze your building and provide you with a detailed proposal – complete with all the costs, savings, payback periods, and returns itemized for you.

What Are the Challenges of Commercial Solar?

This article has already explored some of the technical challenges of installing new PV installations for commercial clients. But even after your system becomes operational, there are additional hurdles you may have to worry about. For example, who is ultimately responsible for fixing a cracked panel or malfunctioning inverter if your PV system’s performance starts to decline in its second year?

This issue might not be as prominent when dealing with vertically integrated commercial solar providers who are accustomed to working with the same technology repeatedly. But troubleshooting issues after the fact becomes more challenging if the original solar installation involved subcontractors or multiple teams specializing in a different aspect of your PV system – from the panels to EV-charging to on-site batteries.

Another challenge is whether the original installer offers performance guarantees or operations and maintenance (O&M) contracts. If so, are these services automatic, or do they require dedicated agreements? And what is the exact scope of service once the contract goes into effect?

Even having a full-service maintenance agreement doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re fully protected. For example, many current solar monitoring solutions rely on 2G and 3G cellular technology to send and receive energy production data. But by the end of 2022, significant telecoms will have phased out these protocols in favor of 4G and 5G cellular data. This means any solar monitoring solutions dependent on the 2G or 3G standard will suddenly cease working. And unfortunately, most commercial solar installers aren’t set up to swap out legacy monitoring solutions once the 3G Shutdown goes into effect.

How Can Technology Overcome These Challenges?

Because commercial solar projects involve more actors and components, there are many more things that can go wrong after the fact. Even with an ongoing solar maintenance agreement, finding the right team to resolve these issues can be challenging, given that roles and responsibilities are often blurred. Worse still, there’s no guarantee that the technicians who ultimately do show up have experience working with the specific components in your solar installation.

With technology, however, it’s possible to eliminate these challenges.

365 Pronto is a solar technician marketplace that allows you to instantly connect with qualified PV professionals trained and certified to troubleshoot whatever issues your commercial solar installation may be facing.

We generate a unique “DNA” profile of your PV project, complete with its location, size, age, and other technical specifications. Our algorithm then matches your solar installation’s DNA against an exhaustive database of specialized technicians. Whether for one-off repairs or ongoing maintenance, our technology ensures you always find the right team for the job – at a transparent and affordable price.

To learn more, visit our About Page today.

Achieving Maximum System Output with Solar Commissioning

Solar commissioning has several different definitions:

  • A homeowner can “commission” a new solar photovoltaic (PV) system by hiring a professional installer.
  • A solar sales representative might receive a “commission” – based on how many PV systems they sell.

This article explores a specific type of solar commissioning – one that can help large-scale PV projects achieve their full potential by delivering predictable financial and environmental returns for their owners.

Read on to learn what solar PV commissioning is, how it works, and why it matters.

What Is Solar Commissioning?

Solar commissioning is the process of configuring and verifying that all the PV components in each project are properly designed, installed, and optimized per the expected performance requirements of the solar system owner (or investor).

It’s technically possible to do this at the residential level. Most installers conduct various types of solar field acceptance tests when setting up PV panels for homeowners. Solar commissioning is often reserved for larger commercial installations or utility-scale PV facilities. Tiny performance anomalies can have a huge impact when those losses compound across thousands of solar panels and other PV components.

Most solar projects over a certain size are customized and designed from the ground up. As such, they don’t necessarily benefit from the automatic warranty protection that many consumer goods receive.

Technicians check solar panels for proper operations

Comprehensive solar PV commissioning overcomes these problems by providing system owners with performance guarantees that allow them to better forecast returns from their clean energy investments.

What Are the Benefits of Solar Commissioning?

Most solar PV facilities are profit-generating enterprises, with investors and owners trying to maximize their returns. And the primary function of solar commissioning is to guarantee that the facility meets the operational requirements of the investors.

More specifically, solar PV commissioning allows one to:

  • Verify that all PV components are installed per manufacturer guidelines.
  • Ensure that the PV system has been installed per all engineering and design requirements.
  • Identify and correct any potential defects, energy losses, or performance issues within the solar project.
  • Enhance the financial security and ROI predictability of the entire clean energy investment.

Handoff from the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) team to the operations and maintenance (O&M) team is not successful unless all performance evaluations and acceptance tests are satisfied by the project’s completion. The same is true for grid-connected solar projects that must meet any number of local regulations.

There’s another benefit of PV commissioning.

Optimizing solar facility performance allows one to more accurately calculate the PV project’s expected energy production, which in turn, helps to determine critical metrics like profitability, payback periods, ROI’s, and Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) compliance. In addition, solar PV commissioning helps to establish benchmarks against which to measure future performance. In fact, it’s impossible to determine whether a facility is underperforming or not without having a baseline.

What Is Solar Recommissioning?

Solar commissioning is a one-off job for newly built PV facilities. But for existing solar assets, a lower level of commissioning can help keep facilities in optimal condition through various preventive maintenance protocols. For example, solar “recommissioning” helps identify issues that are easily missed by direct current (DC) overbuild within the system. Or you might discover hotspots within the panels or corroded electrical wiring somewhere in the facility.

Either way, preventive maintenance is often cheaper than emergency repairs, since occasional inspections allow you to isolate and fix issues before they grow into much larger and more expensive problems that lead to decreased production, savings, and earnings.

What Does Solar PV Commissioning Involve?

The basic mechanics of PV technology remain the same – whether one is installing rooftop panels on a home or designing a sprawling solar farm meant to serve a nearby community. If you open the hood, you’ll find PV modules, racking, wiring, combiner boxes, conduits, inverters, monitoring systems, and routers. There may also be on-site storage capabilities and electric vehicle charging.

As such, field testing is always important during the installation phase. And in fact, the US Department of Energy has a free solar commissioning checklist designed to help residential installers test and troubleshoot the most common issues.

