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.[i] 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 preventative 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.

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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 servicing 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.

[1] https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/planning-home-solar-electric-system

[1] https://www.solarunitedneighbors.org/faq/do-systems-come-with-warranties/

[1] https://www.solarreviews.com/blog/pros-and-cons-of-string-inverter-vs-microinverter

[1] https://www.solaredge.com/us/warranty

Why Preventative Maintenance is Worth the Investment

Solar is one of the most resilient energy generation technologies in the world and continuously generate 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 preventative maintenance schedule for your solar system can extend your PV system’s lifetime to 40 years. [i]

What Is Solar Preventative Maintenance?

Preventative 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 preventative maintenance also includes emergency repairs or replacements whenever issues are discovered during routine servicing.

There are no industry standards for preventative 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 Preventative 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 preventative 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 Preventative 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 preventative 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. Preventative 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%.[ii]

Either way, solar preventative 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 Preventative 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 preventative 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 preventative 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 preventative 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 preventative 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:[iii]

“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 preventative 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 Preventative Maintenance Schedule for Solar Systems

Whether as a homeowner, business owner, or facility manager, creating a solar preventative 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 preventative 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 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 preventative 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 preventative 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 Preventative 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 preventative 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 preventative 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.


[i] https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/tech-footprint.html

[ii] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/12/17/more-u-s-homeowners-say-they-are-considering-home-solar-panels/

[iii]   https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/73822.pdf

The 3G Shutdown: A Historical Account of the Networks and the Looming Sunset of 3G

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).[i] 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.[ii]However, 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. However, 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.[iii]

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 4 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 also lay 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 3G in April 2022, with 2G losing support in December of that same year. 
  • Sprint and Boost customers on T-Mobile’s network will lose 3G connectivity in January 2022.
  • Verizon will finally shut down its 3G network in December 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.[iv] 

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 2 to 3 times faster than 4G, with higher stability and less overall buffering.[v] 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.[vi] And 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.[vii]

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 us today.


[i] https://help.backmarket.com/hc/en-us/articles/360013348140-What-s-the-difference-between-CDMA-and-GSM-

[ii] Lifewire reports that these speeds are closer to 15Mbps and 30Mbps respectively for the average telecom subscriber – https://www.lifewire.com/how-fast-is-4g-wireless-service-577566

[iii] https://www.brainbridge.be/en/blog/1g-5g-brief-history-evolution-mobile-standards

[iv] https://www.rcrwireless.com/20190410/5g/the-3g-network-sunset-and-its-implications-for-iot

[v] https://www.4g.co.uk/4g-lte-advanced/


[vi] https://www.lifewire.com/5g-speed-4180992

[vii] https://medium.com/clx-forum/1-million-iot-devices-per-square-km-are-we-ready-for-the-5g-transformation-5d2ba416a984

Three Ways to Charge an EV at an Apartment Complex

Per the National Multifamily Housing Council¹, there are over 44 million renters in the United States. Of which, over 16 million live in apartments. With the electric vehicle (EV) rising in popularity, many individuals want access to charging an EV at an apartment complex.

One of the biggest barriers to owning an EV can be the lack of charging infrastructure. For those who are homeowners, it is just a matter of installing the home charger in the garage. If this applies to you, check out this article on How to Choose Your Home EV Charger. For those who are renters, however, it can get tricky. There are landlords or HOAs that own and regulate building and site improvements. You are one of these millions of apartment dwellers interested in purchasing an EV and want to charge your car.

There are a number of solutions to get charging for your EV at your apartment. This article details the various conditions and solutions to get EV charging installation at apartment sites. Furthermore, this article will also detail how to request EV charging at an apartment complex.

Typical Conditions

There are three typical parking scenarios for EV charging at apartments:

1) Personal Garage
2) Assigned Parking
3) Shared Parking

Those who have a personal garage have the least amount of friction for charging an EV at an apartment. For those with assigned or shared parking, you will have a few more hurdles; however, there are still ways to charge an EV at an apartment complex. In any case, you will need to get the approval of the property management company before any installation takes place.

Options and Ideas

Below, you will find several suggests for ways to get an EV charging station installed at an apartment complex.

Install an EV Charging at Your Apartment

Installing an EV charging station at your apartment is incredibly convenient. In fact, per the Department of Energy², 80 percent of EV drivers charge at home. This is because charging takes place overnight while the vehicle is not in use. Every morning the EV driver wakes up to a 100% charged battery just like their phone.

How to Request EV Charging at an Apartment Complex

You will need to receive permission from the property management company (or HOA if at a condominium). They will ask you a number of questions about the EV charging installation, so come prepared with an electrician or EV charging consultant at your disposal.

Common questions may involve installation costs, electricity costs responsibilities, networking costs, and insurance requirements. It also will be helpful to explain to the property management company that access to EV charging can attract and retain tenants.

Blink Electric Vehicle (EV) Charger
A Blink charger located in a mixed-use apartment complex garage in Phoenix, Arizona.

In most states, the property management company decides if they will approve or deny your request to install an EV charging station. Fortunately, some states such as California³ or Florida⁴ have EV charging access laws that prohibit landlords, property management companies, or HOAs from denying a renter or owner from installing an EV charging station at his or her own expense. It is best to request proper legal assistance on this matter before approaching management.

