Solar Panel Maintenance 101: The Fundamentals
With few moving parts, solar photovoltaic (PV) technology suffers from less wear and tear than other power generation technologies. Solar has been known as a “set-it-and-forget-it” technology by manufacturers and installers alike. The promise goes that once installed, your PV system will silently generate electricity for many years—with virtually zero solar panel maintenance required.
However, the reality is quite different. Although most PV panels sold in the US come with warranty protection that lasts for decades, the maintenance requirements are not zero. Keep reading to understand why.
Common Causes of Solar PV System Damage
Solar modules are incredibly resilient. But once installed, any number of issues can arise, including:
Dust build-up, snow accumulation, or excessive leaf cover
Cracks from hail, branches, and other falling debris
Shortages resulting from loose connections or faulty wiring
Delamination, oxidation, and internal corrosion
Hairline cracks stemming from seasonal and temperature variations
Hot spots from dirt accumulation or badly soldered connection
Panel slippages resulting from bumps, tremors, or faulty racking
Damage from rodents, birds, termites, and other common pests
When you add in solar inverters, batteries, and wiring, these problems only become more pronounced. This explains why massive PV farms require constant solar panel maintenance as individual components malfunction. In fact, risk assessment firm, Wood Mackenzie, estimates that unplanned solar plant repairs could double from $4.5 billion in 2019 to more than $9 billion by 2024.
But even as a homeowner or business with far fewer panels installed, maintenance is an unavoidable part of “going solar.”
What Is Solar Panel Maintenance?
Solar maintenance is a broad term that covers the full range of inspections, repairs, upgrades, and cleaning that PV panels require whenever performance-related issues occur.
Servicing isn’t limited to “fixing” problems as they arise. Scheduled and preventive solar panel maintenance can help extend the useful lifetime of your system, with many panels lasting much longer than their rated warranties.
What Is the Standard Warranty for Solar Panels?
Most modern solar PV panels come with 20 to 25 years of warranty protection from their manufacturers. With this level of coverage, many solar customers enjoy a false sense of security once they decide to invest in the technology.
However, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
Regardless of the quality, all solar panels degrade over time. Most warranties normally come with linear performance metrics that already factor this degradation into the equation. By year 25, your solar panels might operate at 79% of their original output.
These warranties only cover the panel itself, providing protection against defects or malfunctions due to shoddy workmanship from the manufacturer. This coverage doesn’t shield the panels from factors outside the manufacturer’s control, such as installation workmanship or cracks created from falling debris.
Solar panel warranties only have value if the company backing them is still in business when you face an issue. Module manufacturers can go out of business. Solyndra’s $1 billion bankruptcy back in 2011 is arguably the most famous example. Sunergy’s 2021 shutdown is only the most recent one. This is why you should always stick with high-quality components from reputable manufacturers.
How Often Do Solar Panels Need Maintenance?
Solar maintenance frequency depends on the type of service required—preventive vs. emergency.
Preventive Servicing to Maintain Solar Panels
Due to the fact most solar panels are tilt mounted, they can stay relatively clean if you live in an area with sufficient rainfall. In drier regions, however, dust can quickly build up—requiring that you clean your modules several times throughout the year.
A garden hose is suitable for most applications. But if in hard-water areas, this can also lead to streaking and blotching, which may undercut each panel’s performance. To help reduce this problem, solar maintenance pros often use deionized water or commercial-grade cleaning solutions like PolyWater, Glass Gleam, or One Shot.
However, there is considerable debate over how necessary solar panel cleaning actually is. According to a 2013 study by the University of San Diego, for example, PV panels only lost 7.4% of their total output over a 145-day drought. The analysis concluded that such a modest dip in performance didn’t justify the cost of professional cleaning. But paying to reclaim some of this lost output may be worth it if you live in a region that meets some or all of the following criteria:
Expensive grid electricity
Excessive dust and pollen – common in states like TX, LA, NC, and OH.
Poor solar radiation (i.e. low sunlight)
Some solar customers also schedule checkups on a periodic basis. Doing so is strictly optional, and there is no consensus on how often these inspections should be. But scheduled solar module maintenance can help detect problems early on. And for many homeowners and businesses, this protection provides peace of mind.
Emergency Servicing to Repair Solar Panels
Cracks, electrical shortages, and panel malfunctions typically require emergency intervention, with trained professionals who can assess and repair the issue as quickly as possible.