But as the size of the system grows, so too do the sheer number of PV components involved. Therefore larger commercial and industrial-scale projects require a more methodical solar PV commissioning approach that involves diligently inspecting every component in a prescribed order (like the one below).

1. Electrical Testing

This involves inspecting all the electrical components in the PV system, including the wires, panels, inverters, and even substations. The primary goal of electrical testing is to verify that every component has the correct current, voltage, and amperage – both individually and across the entire facility.

2. Mechanical Testing

Most solar PV facilities have zero moving parts. But mechanical inspections of all racking, mounting, and other structural components of the system are essential. This is true for solar projects installed in areas with high winds or seismic activity.

3. Performance Evaluations

With performance evaluations, you measure the expected (or modeled) output of the facility to its actual output (after adjusting for things like weather). This performance ratio (or “PR”) helps to establish a baseline when forecasting both the long-term energy output and financial returns of the solar project.

4. Corrections Reporting

The final step involves providing the facility manager or system owner with a report detailing recommended corrective actions for any issues discovered during the previous testing and evaluation stages.

Example Solar Commissioning Checklists

Because most large-scale solar projects are customized from the ground up, there is no universal solar commissioning checklist that will work across all PV facilities. The broad strokes might stay the same, but the actual optimization and evaluation processes vary based on the facility’s size, location, and what technology is being used. For example, the steps for testing and repairing string inverters are very different from the troubleshooting protocols reserved for microinverters.

Moreover, there are often strict regulatory hurdles throughout the process, each with its own compliance requirements. In addition to utility permission to grid-connect, larger solar projects must also pass extra permitting inspections from the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) throughout the PV development, installation, and completion stages. And in the case of utility-scale projects, regulators might also request environmental impact analyses as well.

As you can see from the examples below, solar commissioning checklists can be surprisingly short or many pages long:

The True Impact of Solar Commissioning on Long-Term Financial Performance

The solar PV commissioning process is sometimes baked into the installation cost of the PV system itself. Consequently, this cost is often overlooked as a priority standalone item. And system owners who recognize solar commissioning as an optional added cost might be tempted to forgo the extra expense. After all, if the completed solar project is operationally functional and working well enough, why pay more than necessary?

But again, tiny problems can quickly mushroom into larger ones if left unaddressed. And understanding this helps to reposition both solar commissioning and preventative maintenance as “investments” as opposed to traditional “expenses.” Equally important, solar PV commissioning is critical in determining the performance ratio of the system. Without this initial baseline, forecasting returns is impossible. It also becomes harder to identify opportunities to optimize performance or mitigate bottlenecks.

One final word of warning.

As a PV system owner or project manager, you may be tempted to reduce or eliminate solar commissioning costs by outsourcing the job to local regulators during inspections. However, city and utility officials do not typically inspect PV systems for performance or analytics. Rather, they focus on things like compliance and safety. And quite often, solar projects will receive the green light from regulators – even if they suffer from severe underperformance issues.

A Different Approach to Solar PV Commissioning

One of the challenges of solar commissioning is how specialized many aspects of installation, maintenance, and repair have become as technology continues to mature.

This trend already exists in the residential market, with many installers now struggling to update solar monitoring equipment for their customers before the major telecoms stop supporting 3G wireless technology. The average residential installer is also ill-equipped to troubleshoot on-site storage solutions or EV-charging ports.

As the size of the PV system grows, so do the challenges involved with finding the right technician(s) for the job – whether the goal is:

  • Solar commissioning
  • Preventative maintenance
  • Emergency repairs

365 Pronto offers an innovative approach to this growing problem.

We carefully analyze your solar installation or facility to develop a unique “DNA” profile – based on variables like your PV project’s size, location, age, and components. This unique profile instantly matches whatever service or repairs you need with certified technicians. Our technician matches ensure exact skills, training, and expertise are required to complete the job – quickly and affordably.

If you’re looking for a bespoke team to ensure that all the solar components in your bespoke PV system have been designed, installed, tested, and maintained according to your own operational requirements, learn how 365 Pronto can help.

Solar Inverter Repairs and Solutions for Every Customer

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the industry standard for solar photovoltaic (PV) panel warranties is 20 years, while most inverters only ship with 10 years of warranty protection. This means you’ll almost certainly need to pay for solar inverter repair at least once over your PV system’s lifetime.

Inverter servicing is a cost that catches many solar customers off-guard. And it can extend the original payback period – while lowering the expected return on investment (ROI).

Use this guide to navigate the solar power inverter repair landscape so that your own clean energy investment delivers more predictable returns.

There are no industry standards for preventive maintenance frequency. However, regular servicing allows you to catch and correct problems early on, which is why you should always have a maintenance roadmap in place.

SolarEdge Inverters before and mid-repair on a residential site in Menifee, California.

All You Need to Know About Repairing Solar Inverters

PV panels generate direct current (DC) electricity, but most consumer appliances use alternating current (AC). Solar inverters are responsible for converting this power so you can harness the free energy hitting your roof.

When an inverter fails, your solar panels still produce electricity. But none of the energy generated is usable.

Design block

How Often do I Need to Repair my Solar Inverter?

Every PV installation is unique; thus, there is no universal timetable for solar inverter servicing.

  • Inverters come with 10 to 25 years (depending on the technology)
  • Battery storage solutions typically ship with 5 or 10 years

Failures and malfunctions are inevitable which means you should budget at least one replacement or repair into the total lifetime budget of your investment.

But don’t service costs fall under normal solar inverter warranties? Not necessarily.

When Does the Warranty Apply?

While nearly all solar inverters come with warranty protection, it’s often difficult to qualify for any number of reasons:

  • The original manufacturer is no longer in business and can’t honor the warranty
  • The manufacturer is in business – but no longer makes the part you need
  • Previous solar inverter servicing (or tampering) voided the warranty

Warranty protection is important. And it should factor into your decision-making when first buying a solar inverter. But over the 25+ years of a PV system’s useful lifetime, there are many things that can render inverter warranties useless. So be prepared to pay for solar panel inverter repair out-of-pocket if necessary.