Community Charging for Shared Parking

For those who have shared parking, you will need to install a commercial-grade EV charging station connected to the house meter. These chargers are a bit more durable than a residential grade.

They are networked, which means they have software connected to the internet to assist with various features such as access control, payment and billing, maximum session limits, and more. This network, however, comes at a cost per connector, which can vary by network.

Usually, these network fees range from $100 to $300 per connector per year. The payment to use the station can include a minor upcharge to account for the network fees as well as the electricity cost. In other words, all of the station’s operating expenses can be passed off to the EV driver.

Since the shared parking charging station is considered a public amenity, the installation will need to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act⁵ (ADA) requirements. This includes accommodations to the size of the parking stall for accessibility loading and unloading as well as improvements to the path of travel from the parking location to the building entry. A licensed architect will be able to assist in this portion of the design process.

As you can see, proper research and steps need to be taken to install an EV charging station at an apartment complex. There are several role-players throughout the process including an architect, electrical engineer, and electrician. When the proper team is assembled, the project may proceed forward efficiently and successfully.

EV Charging for Your Personal Garage

For those who have a personal garage, then the path to install an EV charging at your apartment is frictionless. A licensed electrician will install the residential grade charger of your choice and wire it to your electrical panel in your garage. The charger is connected to your apartment meter. You will not need to pay for networking as the use and electricity costs of the station will be exclusive to you.

If your electric utility company offers time-of-use (TOU) rates, it may be cost-effective to switch to that rate schedule. With TOU, electricity rates vary depending on the time of the day. Typically, rates at night are cheaper than in the afternoon. Since most charging takes place overnight, it may be the cheapest way to charge your EV at home.

Charge Electric Car on Wall Socket or Wallbox in Apartment Building

If you find yourself in a situation where your assigned parking stall is near a wall socket, it is highly recommended to check with property management before plugging in your portable EV charger.

First, you will need to confirm who is paying for the electricity. It is likely the outlet is suited to support landscaping or maintenance, which would be connected to the house meter. If so, you will need permission from the property management company to use it.

If they refuse, then you will need to install a commercial charging station like a shared parking situation. This commercial charging station will handle who pays for electricity and network fees, which would most likely be you as the EV driver. Once installed, you will have access to overnight charging at home!

Can You Own an Electric Car if You Can’t Charge at Home?

Yes! There are many EV drivers who do not have home charging access. it is possible to own an electric car with a home charger. In fact, Tesla Joy, a Youtuber, has explained her experience in owning an EV without charging at her apartment in this video here. As Tesla Joy describes, she can drive an EV without home charging by accessing public charging stations on a weekly basis.

Public Charging

Electric Vehicle chargers come in two flavors: Level 2 and Level 3 (more commonly known as DC Fast Charging stations). Level 2 public charging stations typically require a fee to use, though there are some that are free. In fact, the public charging provider, Volta, requires no payment for use. Instead, Volta chargers include a large screen to display advertisements to people who pass by.

A Chargepoint EV Charger is located outside an office building in Phoenix, Arizona.

For stations that require payment, tap an RFID card or using the network’s app for access. This process is the same as shared parking charging stations at apartment complexes.

To find these public charging stations, download the popular app, Plugshare. The Plugshare app is crowdsourced by thousands of EV drivers. The app includes key station information such as location, number of connectors, cost, nearby amenities, photos, and user reviews.

Fast Charging Stations

For those who are traveling or want a short charging session, charge at a DC Fast Charging station. Per the name, these charging stations are very fast and powerful. For most EVs, a DC Fast Charging station can recharge from 10 percent to 80 percent in about 30 minutes per Plug in America⁶. This is enough time to stretch the legs, take a restroom break, or grab a bite to eat after a few hours of driving.

Not all DC Fast Charging stations are created equal. Variations include different plugs, cost, and charging speed. To filter out which ones don’t apply to your vehicle or your preferences, use the Plugshare app.
Altogether, these DC Fast Charging sessions are few and far between. As aforementioned, most of the charging will take place at home since it is the most convenient. In the few instances where a quick DC Fast Charging session is needed, it is just a matter of 30 minutes before you are back on the road.

Nevertheless, charging an EV at an apartment will be much easier than relying on public charging stations. For commercial EV charging installations at apartment complexes, it is highly recommended to utilize a licensed and professional technician for any EV charger maintenance, repair, or installation.

365 Pronto’s easy-to-use platform connects the property owner directly to a network of local, compliant, and certified service providers. To learn more about how to onboard and become a Pronto customer, contact the 365 Pronto Team for additional information or a platform demo.

Sources:

National Multifamily Housing Council: Quick Facts: Resident Demopgrahics¹
Department of Energy: Charging at Home²
Astanehe Law: How California Tenants are Charging at Home³
SFPMA: Electric Vehicle Charging Stations – Condominiums Going Green
American with Disabilities Act⁵
Plug in America: What is DC Fast Charging for Electric Vehicles⁶

Choosing an EV Charger for Your Home

Per the Department of Energy, 80 percent of EV drivers charge at home¹, if you’re part of this 80 percent, it’s time to choose a home EV charger that is right for you.