As a PV system owner, you probably won’t be able to see these problems – especially if you have a rooftop installation that is difficult to access. With solar monitoring, however, it’s now possible to receive an automatic alert whenever your PV system’s performance dips below a certain threshold. This monitoring is synced to a smartphone app, which allows you to track your installation’s output remotely and in real-time.
Your utility statement might also provide clear indications that something is wrong. It’s normal to see slight variations from one billing cycle to another – especially as the seasons change. But a sudden spike in utility spending likely means that either your provider has raised its rates or that your PV system is underperforming.
If the latter, you’ll need to bring in solar maintenance pros to investigate and fix the issue.
What Is the Cost of Solar Panel Maintenance?
Solar panel maintenance costs can vary considerably – based on the level of service required and who is performing the job. For example, many PV installers offer performance guarantees, service agreements, or a combination of both:
Performance guarantees are factored into the total installation price, meaning the cost is basically “free” once your PV system comes online. But you’ll need to read the fine print since coverage typically only applies to installation labor and not to acts of God (like falling hail).
Service agreements are usually paid monthly or annually and provide more comprehensive coverage. But like manufacturer warranties, these agreements are only valuable if the original installer is still in business. In addition, many PV installers farm out projects to local contractors, which makes it harder to hold any single party responsible if something goes wrong.
A growing number of dedicated solar module maintenance companies now offer one-off repairs or ongoing servicing. In most cases, these solar maintenance pros are not the same teams that originally handled the installation.
Solar panel maintenance costs for these newer services vary. But here are some averages for the industry:
Solar panel cleaning is free (if you do it yourself). Otherwise, expect to spend a few hundred dollars annually when bringing in paid professionals.
The national average for solar system maintenance ranges from $300 to $700 a year. Note that these services often include cleaning in their packages.
Solar panel repair prices also vary considerably. Warrantied modules are swapped for new by the manufacturer, but it costs between $200 and $400 to pay for someone to remove the faulty panel and replace it with a new one. If the module isn’t covered under warranty, you can expect to pay an additional $0.75 to $1.5 per watt for a replacement panel. Fortunately, panel prices keep going down. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), for example, PV module costs have fallen by more than 70% over the past decade – with further decreases expected on the horizon.
How to Pick a Provider for Solar System Maintenance
You could bring in the original installer to provide whatever solar modules maintenance and repairs are required, but this isn’t always an option if the installer in question:
Doesn’t offer solar maintenance
Is no longer in business
Did a poor job the first time
Be prepared to expand your search. Below are some of the most important criteria to consider when shopping around for solar system maintenance providers.
1. Are They Certified and Licensed?
Work with certified solar maintenance pros who are licensed to work with PV technology and high voltage electrical equipment. Not only is this basic common sense, but failure to do so could potentially void any warranty protections your panels still enjoy.
2. Do They Have Experience with the Problem You’re Facing?
You want solar maintenance technicians who know what they’re doing and can easily identify the most likely source of any issues you’re currently facing. Competency and experience are non-negotiable when servicing a system that costs tens of thousands of dollars.
However, you don’t need overkill either. It doesn’t make sense to bring in the “A-Team” if dust build-up is the primary cause behind your PV system’s reduced output.
3. Are They Available to Fix the Issue?
This may seem like an odd point to include. But you’d be surprised how hard it can be to bring in truly qualified solar maintenance pros on short notice. Scheduling is especially difficult when demand is high—like during the busy summer months or shortly after major storms.
However, every day that your solar installation remains offline represents lost savings. So, it’s important you find someone who can fix the issue as quickly as possible.
4. Are Their Prices Transparent and Affordable?
Some solar maintenance teams are more expensive – while others are cheap upfront. As a general rule, the sooner you can get your PV system serviced, the sooner you can go back to generating clean electricity from the sun.
Solar isn’t the “set-it-and-forget-it” technology you often hear about in marketing materials. But it’s very close—particularly when coupled with solar monitoring capabilities that can help you track your PV system’s performance automatically.
With our streamlined platform, it’s possible to put your servicing needs on autopilot even more and know exactly what you will pay and what you will get upon ordering any service. There are no back-and-forth texts, e-mails, or calls. Whether for ongoing solar maintenance, scheduled cleanings, or emergency repairs, our matching technology ensures you connect with the right technician for the job—no matter how big or small.
To learn more, contact the team for additional information or a platform demo.