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When Does a Solar Inverter Need to be Replaced?

It may be tempting to automatically replace or repair your inverter at the end of its warranty coverage. But inverters can last much longer than expected – and you may end up wasting money with premature servicing.

Instead, look for sudden dips in your PV system’s performance. Reduced solar power generation is a clear sign something is wrong. It’s customary to check the panels first to see if they need servicing or cleaning. In fact, a faulty inverter can actually damage solar modules if there’s a sudden power surge or voltage imbalance.

Once the panels are ruled out, checking the solar inverter is the next logical step. Unfortunately, finding the right team to inspect either can be challenging – especially if the original installer is no longer in business or doesn’t provide PV system maintenance as part of their service.

So again, it’s best to mentally (and financially) prepare yourself if you need to bring in inverter repair technicians.

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How to Pick the Best Provider for Solar Inverter Repairs

As a Residential Solar Customer

You would check with the original manufacturer – assuming the inverter is still under warranty. Note that this would only give you a replacement best. You’d still need someone to remove the old inverter before installing the new one.

Thereafter, you would check with the original installer – assuming they’re still in business, they offer this specific service, and the first experience with them was positive. Otherwise, you’d have to do a Google search of “solar array maintenance inverter replacement.”

As a Commercial Solar Customer

The same basic steps apply, with you reaching out to the original manufacturer and installer before doing a Google search.

As an Asset Management Company

You should check your operations and maintenance (O&M) service agreement to see whether inverter repair or replacement is included. Otherwise, you would follow the same basic steps outlined for residential and commercial solar customers.

However, there’s a problem with these approaches.

“Inverter” is an umbrella term that covers many different technologies – including the aforementioned string and microinverters. Plus depending on the model, your own inverter may also include power point tracking, anti-islanding protection, or any number of additional features. So even with a well-designed Google search, it’s difficult to find someone who is:

  • Experienced enough to work with high voltage electrical equipment
  • Licensed to work with utility grid-connected infrastructure
  • Competent in the inverter technology specific to your installation
  • Available to service your solar inverter – especially on short notice

Fortunately, there is now an easier way to quickly find knowledgeable and certified inverter technicians – regardless of the underlying problem.

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Solar Inverter Repair Made Easy

365 Pronto is the world’s first on-demand platform for matching solar asset owners with experienced service technicians. Every PV installation has a unique “DNA” – based on variables like size, location, technology, and manufacturer. By analyzing these attributes (and any other project requirements you include), 365 Pronto is able to quickly match you with the right solar repair team – with fewer hassles and better results – all at affordable, transparent pricing.

To see our solar matching platform in action, schedule a free demo with us today.

Why Preventive Maintenance is Worth the Investment

Solar is one of the most resilient energy generation technologies in the world and has continuously generated clean solar electricity for decades. Depending on the installation, your own photovoltaic (PV) panels, inverters, and racking might all be warrantied for up to 25 years. But according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), implementing a preventive maintenance schedule for your solar system can extend your PV system’s lifetime to 40 years.

What Is Solar Preventive Maintenance?

Preventive maintenance is the ongoing maintenance you invest to prevent small, easily fixable issues from becoming larger and more expensive problems – like underperforming panels or no electricity generation at all. This maintenance includes the full spectrum of inspections, servicing, monitoring, and cleaning required to keep your PV system in optimal working condition. Solar preventive maintenance also includes emergency repairs or replacements whenever issues are discovered during routine servicing.

There are no industry standards for preventive maintenance frequency. However, regular servicing allows you to catch and correct problems early on, which is why you should always have a maintenance roadmap in place.

Understanding the Importance of Solar Preventive Maintenance

They say an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, which is why we get our cars inspected annually and our teeth cleaned on a regular basis. It is cheaper to maintain these things than it is to pay for costly repairs and replacements after the fact.

The same applies to solar preventive maintenance.

Any number of potential problems can crop up over the many decades your system is in service. Left unresolved, these issues not only prevent you from generating the solar electricity and savings you were expecting, but they can also lead to much costlier repairs later down the line.

Solar panel with debris, dust, and leaves

Warranty coverage might protect you in some cases. But below is just a partial list of common issues that aren’t normally covered by manufacturers:

  • Dust, pollen, or bird droppings that prevent sunlight from hitting the panels
  • Hail, branches, or other falling debris that crack exposed PV modules
  • Hot spots and electrical shortages that form within the panels themselves
  • Slipped modules, disconnected wires, or other misaligned components
  • Corrosion, rust, rodents, and even excessive snow accumulation

Regular servicing and cleaning might cost a bit more upfront. But these expenses are dramatically offset by the additional years of free electricity and utility bill savings your well-maintained PV system will deliver – making the investment well worth it.

What Are the Advantages of Solar Preventive Maintenance?

There are many benefits of ongoing maintenance. The better care you take of important assets, the more value you receive. This is as true of the car in your driveway as it is of the PV panels on your roof.

However, it’s worth exploring these benefits in greater detail since many solar customers overlook the hidden costs of not servicing their PV systems.

1. Regular Upkeep Maximizes your Solar Power Investment

Small dips in solar PV system performance inevitably lead to lost savings, extended payback periods, and smaller ROIs. Larger dips merely compound these losses. To earn the highest possible returns from your solar system, it is critical that you service and maintain your installation on a consistent schedule.

Remember that something as simple as dust build-up can reduce power generation, forcing you to rely more heavily on grid electricity. Cleaning is a simple preventive maintenance step that can help you claim back some of those lost savings.

2. Solar Maintenance Leads to Longer System Lifetimes

Most of the major components in your PV system come with some type of warranty coverage:

  • Inverters come with 10 to 25 years (depending on the technology)
  • Battery storage solutions typically ship with 5 or 10 years

It’s reasonable to expect that you’ll need to replace some or all these components after they’ve surpassed their warranty agreements. However, regular upkeep allows you to extend the useful lifetimes of these components well beyond their rated warranties.