This is because it is incredibly convenient to do so while you sleep overnight. Just like your phone, every day you wake up to your car 100% charged and ready to take on the day. This is why one of the first questions first-time EV drivers have is, “how do I know which EV home charger is best for me?”

As you may have learned, there are dozens and dozens of EV chargers (sometimes called EVSE or Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) out there. Some say they are “Level 2” while others say they are “40 amp capable.” For the first-time EV driver, this may sound like a lot of mumble-jumble.

In this article, you’ll learn the important charging terminology and all the various home EV charger features. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to choose a home EV charger that best fits your specific needs. Like any other product, why pay more for features that you don’t need?

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Benefits of Charging Your EV at Home

There are several benefits to charging your EV at home. These benefits, such as convenience, make owning and driving an EV much simpler than people normally think. At first, it may sound difficult as it requires a bit of a behavior shift from owning an internal combustion engine vehicle, or gas car. However, after a short period of time, EV drivers quickly adapt to the new vehicle refueling routine. In fact, per a study by Plug in America, 96 percent of current EV drivers stated they are likely to buy another EV².

Convenience (Less of Your Time)

As previously mentioned, the vast majority of EV drivers charge at home. Since the car sits overnight without any use and electrical power is nearby in the garage, it is extremely convenient to charge overnight. Many say charging an EV is just like charging a phone. In most cases, it is as simple as parking, plugging, and walking away. Only in rare cases will you need to charge at a public charging station while out on the road.

Less Cost

Another benefit of charging your EV at home is that it is much cheaper than at a public charging station. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average residential electricity rate in January 2021 was $0.13 per kilowatt-hour³. In contrast, per Green Car Journal, public charging network fees vary from as little as $0.16 to $1.07 per kilowatt-hour⁴.

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Home EV Charger Factors to Consider

Now that you know a few of the benefits of charging at home, it is time to dive into how to choose your home EV charger.

Charging Speed

One of the first considerations you will need to make while you choose your home EV charger is the charging speed. A Level 1 charger (one that uses 120 volts or a regular outlet that is used for your phone or TV) is usually provided with most new EVs but is quite slow. In fact, it is usually called a “trickle charger” due to its slow speed. Typically, a Level 1 charger provides around four miles of range per hour of charging.

On the other hand, a Level 2 charger (one that uses 240 volts or an outlet for an electric dryer) can charge an EV much quicker than a Level 1 charger. Level 2 chargers are often advertised with the maximum power or amps they can charge at. The slowest is at 3.8 kW or 16A, while the fastest, is around 12 kW or 50A. In terms of range, a Level 2 charger can provide around 12 to 37 miles of range per hour of charging.

Charger Features

When it comes to features, there are two types of chargers: smart/Wi-Fi capable and non-smart/Wi-Fi capable. The smart chargers offer a variety of features such as smartphone notifications, custom charging scheduling, user and guest access control, and more. On the other hand, non-smart chargers cannot provide these features. A smart charger typically costs around $500 to $700 while a non-smart charger costs around $300.

Plug Type

There are two main types of home EV charger plugs: Tesla and J1772. The Tesla plug is proprietary only for Tesla vehicles. There are adapters available for a Level 2 Tesla charger, however, if you don’t have or don’t plan on getting a Tesla, a universal plug, the J1772, is best. The J1772 plug is the standard for all other EVs, whether it is Ford or BMW.

If in doubt, it is best to choose your home EV charger with a J1772 plug as all EVs can easily charge with it and all Tesla vehicles are supplied with a J1772 adapter.

Safety/Reliability

Safety at no expense. With many products out there, it is important to consider safety and reliability when you choose your home EV charger. Chargers reviewed and tested by the third-party testing group, UL, is a definite must when browsing. Additionally, it is worth checking online reviews to ensure the product functions as advertised. Lastly, it is key to check the warranty terms. It is a good idea to get a charger with a minimum of a one-year warranty.

Cost for Installation

The cost to install a home charger depends on a number of factors: electrician fees, outlet distance to an electrical panel, outlet voltage and amperage rating, charger hardwired or plug-in type, and more. For a simple installation where the electrical panel is located near the garage or parking location, it will take the electrician just a few hours. Per NeoCharge, it will cost around $500 to $2,250 to install a 240-volt outlet for a Level 2 charger⁵. It is highly recommended to shop around to ensure you receive the best price.

Cost for Maintenance

For many years, the home EV charger should work without any servicing or maintenance. The vast majority of the parts are non-moving, therefore, there should be little that wears down over time. If there is a part of the charger that is to fail, it will likely be the plug. As you can imagine, that component is used a number of times each day. Fortunately, the cost to replace the cable and plug is relatively inexpensive. Per EV Charging Solutions, a replacement cable will cost around $100⁶.

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How to Choose the Right Vendor

Once you have selected the right home EV charger for you, it is time to select the vendor. Each vendor may have different pricing, however, not all will include maintenance contracts or extended warranties.

Maintenance Contracts

While EV chargers last for many years, they, like all things, will eventually need servicing. To avoid the stress of figuring out how to charge your EV when your home EV charger malfunctions, it could be beneficial to sign a maintenance contract with the vendor or better yet, become a 365 Pronto customer for hassle-free EV charger operations and maintenance. This peace of mind will ensure the charger is functioning properly over time so that your vehicle can stay fully charged when needed.

