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.
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:
- Solar panels are normally covered for 20 to 25 years
- 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.
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.
Our platform 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.