This translates to future savings.

Again, you’re spending a little money upfront. But this investment delays – or even eliminates – the much larger labor and equipment costs associated with replacing broken solar PV components.

3. Preventive Solar Maintenance Means Higher Carbon Offsets

According to a Pew Research survey, 96% of homeowners cite utility bill savings as a primary factor behind their solar investments – with carbon footprint reductions being a close second at 87%.

Either way, solar preventive maintenance delivers dividends on both fronts by helping your system generate more energy:

  • Higher output reduces your own reliance on grid electricity, which saves you more money every month
  • Increased solar production also reduces the amount of power the utility needs to generate from fossil fuel – leading to less pollution and higher carbon savings

When to Schedule Preventive Maintenance for Your PV System

There is no industry consensus regarding solar panel maintenance frequency – since every component in a standard PV system comes with slightly different product lifetimes and servicing requirements. However, there are competing schools of thought regarding preventive maintenance schedules.

1. Corrective Maintenance

With this approach, you leave your PV system as is – only intervening when solar monitoring detects unusual performance dips that can’t be explained by factors like season or weather.

Corrective maintenance is arguably the most common approach since it carries the fewest requirements. The thinking goes that careful monitoring allows you to catch small problems before they become worse. But since this strategy is mostly “reactive,” it doesn’t technically qualify as preventive maintenance. And you may be leaving money (and carbon offsets) on the table by not adhering to a more consistent schedule.

2. Scheduled Maintenance

Another common strategy is to simply schedule yearly (or biannual) inspections. During these visits, on-site technicians can test your solar PV system, service components, make repairs, and even clean your panels – all in a single session.

Scheduled maintenance represents an ongoing cost. But when coupled with careful solar monitoring, this approach allows you to keep your PV system in optimal working condition – both through regular upkeep and by allowing you to detect problems quickly.

3. Optimized Maintenance

If you’re a typical homeowner, scheduled preventive maintenance is a simple and affordable strategy for protecting your investment. As the size of your PV system grows, however, so too do the number of potential bottlenecks that might hinder your ability to generate clean electricity. And for many commercial, industrial, and utility solar projects, the goal becomes balancing the cost of frequent maintenance with the benefits of that higher output.

In describing solar preventive maintenance best practices for utility-scale operations and management (O&M) servicing, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Laboratory (NREL) states that:

“Preventive maintenance must be balanced by financial cost to the project. Therefore, the goal is to manage the optimum balance between cost of scheduled maintenance, yield, and cash flow through the life of the system. Preventive maintenance protocols depend on system size, design, complexity, and environment.”

This means solar asset managers must crunch the numbers to determine the impact that every additional dollar of preventive maintenance might have on long-term profitability. When they actually do run the numbers, many large-scale solar PV farms find that daily cleaning and servicing are justifiable expenses. When dealing with hundreds (or thousands) of PV panels, even small performance dips can lead to huge losses. And left unaddressed, tiny issues can lead to more expensive repairs.

Creating a Preventive Maintenance Schedule for Solar Systems

Whether as a homeowner, business owner, or facility manager, creating a solar preventive maintenance schedule can help you extract the most value from your clean energy investment:

  • If you choose the corrective maintenance route, your plan is already set. You only need to intervene when solar monitoring alerts you to unexpected performance dips. However, it’s still important that you periodically check the numbers yourself. Solar monitoring is a great technology, but not all platforms send automated alerts. And it’s up to each PV system owner to create their own reminders.
  • If you choose the scheduled maintenance route, below are some important pointers regarding upkeep and servicing schedules.

1. Solar Panel Cleaning

PV module cleaning is one of the easiest preventive steps since it helps clear panels of build-up – allowing them to capture more sunlight. In fact, regular washing is so easy that there are even over-the-counter solar panel cleaning solutions for the DIY crowd. However, there are compelling reasons to outsource this job to professionals.

Solar panel is cleaned by an on-site technician

This detailed article on solar panel cleaning explains why.

Annual solar panel washing is standard within the industry. But if you live in a region with a lot of dust, pollen, or pollution, more frequent cleaning may be required. There are also seasonal factors that can influence the date you select for these yearly washings. For example, many homeowners choose late autumn after the leaves have fallen – or early spring when the snow finally thaws.

2. Corrective Maintenance

By its very nature, corrective maintenance doesn’t follow a fixed schedule. You’ll immediately know that repairs are necessary whenever:

  • There are noticeable and unexplainable dips in your PV system’s solar electricity output
  • Annual inspections or cleanings uncover issues that require immediate intervention

Either way, it’s worth fixing problems right away rather than letting them fester. Malfunctions lead to reduced solar output, which translates to lower utility bill savings. And in many cases, delaying repairs simply sets you up for more expensive fixes at a later date.

3. Warranty Coverage

As already mentioned, most solar panels, inverters, and batteries come with warranty protection. And many also come with manufacturer-recommended servicing schedules. In fact, some component manufacturers may even void a user’s warranty for not following these “recommended” timetables.

However, scheduling annual or biannual inspections for your PV system means you’ll likely fall well within every manufacturer’s servicing guideline. Warranties only come into play if one of the system’s components experiences an issue covered under the policy. And although these types of malfunctions can and do happen, regular servicing makes breakages less likely across the board.

4. Solar Monitoring and Reporting

Truly comprehensive solar preventive maintenance requires equipping your PV system with monitoring. Doing so allows you to track both the historic and real-time performance of your installation, with some platforms capable of sending instant notifications whenever unexpected deviations arise.

Solar monitoring also allows you to track the benefits of preventive maintenance more closely. Instead of sinking money into a nebulous investment, you can see for yourself whether recent cleaning, servicing, or optimization yields measurable increases in solar output or monthly utility bill savings.