Warranties

As aforementioned, each home charger should come with at least a basic warranty of one year. In addition, it could be a good idea to also get an extended warranty from the vendor. This additional warranty would cover parts and labor after a few years of ownership. Like the maintenance contract, it can bring peace of mind.

For any EV charger maintenance, repair, or installation, 365 Pronto’s easy-to-use platform connects you and your EV asset directly to a network of local, compliant, and certified service providers. It’s as simple as creating a work order in under three minutes and a push notification is sent to local, on-demand providers in your area waiting to fill the gaps in their calendars. To learn more about how to onboard and become a Pronto customer, contact the 365 Pronto Team for additional information or a platform demo.

Sources:

Department of Energy: Charging at Home¹
Plug in America: Satisfied Drivers, Optimistic Intenders²
U.S. Energy Information Administration: Average Electricity Rates³
Green Car Journal: What Does Public Charging Cost?
NeoCharge: How Much Does it Cost to Install a Home Charging Station?
EV Charging Solutions: Replacement Cables

Making the Most of an EV Charger Rebate and Incentives

Being an electric vehicle (EV) owner reaps many benefits. An EV charger rebate or other federal incentives for residential and commercial EV charger owners is an added bonus. There are nearly 100,000 public charging outlets for EVs across the country; however, many turn to install home EV chargers for easy overnight charging.


Depending on your EV’s battery capacity and the electrical outlets you have at home, a dedicated home EV charger can be installed. They do come at a price, however. Fortunately, there are lots of tax rebates and cost-saving incentives available for buying and installing EV chargers.

We cover reasons to charge at home, types of EV chargers, and how to take advantage of federal incentives.

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Why Charge at Home?

There are several reasons why you would install a dedicated EV charger at home.


The main reason is convenience — simply plug your EV in when you get home. Your vehicle battery is topped off while you sleep, ensuring you have enough range to get to where you want to go the next day.

Home EV chargers make for easy and convenient overnight charging.

EV chargers become more affordable via available tax rebates lower rates at night or other off-peak times. Off-peak times refer to the times of day or days of the week when electricity use is the lowest and the rates are often lower than the basic service price (Electric Rate, 2021).


Under current legislation, the federal tax incentives for EV chargers expire at the end of 2021.

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Types of EV Chargers Available

Currently, there are three types, or levels, of EV chargers. The most inexpensive and basic EV charger is a Level 1, typically included at the purchase of an electric vehicle. Level 2 chargers are dedicated EV chargers for residential use, but require a professional electrician to perform the installation. The most powerful chargers are Level 3. These are typically reserved for commercial use only.

The differences between Level 1, 2, and 3 Electric Vehicle Chargers.

To choose the right EV charger, you’ll want to consider several factors.


First, your EV may come with a battery of a certain size. For a given voltage, or the larger the battery is, the longer it takes to charge. If it takes more than 10+ hours to charge an EV battery using a level 1 charger, charging time can be cut in half by installing a level 2 charger.


Second, consider how often and how far you drive each day. If you drive significantly less than 60 miles per day, a level 1 charger would suffice as it can charge up to five miles per hour for 12 hours for a total range of 60 miles.

More than 60 miles per day of driving would require a level 2 charger, resulting in a range of 360 miles.


It is important to check the voltages of your electric outlets to confirm they can support a level 2 charger. If not, you may need to have it professionally installed by an electrician. Federal tax incentives and rebates often cover much of the installation costs.


In most cases, the best option for residential users is a level 2 charger as they afford full overnight charging. Some chargers are even programmable! If you run a lot of errands on weekends, you can also top your car off in between errands. Finally, tax rebates make level 2 EV chargers affordable for most people, while level 1 chargers are not typically covered.

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Who Offers Home Charging Incentives and Why?

Incentives for charging your EV at home are offered by the federal government, the state government in the state in which you reside, and your power company if they offer charging discounts at off-peak times.


The federal government offers a 30% tax rebate for both home chargers and commercial chargers (typically referred to as Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment, or EVSE). EV chargers are eligible for federal tax rebates until December 31, 2021.


Some states and their electric companies offer incentives in addition to the federal tax rebate, including but not limited to the following:

  • California: Many power companies offer $500 rebates toward home EV charger installations.
  • Arizona: State provides a $75 tax credit for EV charger installations. Tucson Electric Power (TEP) offers $500 rebates for installations and discounts for off-peak charging.
  • Colorado: Rebates of $250-500 towards EV charger purchases are available.
  • Connecticut and New York: Clearview Energy offers free EV charging from 11 PM to 6 AM. Groton Utilities offers a $600 rebate for a level 2 EV charger, while PSEG Long Island offers a $500 rebate.
  • Texas: Most companies offer rebates of $250-500 for level 2 EV chargers. Austin Energy offers a 50% rebate (maximum $1,200) to cover purchase and installation of a level 2 EV charger

To find rebates and incentives in your own state, go to Alternative Fuels Data Center, click the Incentives tab, and click your state to find a complete list.