An Easier Approach to Preventive Maintenance for Solar Systems

Solar is an investment that costs many thousands of dollars upfront. However, the promise is that your investment will deliver enough financial (and environmental) returns over its lifetime to cover those upfront costs several times over.

The better you protect your investment, the larger those returns become. This is the cornerstone of solar preventive maintenance.

Even with a plan in place, however, many homeowners struggle to find certified solar professionals who can service their PV systems on an ongoing basis. Although some installers offer maintenance and cleaning agreements, you typically have to be a customer already to qualify. And even when you do find a professional solar maintenance provider, they’re not always competent in the technology-specific to your PV system.

Fortunately, there’s now a better way.

365 Pronto is a matching platform that analyzes your solar installation’s DNA using many of the same attributes cited by NREL, including things like “system size, design, complexity, and environment.” It then pairs you with licensed and certified technicians capable of performing whatever preventive cleaning and servicing your residential, commercial, or utility-scale PV system requires.

To see how our solar project matching technology works, schedule a free demo with us today.

The 3G Shutdown is Fast-Approaching: Don’t get left in the Dark.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is facing an existential crisis. By January 1, 2023, millions of wireless devices will cease communicating when the 2G and 3G network shutdown ensues.

Every major US carrier will stop supporting 2G and 3G cellular networks. 

In addition to smartphones and tablets, this abrupt shift will directly impact every single wireless device that relies on legacy cellular bandwidth – including the millions of routers powering traffic lights, surveillance cameras, solar monitoring systems, smart TVs, and the general IoT ecosystem.

This guide explains why this shift is happening. It also outlines what steps solar asset managers and PV component manufacturers must take before the 3G sunset goes into effect.

What Is the 3G Network Shutdown?

Within the past year, AT&T, US Cellular, Verizon, and Sprint (now owned by T-Mobile) all independently announced that they would shut down the cellular infrastructure required to support increasingly outdated protocols, including:

  • Global System for Mobiles (GSM), is the primary technology that lets SIM-enabled smart phones wirelessly link to telecom networks. GSM is the global standard everywhere outside the United States (except for AT&T and T-Mobile). This is often referred to as “2G,” but GSM also supports 3G data sharing.
  • Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) is the wireless communication technology used by Verizon, US cellular, and Sprint to power their networks. CDMA is used for devices (i.e. routers) that may not be equipped with SIM cards – including sensors and receives frequently used in solar PV systems. CDMA is often referred to as “3G.”

In place of GSM and CDMA, the major carriers will devote more resources to newer telecom standards, including:

  • Long Term Evolution (LTE) is the global standard for wireless 4G communications. Under ideal conditions, LTE can deliver upload speeds of 50Mbps and download speeds of 100Mbps. Most LTE-enabled smart phones only serve data over 4G connections. Calls and text messaging (SMS) are normally done over 2G or 3G cellular, unless you use third-party apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, or Skype.
  • Voice over LTE (VoLTE), which is a separate 4G standard that allows users to search, call, and SMS exclusively using their data plans instead of consuming traditional cellular network minutes.

Why Are There Different Cellular Technologies (and Why Do They Matter)?

Like all technologies, mobile networks constantly improve over time as new innovations and breakthroughs emerge. These networks also evolve in generational leaps – with the upcoming 3G sunset designed to phase out the third generation.

Here’s a brief timeline of this evolution.

First Generation (1G)

1G was first launched in 1979 by Japan’s largest carrier, Nippon Telegraph, and Telephone (NTT). This generation had very limited coverage and poor-quality audio. Worse still, 1G offered zero encryption, allowing anyone with a scanner to eavesdrop on conversations.

Second Generation (2G)

2G (a.k.a. GSM) was introduced in 1991 with improved call clarity and encryption. The technology also made it possible to send SMS and media for the first time. However, 2G delivered slow performance, which only became worse due to surging consumer demand for cellular phones.

Third Generation (3G)

Developed by NTT and DoCoMo in 2001, 3G introduced a lot of breakthroughs in telecommunications, including packet-switching, which allows for larger file transfers and better sound quality. The newer CDMA standard also boasted data delivery speeds that were four times faster than 2G cellular.

The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 helped to accelerate 3G adoption. However, the world’s first commercially successful smartphone laid the groundwork for the cellular standard’s eventual demise. Although 3G was faster than previous generations, it wasn’t equipped to handle high-definition multimedia – especially when streaming on-demand content from services like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu on a phone or tablet.

Fourth Generation (4G)

First introduced in 2009, 4G has since become the default telecom standard worldwide due to its ability to send large amounts of data very quickly. It might have become the default sooner. But whereas migrating from 2G to 3G involves swapping out a SIM card, upgrading to 4G requires buying an entirely new LTE-enabled phone. In fact, anyone still using 2G or 3G devices will have to replace their own smartphones before the sunset goes into effect.

But the problem isn’t limited to handheld devices. The 3G sunset extends to the entire IoT – potentially impacting every wireless device in the country that relies on older cellular protocols.

Why Do Carriers Shut down Telecom Networks?

There are many compelling reasons why the industry supports introducing newer standards, including improved speed, security, and cost. Consumer demand is another major factor, with phone manufacturers and telecom carriers constantly looking to satisfy the public’s appetite for faster data transfers and higher quality streaming. There’s nothing more frustrating than having your favorite Netflix series suddenly buffer during the climax of a show.  

However, none of these reasons explain why carriers shut down older networks completely. After all, why not just leave them in place and provide wider coverage for more users?

The main reason is bandwidth. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) only auctions off a limited range of the broadband spectrum to telecom carriers. And these carriers must repurpose whatever bandwidth they have to support newer protocols as they emerge. 

But even if there were enough bandwidth, providing nationwide 3G, 4G, and 5G coverage simultaneously would require designing all new towers, routers, and devices to be backward compatible (in perpetuity). Aside from the sheer cost involved, legacy support for outdated protocols also introduces security vulnerabilities. If 1G was still supported anyone could listen to your phone calls with a scanner.

When Will 3G Shut down?

Every major US carrier has announced its own respective 2G and 3G network shutdown schedules:

  • AT&T has already shut down its GSM network. And it plans to follow suit with 3G in February 2022.
  • T-Mobile will discontinue its 3G UMTS network by July 1, 2022, but has not yet announced a shutdown date for its 2G network.
  • Sprint and Boost customers on T-Mobile’s network will lose 3G connectivity in March 2022.
  • Verizon will finally shut down its 3G network on December 31, 2022.

By New Year’s Day 2023, no major carrier in the US will support the 3G standard or earlier.

What Devices Will Be Affected by the 3G Sunset?

For most users, loss of mobile support will be the first and most visible sign of the 3G network shutdown. But smartphones aren’t the only wireless devices that rely on cellular connectivity. This huge list also includes:

  • Home security systems and alarms
  • Medical devices and monitoring technologies
  • Solar revenue grade meters (RGM) and smart meters 
  • Solar monitoring systems and edge sensors
  • Smart fridges, TVs, and other home appliances
  • Electric vehicles and fleet management systems

Of the 80+ million Internet-connected devices that still rely on 3G cellular technology, RCR Wireless News points out that most are not ones that can be upgraded by swapping out SIM cards.

Instead, every individual sensor and receiver must be replaced with newer router technology that supports the 4G standard or higher. These replacements must all happen before each carrier’s sunset deadline to avoid disruptions in connectivity. 

The actual impact of not migrating to 4G depends on the device in question:

  • On one end of the spectrum is the frustration you might feel when your smart TV can’t connect to the Internet. We’re very fortunate the 3G sunset didn’t happen in 2020 when everyone was stuck at home.  
  • At the other end of the spectrum are the serious risks posed when traffic management systems can no longer send and receive real-time data. With no more coordination among lights and signals, collisions would skyrocket – resulting in injury and death. 

With respect to solar power, residential customers might forfeit hundreds of dollars if their inverters no longer share production data or if their monitoring software fails to detect a performance dip. Those lost savings merely compound as the size of the PV installation grows. If you manage an entire portfolio of distributed solar assets, for example, you likely depend on hundreds or thousands of CDMA-enabled sensors and receivers to power the revenue-grade meters in your solar portfolio. One day next year, every single one of those devices will suddenly stop sending and receiving data – all at once. 

The last (and still incomplete) 2G sunset was relatively easy. Moving America off the 3G standard will be far more challenging.

Managing the Migration from 3G

Exchanging cell phones is straightforward. You simply walk into a local mobile shop and buy a newer phone that supports the 4G standard. Swapping out the millions of sensors and receivers powering other “smart” devices will be much harder. 

And here’s why.

The average user has no idea where the wireless router exists in their smart TV – let alone how to access or replace it. Should they call the original manufacturer or a service technician? And will the latter be familiar with the router technology specific to that television?

The above dance must play out with every connected smart device dependent on 3G technology or older. This includes the millions of CDMA-enabled revenue-grade meters, inverters, and monitoring solutions used to optimize solar power production and storage across the country. 

What about the Future of Cellular Networks?

The 3G network shutdown is fast approaching. But there will be future network sunsets as carriers make way for newer generations of cellular technology. At the moment, two of the most promising protocols are LTE Advanced and 5G.

Generation 4.5 (LTE Advanced)

Also known as LTE-A, this cellular standard is two to three times faster than 4G, with higher stability and less overall buffering. LTE Advanced accomplishes this by using multiple antennas that can manage multiple signals – versus the 1:1 pairing normally done with 4G technology. 

LTE Advanced is a significant improvement over 4G. But because it’s not a generational leap, some industry insiders refer to the standard as 4.5G. Verizon already offers LTE-A to its customers – as does AT&T, which calls its own network 5Ge.

Fifth Generation (5G)

5G is 100 times faster than 4G, with data transfers of 20GB per second. Lifewire reports that this speed is the difference between downloading a 3GB movie in 35 seconds versus the 40 minutes required over a traditional 4G connection. According to Medium, 5G receivers can simultaneously connect to 1 million devices in a 0.38 sq. mi. radius, allowing it to bear far higher data loads than previous cellular technologies.

Even better, 5G has a latency rate under 1 ms, which is how long it takes to send digital data from Point A to Point B. This is 250 times faster than humans can react to visual stimuli, which makes it possible to communicate over vast distances with virtually zero perceptible lag. This type of speed would allow a 5G-enabled traffic system to manage an entire city of autonomous vehicles – with less congestion and zero collisions.

5G technology is already here, with most carriers offering some type of support in their mobile plans. However, the technology’s true potential will likely become clearer as more devices connect to this newer standard. Multimedia consumption will certainly drive much of this adoption. But 5G is more broadly about sharing data faster and more securely to support the growing IoT ecosystem in a world with more smart devices and gadgets.

Conclusion

After many delays, the 3G network shutdown is finally happening – with tens of millions of connected devices losing connectivity in a single calendar year. This sudden shift has huge implications for society as consumers, businesses, and device manufacturers scramble to adjust to this new normal. 

If you have specific questions about upgrading any of the 2G- or 3G-dependent routers in the edge devices you manufacture or solar asset portfolios you manage, schedule a free consultation with 365 Pronto today.

The Short and Long Term Benefits of Solar Panel Cleaning

This guide covers everything you need to know about solar panel cleaning and when it’s time to bring in a professional service provider.

What Is Solar Panel Cleaning: a Quick Definition?

When sunlight hits solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, they convert the sun’s energy into clean solar electricity for homes, businesses, and communities. More sunshine means more electricity, which is why solar power is often associated with sunny climates like California’s and Spain’s.


However, this is only part of the equation.