Why do governments and power companies offer such generous rebates and incentives? They have emission reduction goals and sustainability objectives to meet in a short time frame, so they want to incentivize consumer shift to clean power while encouraging the development of an e-mobility industry.

Many cities and states have strong reasons to promote EV adoption locally.


Utilities aim to reduce the load on their electric grids. To incentivize the shift of EV charging from costly peak usage toward less costly off-peak usage, they offer lower rates when charging during off-peak hours.

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What Types of Incentives Are Available?

To better understand what tax incentives are available, it’s important to be aware that there are different types (levels) of charging stations. The first two types are available for residences, and the third type is only for commercial use.

Residential Use

On average, a charging station installed at a residence costs between $250 and $1,900. There are two types of charging stations for residences, level 1 and level 2. The hardware cost of a level 1 EV charging station usually lies in the lower end of the price range, and the level 2 charger toward the higher end.


The tax incentive:


You can save up to $1,000 on buying and installing an EV charging station at home. Specifically, with the EV charger tax credit, you get 30% off the cost of the charging station up to $1,000, including both hardware and installation costs (The Environmental Center, 2020).

Commercial Use

While level 1 and 2 chargers are suitable for light-duty EVs, the level 3 charger is much larger in size and is designed to charge heavy-duty EVs for commercial use. They are not available for home installations.


This type of charging station supports much larger voltages and thus can charge heavy-duty EVs much faster than level 1 or 2 chargers. Although level 3 charging stations are much more expensive, running between $20,000 to $50,000 each, they can support 480-800 volts and charge 250-300 miles per hour over only 20-30 minutes.


The tax incentive:


You can get a 30% tax credit of up to $30,000 for installing a level 3 charging station at your place of business by December 31, 2021 (The Environmental Center, 2020).

Rebate Also Covers Installation Costs

Installations can be expensive because labor charges for electricians can run you $50-100 per hour.


Assuming you already have a garage, installation costs such as wiring, wall connections, as well as a permit can add another few hundred dollars to your total costs. In some cases, you may need to add a circuit to support 240 volts in your garage, costing around $700 on average.


Fortunately, EV charger tax rebates can help cover these installation costs. You can retroactively apply for rebates for installs done as early as 2017. (Source: The Environmental Center)

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How Do I Get the EV Charger Rebate?

Obtaining an EV charger rebate can increasing saving on an EV purchase, EV charger hardware, and installation costs.


However, EV charger rebates aren’t typically awarded for level 1 chargers. An EV charge rebate will require a purchase of a level 2 EV charger installed by an electrician.


A professional installation is often required for the rebate, so for that reason — and for your own safety — don’t try to install it yourself.

Required documents

To get awarded the rebate, you’ll need to supply the following documentation along with Form 8911 of your tax return (see instructions):

  • DMV registration of your EV
  • EV purchase or lease agreement
  • Receipt or invoice for the charger
  • Photo of installed charger
  • Receipt from the installer
  • Local permits (if applicable)

Keep in mind that you need to purchase and install the charging station at your home by December 31, 2021, to be eligible for the rebate.


Further reading: What Is Form 8911: Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Property Credit

What if I live in an apartment or condo?

You can still get the rebate, but you may be required to take additional steps because part of the process falls on the property manager’s responsibility.

First, let your property manager or HOA know about commercial EV charging incentives, many of which are applicable to multifamily properties.

Second, ask if community chargers for shared parking and personal chargers for assigned parking are available. Some suppliers of EV chargers do work with property managers to set them up at your residence.

Some states such as California, Colorado, Florida, and Oregon — to name a few — have “right to charge” laws that allow you to use an EV charger at home, whether it is a house or apartment, or condo. Check with your state and local authorities to see if this applies to you.

To learn more about how to install an EV charger at your apartment complex, read our blog Three Ways to Charge an EV at an Apartment Complex.

Expected cost and savings

You can reasonably expect to spend roughly $1,500-2,000 on purchasing and installing a level 2 charger,d to get a 30% rebate to help defray those costs.

Plus, charging an EV will cost the typical consumer between 3.5 and 12 cents per mile driven. This is in comparison to a gas-powered vehicle that costs between 4.4 and 39 cents per mile driven (JDPower, 2021).

These efficiencies result in 40% lower maintenance costs and up to $10,000 in lifetime fueling costs. Finally, utility companies often provide discounts of 5% off your electricity bill if you use your EV charger, especially during off-peak times.

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Next Steps

To learn more about installing an EV charging station, use the 365 Pronto platform to gain direct access to a network of local, compliant, and certified service providers. Our world-class team can help you get started today.


I already have an EV charger installed. Now what?


You still have a chance to save on operations and maintenance costs for your EV charging equipment by becoming a Pronto customer, or contact our 365 Pronto Team and request a demo before you try.


One final point: unless Congress renews them, the EV charger tax credits expire December 31, 2021, so take action now before it’s too late!

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%.[i] 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%.[ii] 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[WU4]. 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.[iii]


    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. 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.[iv]


    When it comes to solar panel cleaning service cost:

  • 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.
  • [v]

    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.