The goal is to optimize the amount of sunshine reaching the solar panels. Professional installers factor this in when positioning and orienting PV modules. But maximizing sun capture also requires keeping the panels free of dust, leaves, snow, and other debris.


Your solar panels may require regular cleaning so they produce as much clean energy as possible. Doing so decreases your reliance on expensive grid electricity, allowing you to save more money and generate fewer greenhouse gases.

Is Solar Panel Cleaning Really Necessary?

According to a research study conducted by the University of Malaga, prolonged periods without rain led to dust buildup, which reduced daily solar output among PV systems by 20%. These findings create a fairly strong case for regular solar panel cleaning.


However, other studies have reached very different conclusions.


A 2013 research paper from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) found that over a 145-day summer drought in California, solar panel performance fell by only 7.4%. Researchers further concluded that at current utility rates, cleaning a typical 5 kW residential solar installation would only save homeowners $20 off their electricity bill – which is substantially less than what professional solar panel cleaning normally costs. The panels in the study only lost about 0.05% efficiency on a daily basis.


In the words of Jan Kleissl, lead researcher of the UCSD study, “Most homeowners won’t get their money back for hiring someone to wash their rooftop panels.”


It’s hard to argue with such an exhaustive study. But it’s also difficult to ignore one’s own experience – like how leaving a dirty car out in the rain doesn’t automatically make it clean. In fact, carwashes are often busiest right after a heavy storm.


Our own analysis is that when done properly and at the right frequency, solar panel cleaning can help:

  • Maximize a PV system’s power output
  • Increase utility bill savings for owners
  • Deliver measurable carbon savings

Moreover, this cleaning is especially important if your PV system uses string inverters instead of microinverters. Both are responsible for converting direct current (DC) solar electricity into alternating current (AC) power for your home or business.

  • With string inverters, performance dips in one panel can have a huge impact on the other panels in the system – similar to old-fashioned Christmas tree lights strung up in series.
  • Microinverters make the DC > AC conversion at the panel level so that performance drops in one solar module are localized to that specific panel.
  • Although there are compelling reasons to clean solar panels, how often should washing occur?

    When Should You Clean Solar Panels?

    The most obvious indication that your panels need cleaning is when you see a decrease in PV system performance. It’s natural for there to be daily, weekly, or seasonal fluctuations in solar power generation. But prolonged and unexpected decreases in output is a sign that something is wrong. PV panel cleaning is the easiest and cheapest of all troubleshooting steps – which is why many customers start here first. If more drastic intervention is required, you may need to invest in solar panel maintenance to restore modules to former production levels.


    Some homeowners and businesses schedule periodic cleanings throughout the year – based on local conditions:

  • Cleaning panels after snow season makes a lot of sense in northern climates
  • Solar panel cleaning is also common during the end of autumn, when the leaves stop falling
  • The sam is true in late spring when pollen counts start to go down again

  • Those who live in arid solar hot spots like California or Arizona might schedule panel cleaning during the driest times of the year when dust buildup threatens system performance.


    Which frequency to choose for your own solar panels is ultimately a personal choice. But if you’re not generating the utility bill savings you were hoping for, cleaning your modules could help boost performance. This is especially true if you live in a region with excessive dust, pollen, pollution, foliage, or snow.

    Bird droppings aren’t something that easily washes off with rain – meaning solar panel cleaning may be unavoidable. The same goes for PV modules installed horizontally. Flatter solar panels tend to collect more dust, and thus, require more frequent washing.


    In addition, these cleaning requirements can grow considerably as the number of panels increases. Mega solar farms must constantly clean their modules as even minute performance dips can lead to huge losses when multiplied across thousands of panels.


    As a residential or commercial solar customer, you won’t have to stick to this same schedule. But it’s important you understand the potential benefits of giving your panels an occasional wash.

    How to Clean Solar Panels

    The most popular cleaning method involves using soap and a regular garden hose, which is particularly common among homeowners looking for cost-effective DIY options. However, this approach can often reduce total PV system performance due to streaking and leftover residues.


    If you’ve ever tried cleaning a window with soapy water, you likely already understand. Not only are the windows not truly clean when you’re finished, but the residue actually makes it easier for dust and pollen to cling to the surface. And unfortunately, rinsing with water isn’t enough since soap film can linger for a long time. This is basically the principle behind scented soaps. Their molecules need time to dissipate, which is why you always smell “fresh” after taking a shower or washing your hands.


    Fortunately, there exist several over-the-counter cleaning products specifically designed for solar modules. Some of the more popular ones include Glass Gleam, One Shot, and PolyWater– all of which are available at hardware stores and on Amazon. Most of these products use non-soap-based solvents that modify the surface tension of water to prevent beading. Instead, the water develops a smooth and continuous layer that helps dislodge dirt, dust, and pollen. These industrial products also have the added benefit of using less overall water in general – minimizing the environmental impact of regular panel washing.


    Many professional solar panel cleaners also have other tools in their arsenal – including deionized water. With this specially treated water, minerals have been stripped out using reverse osmosis, which is why it often goes by its other name, “demineralized” water. What’s left behind is a very pure form of H2O that acts as a magnet for particles.


    When demineralized water is coupled with a rotating brush, it’s possible to agitate and dislodge grime so that it washes away completely. Once the water evaporates, the panels remain free of streaks or residue. Deionized water is also chemical-free – a claim that even the most eco-friendly cleaning solutions can’t match.

    Common Mistakes When Solar Panel Cleaning

    Using soap is the #1 taboo in the industry. But below are some other common solar panel cleaning mistakes to avoid.

    1. Not Having the Right Equipment

    Most PV systems are rooftop installations, which makes solar panel access a real challenge. In addition to industrial-grade solvents, many professionals often bring ladders, harnesses, water tanks, and specialized poles and brush to make the job easier.


    The average homeowner doesn’t have all these supplies and safety gear – but that doesn’t stop them from trying. If you also decide to go the DIY route, just be sure to avoid using anything hard or abrasive that might damage your solar panels. For example, it’s common to use garden rakes to clear away snow buildup. However, be careful since the metal tongs can scratch your panels and void their warranties.

    2. Ignoring Personal Safety

    In addition to lower quality results, DIY solar panel cleaning increases the risk of accident and injury if you don’t know what you’re doing. Remember that it’s not just falling you have to worry about. Mixing water and high voltage electrical equipment is a dangerous combination.

    3. Cleaning on the Hottest Days

    Because of their dark surfaces, modern solar panels get hot very quickly when exposed to direct sunlight. And these higher temperatures mean that module surfaces dry faster than normal, which leads to streaking – even when using “streak-free” cleaning solutions. Moreover, the sudden shock of cold water hitting hot-tempered glass can crack your PV panels, potentially voiding their warranties. And you may need to pay out-of-pocket for solar panel repairs. This is why you’re better off cleaning at dawn, dusk, or on overcast days to allow for slower and more even drying.

    Of course, the easiest way to avoid these mistakes is to outsource the job to solar panel cleaning companies that know what they’re doing.


    And here’s why.


    According to Q1 2020 data from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the average cost for residential solar installations is about $2.83/W – meaning a standard 5 KW system costs around $14,000.


    Your own system might be above or below this average. Either way, you’ve still invested thousands of dollars. And it makes sense to protect that investment – just as you would with scheduled car maintenance or dental cleanings. Regular upkeep is usually cheaper than emergency intervention.
    The question is – how do you find the right professionals for the job?

    How to Pick a Solar Panel Cleaning Company

    Many PV installers include solar cleaning as an add-on service. And if your original installer does too, working with them again is probably the easiest approach. Of course, this assumes the experience was positive the first time around – and you trust them to do a good job again.


    However, most solar installers don’t offer this service. And you may need to find a dedicated outfit that specializes in solar panel cleaning and preventive maintenance services. If you choose this route, here are some important criteria to consider.

    1. The Method

    Always ask how they clean solar panels. You want someone whose method is:

  • Effective at boosting solar PV panel performance
  • Safe for the panels themselves (i.e, no scratching)
  • Environmentally friendly (i.e. no harmful toxins)
  • If they use soap or caustic chemicals to do the job, you’re probably better off choosing another solar panel cleaning service.

    2. Experience

    The barrier to entry for PV installers is very low, with many amateurs labeling themselves as “professional technicians.” For the much simpler job of solar panel cleaning, the bar is even lower.

    As such, it’s important you only partner with professionals with extensive (and verifiable) experience. More specifically, you want someone familiar with PV systems like yours since:

  • Solar carports, ground-mounted systems, and rooftop installations all call for different types of cleaning equipment
  • Residential solar cleaning teams tend to be much smaller than those used for commercial projects
  • Regardless of your own PV installation, the goal is to find a solar panel cleaning service that can complete the job well – with a few hidden surprises as possible.

    3. Geography

    The basic mechanics behind solar panel cleaning are fairly straightforward. But you still want someone local who understands the weather and climate conditions specific to your geographic region. That way, they can use the most effective method for whatever “accumulation” issues you’re facing:

  • Some regions (like the Rust Belt) are notorious for their high pollen counts
  • In the arid Southwest, dust and sand may be more pressing issues
  • In New England, you want a team that knows how to navigate snow
  • 4. Availability

    Unlike solar panel repairs, PV module cleaning usually isn’t a super urgent issue. But it’s still nice to have someone who is responsive and available. Just keep in mind that following pollen season, dry spells, and snowstorms, most solar customers in your region are likely facing the same issues you are. So be patient if there’s a backlog.

    5. Reviews

    As with any contracting job, it never hurts to check out honest reviews from previous customers. Most solar panel cleaning companies will happily provide you with “glowing” testimonials they’ve hand-picked. But be sure to research independent third-party sites like Angie’s List or Yelp for more objective feedback.

    6. Cost

    Every budget is different. You’ll need to conduct your own cost/benefit analysis to determine if hiring a solar panel cleaning service is worth the price. This, of course, depends on what the price actually is – and how bad your own PV system’s performance has become.


    Keep reading for a breakdown of what you can expect to pay for a professional cleaning service.

    What Are the Costs for Solar Panel Cleaning?

    Solar panel cleaning costs vary due to huge differences between PV installation sizes, system locations, module orientations, and the type of debris being cleared. According to the residential contracting portal, Fixr.com, the average price hovers between $150 and $330 for a small 2 kW residential solar installation.


    When it comes to solar panel cleaning service costs:

  • Some professionals charge flat rates – regardless of the PV system size or number of panels
  • Others charge on a per-panel basis, with an average of around $15 – $35 per module.
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    If you clean your panels yourself, the only direct cost is water. But there are many potential hidden costs in the form of:

  • Personal injury risks
  • Reduced performance
  • Potential breakages
  • Voided warranties
  • Is Solar Panel Cleaning Covered by My Warranty or O&M Contract?

    Panel cleaning is almost never covered by manufacturer warranties. It is up to each individual to keep their own modules clean and in prime condition. Some installers include solar panel cleaning in their performance guarantees – or as add-on services. And you’ll need to read the fine print in your own agreement to determine if your PV system qualifies.


    The same is true for operations and maintenance (O&M) contracts. You would assume that regular cleaning comes standard with most of these agreements. But it’s best to read the fine print for exact details since every O&M contract is different.

    Conclusion

    Depending on where you live, DIY solar panel cleaning and occasional rain might be enough to keep your PV system in optimal working condition. But if you’re dealing with heavy accumulation or notice substantial performance drops, a professional provider might be the best option.

    It takes time to vet potential candidates – especially if this is your first time having your own system professionally cleaned. 365 Pronto’s Solar Operations and Maintenance Platform can help you quickly connect with experienced, knowledgeable, and affordable solar panel cleaning professionals in your area.


    To learn more, contact the 365 Pronto Team for a free platform demo.