    References:

    [i]https://www.irishellas.com/files/Analysis-of-dust-losses-in-photovoltaic-modules_2011.pdf
    [ii]https://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/pressrelease/cleaning_solar_panels_often_not_worth_the_cost_engineers_at_uc_san_diego_fi
    [iii]https://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-market-insight-report-2020-q2“[iv]https://www.fixr.com/costs/solar-panel-maintenance#solar-panel-cleaning-cost“[v]https://www.fixr.com/costs/solar-panel-maintenance#solar-panel-cleaning-cost

    All You Need to Know About Federal Incentives for EV Charging Stations

    Shopping for an electric vehicle (EV)? Some may be more expensive than gasoline-powered cars, and you’d need to charge their batteries when not in use. But there are state and federal EV charging incentives to help defray those costs, and even save you money in the long term.

    Maintenance costs are for electric vehicles are 40% lower than a gas-powered vehicles.

    According to AutoNews, your maintenance costs would be 40% lower for an electric vehicle (EV) than a gas-powered vehicle of similar size over eight years or 100,000 miles. Plus, research done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows that you could save between $3,000 and $10,500 in lifetime fueling costs with an EV over a gas-powered vehicle (NREL, 2020).


    In this article, we’ll explore these incentives and other considerations such as setting up a charger at home, battery capacity, charging time, hardware, and installation costs.

    Federal EV Charging Incentives in 2021

    In many cases, you could get a tax credit of up to $7,500 to buy a new qualified plug-in EV.


    The plug-in EV credit (IRC 30D) was originally enacted in Section 30D of the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008. It was amended by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 effective for vehicles acquired after December 31, 2009.

    How much is the EV tax credit?


    This credit starts at a minimum of $2,500 and is capped at a maximum of $7,500. The credit amount is calculated for each make and model-based solely on their battery capacity, which is used to estimate the EV’s range on a full charge (My EV, 2019).


    According to EV Adoption, the IRS uses the size of the battery pack to calculate the EV tax credit, as long as the battery capacity is at least 5 kilowatt-hours (kWh). They start with $2,500 for a minimum of a 5 kWh battery pack, plus $417 for all battery packs. Then here’s the important part: they add $417 for every kWh of battery capacity in excess of 5 kWh.


    If, for example, you buy an EV with a 10 kWh battery pack, the IRS will give you a tax credit of $5,002:

    Breakdown of a tax credit scenario for an EV with a 10 kWh battery.

    Which manufacturers produce qualified EVs?

    It is easy to check whether an EV qualifies for a tax credit and for how much. You can check the IRS list with federal EV charging incentives for the exact credit amounts.


    You could also reference another list from Edmunds which shows the credits for both EVs and plug-in hybrids.


    Here are a few examples:

    • With a large battery of 33.5 kWh, a Ford Focus Electric manufactured between 2012 and 2018 gets you a full credit of $7,500.
    • A Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid with an 8.8 kWh battery produced after 2019 gets you a credit of $4,502.
    • With a smaller battery size of 7.1 kWh, a BMW i8 manufactured between 2014 to 2017 gets you a credit of $3,793.

    Read the fine print before you buy an EV

    As with any tax incentive, there are conditions you need to meet before you are eligible to receive the credit. The EV must be:

    • Acquired after December 31, 2009.
    • Owned or leased by the taxpayer and not used for resale.
    • Used primarily by the taxpayer.
    • Used predominantly in the United States.
    • Have batteries rated at least 4KWh of energy storage capacity.
    • Capable of being recharged from an external source.

    These tax credits will eventually be phased out if a manufacturer has already sold a minimum of 200,000 qualified plug-in EVs for use in the United States.

    Tesla and GM have sold 200,000 each, thus are no more tax credits for EVs produced by these manufacturers. Be sure to double-check with the specific manufacturer before you buy, or check the phase-out tracker by EVAdoption.


    For more information, read the IRS Pub 8911. If you are looking to receive the tax credit, download the 8911 form to file your tax return.

    Federal EV Tax Credits for Charging Stations


    Not only do you get a tax credit when buying or leasing an EV, but you also get tax incentives for purchasing and installing an EV charging station at your home or business. These federal EV charging incentives can help offset the cost of hardware as well as installation costs, including labor charges.


    For more details, check out our article on tax incentives associated with purchasing and installing EV charging stations.

    Examples of Incentives Per State

    Are there any state tax credits you can also take advantage of?

    Yes, but many of these apply only to businesses. Some state incentives come as exemptions from fees or inspections, while others are nonmonetary incentives like free parking or carpool lane access.

    Here are a few examples:

    California

    The Clean Vehicle Rebate Program provides up to $7,000 to each California resident if they buy or lease a new, eligible zero-emission battery-powered EV, or plug-in hybrid light-duty vehicle, or a fuel-cell EV. Similar to the federal incentive program, different vehicles have different rebate amounts.

    Current funding is nearly exhausted in 2021. Once these rebate funds are exhausted, additional applications will be placed on a waiting list.


    Colorado

    The state has its own set of state incentives with different amounts for light vs. heavy-duty, owned vs. leased EVs. Residents can get a $2,000 credit for leasing a light-duty EV, or $4,000 for purchasing it outright (Alternative Fuels Data Center, 2021).


    New York

    State EV incentives in New York are similar to those of California but much smaller, capped at only $2,000. However, they have thousands of charging stations throughout the state, and PEVs are eligible for HOV lane access with a 10% discount on EZ tag toll road fees (NYSERDA, 2021).

    Useful maps of State Incentives

    A neat tool you can use to find the state incentives you’re eligible for based on your state or zip code is available at the Plug In America website.


    You could click on your state for an overview of the available incentives, or continue to PlugStar, enter your zip code to pull up the incentives available to you based on where you live.


    Another tool at the Alternative Fuels Data Center allows you to sort incentives by state and type. There, you will find incentives not just for EV, but also fuel cell vehicles, hybrid vehicles, along with other rebates and exemptions.

    Here are a few ways you can take advantage of these credits and start saving money.

    How do I get started with installing an EV charging station and get the tax credit?

    You can either install it at your place of residence or at your office, using a qualified and compliant service provider. To learn more about installing an EV charging station, use the 365 Pronto platform to get direct access to a network of local, compliant, and certified service providers.

    What if I already have an EV charger installed?

    You can reduce your maintenance costs and headaches by becoming a Pronto customer and create a corresponding work order. If you want a platform demo before trying us out, contact our 365 Pronto Team and request one.

    Sources

    Solar Panel Repair: A Comprehensive Guide

    Solar panel repair isn’t something the average business or homeowner has on their radar. Photovoltaic (PV) technology is should be able to withstand:

    • Heavy usage
    • Power surges
    • Falling hail

    However, any number of things can (and will) happen to your PV panels over the 25 years of their warrantied lifetimes. Worse still, a surprising number of these issues technically lie outside the manufacturer’s warranty.

    A solar technician works to properly install solar modules on an angled roof.
    A technician works to properly install solar modules on an angled roof.

    If your own PV installation is dealing with issues that solar panel cleaning can’t resolve, this comprehensive guide will help you navigate the repair and replacement process – complete with information on:

    • Solar Panel Repair Defined
    • Common Solar Repairs and Issues
    • How to Repair Damaged Solar Panels
    • Costs to Repair Solar Systems
    • Who Is Responsible for Solar Repairs?
    • How to Pick a Good Provider for Solar Panel Repairs

    Let’s dive in.

    Section divider

    Solar Panel Repair Defined

    Solar panel repair involves the full spectrum of fixes, upgrades, and replacements required to bring a broken or underperforming installation back online. In some cases, it’s just a single solar panel that needs intervention. Other times, technicians may need to repair or replace other components in the system, including inverters, batteries, or electrical wiring. This level of troubleshooting is often called “solar system repair.”

    But wait. Why do PV systems malfunction in the first place?

    Common Solar System Repairs and Issues

    With no moving parts, solar panels experience very little wear and tear. This is precisely why manufacturers can confidently ship their modules with 25 years of warranty protection. However, that warranty coverage doesn’t protect you from a laundry list of factors that can negatively impact your installation’s performance, including:

    • Falling debris
    • Micro-cracks
    • Shoddy workmanship
    • Power surges
    • Bird droppings and pests
    • Tremors and natural disasters
    Cracked solar panel on roof-mounted system can be easily replaced or swapped out by a qualified technician.
    Cracked solar panel on roof-mounted system.

    (For a full list of potential problems, be sure to read our companion guide on Solar Panel Maintenance).
    The other major components in the system also come with warranties, although they tend to be shorter. For example:

    • Batteries normally come with 5 to 10 years of protection
    • Inverters are covered from 5 to 12 years on average

    Then there are other parts like wires, switches, nuts, and bolts – all of which can malfunction – none of which normally ship with warranties. So even if your panels continue performing as promised, you’ll still need to bring in a technician to repair or replace various components as they reach the ends of their useful lifetimes.

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    Can Damaged Solar Panels Be Repaired?

    The short answer is “yes.” There are solar appliances repair companies that specialize in fixing a range of PV components – including broken modules. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

    • Solar appliance repair companies don’t always provide removal or re-installation services, so you’ll still need to find a technician to help with these steps.
    • Most broken panels go off-site for repairs. If you have a string inverter, one missing module could severely hurt your installation’s performance due to the way older PV systems are designed.
    • Sending your modules to a third-party vendor could void the original manufacturer’s warranty. But you might qualify for a newer (albeit shorter) warranty from the solar panel repair technician.

    Leaving a cracked panel in place may sound tempting. After all, it can probably still generate some power. However, exposure to the elements could lead to electrical shortages or worse if water seeps into the cracks.

    By contrast, replacing the module eliminates these risks. It also reduces the amount of time your system is off-line since a solar panel repair technician can remove the old module and install a new one in a single visit. Installing replacement panels often provides a power boost if the modules being added rely on newer technology.

    While repairing a broken panel is possible, it is not recommended.

    If you’re still on the fence, consider this blunt analysis from the Solar Engineering Group¹:

    "Once a solar panel is compromised; there's no way to fix it. While it will still work, you can't reach parts that have broken off... PV panels require the cells to be completely sealed to allow optimum performance. The only way to repair the damage for optimum output is to replace the panel."
    The best way to repair solar panel damage is to replace the panel.

    Costs to Repair Solar Systems

    Prices vary depending on the scope of the issue and which components require troubleshooting. The location of your PV system installation can matter. Ground-mounted solar panels are easier to access, repair, and replace than rooftop modules are.

    However, there are rough averages for the industry.

    1. Solar Panel Repair Costs

    According to the home improvement platform, Modernize, solar panel removal costs anywhere from $300 to $500 per module. If you are repairing a broken panel, the expected costs can be $200 to $1,000.

    The cost for replacement panels depends on current retail market prices. But according to Consumer Affairs, you should budget $200 to $250 per module. Labor costs are harder to pin down. But EnergySage estimates that when you combine labor and hardware together, you’ll spend $2.40 to $3.22 per installed watt. With most residential solar modules rated between 250 and 400 watts, this means paying between $600 and $1,288 total per panel.

    2. Solar Inverter Repair Costs

    According to the contracting portal, Thumbtack, you can expect to pay $1,200 to $2,500 for a new string inverter and $100 to $250 for a microinverter. However, you also need to add between $250 to $500 for labor.

    3. Solar Battery Repair Costs

    Batteries range from $5,000 to $7,000. But according to EnergySage, you can easily spend double this amount once you factor in labor costs.

    Section divider

    Who Is Responsible for Solar Repairs?

    It depends on the issue. If the panel itself is faulty, for example, the responsibility likely falls to the manufacturer. You should qualify for a free replacement module – although labor costs will likely be an out-of-pocket expense. However, all of this is assuming the original manufacturer is still in business, and thus, in a position to honor its warranty.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

    If shoddy installation workmanship is the source of the issue, one can make a good case that the installer is responsible for any repairs. This is especially true if that installer offers workmanship warranties or performance guarantees.

    However, you may want to think twice before working with that contractor again. If they did a poor job the first time, you could be setting yourself up for more disappointment. In addition, the installer may be more incentivized to fix the panel instead of replacing it – keeping costs low for them.

    This again assumes the original installer is still in business by the time you need help. If they don’t exist anymore, then neither does your protection.
    In all other cases, repairs and replacements will likely be out-of-pocket for you – the system owner. However, solar panel repair is not a DIY job since you’d be working with:

    • High-voltage electrical equipment (often grid-connected)
    • Permitting and utility approvals that require licensed technicians
    • Safety gear and harnesses (when troubleshooting rooftop systems)

    In addition, opening up the hood yourself potentially voids any warranty agreements you might still have. As such, handling repairs on your own simply isn’t worth the personal, legal, or financial risk.
    You’re much better off outsourcing the job to a professional solar repair technician.

    Section divider

    How to Pick a Good Provider for Solar Panel Repairs

    There are many criteria to consider. But the most important ones are:

    • Experience and qualifications: given the safety concerns outlined above, you want licensed professionals with extensive experience in electrical engineering.
    • Speed and availability: finding someone to do the job on short notice can be a real challenge – particularly if there are warranty agreements involved. Always look for a service team that can do the job quickly and with minimal paperwork.
    • Transparency and pricing: you want a solar appliance repair team that offers transparent pricing with no surprises and zero haggling. This can be difficult since the average customer has no idea what solar repairs should cost. Thankfully, you do now.
    Section divider

    Let Us Help You Find the Right Solar System Repair Team for the Job

    PV technology is marketed as a low-maintenance investment that delivers nothing but benefits for decades. But the reality is very different. Although solar is cheaper, cleaner, and more durable than nearly every other power-generation technology on the planet – it’s not immune to everything.

    If you’re facing issues with your own PV system, we can help. Our matching platform can quickly connect you with qualified, knowledgeable, and affordable solar panel repair technicians in your area who can help troubleshoot whatever problems you’re facing – from cracked modules to faulty inverters to dust build-up.

    Leaves and dust accumulate on a roof mounted solar systems causing ga reduction in output.
    Leaves and dust build-up can be easily removed with regularly scheduled solar panel maintenance.

    Use our solar matching technology to find the right team for the job. That way, you can go back to saving money and helping the planet as quickly as possible.

    To get started, schedule a free demo with us today.

    Sources:

    Use Solar Monitoring to Ensure Optimal Peak System Performace

    Through solar monitoring, system owners can access their system’s performance anytime, anywhere. Photovoltaic (PV) panels run silently in the background as they generate free energy from the sun’s rays. This silent operation makes it difficult to tell how much energy is being produced or whether the PV system is even working at all. Determining this requires carefully analyzing utility statements – some of which only get sent out a few times a year.

    Inspecting monthly or quarterly electricity bills is impractical for the average homeowner. This is especially true with technology like solar PV that is heralded for being “maintenance-free.” Small business owners are often in the same boat. They realize solar is a great way to control costs – but not if those savings required directing time and attention to utility bills instead of to their actual businesses.

    This problem only compounds as the size of the PV installation grows. For example, manually checking energy production levels across a large-scale solar farm is essentially impossible. This is because each individual panel generates variable output every second, with some of the largest solar facilities featuring many thousands of modules.

    Faced with these challenges, PV power producers (and the installers who work with them) are increasingly turning to solar monitoring technology.

    What Is Solar Monitoring?

    Solar panel monitoring software basically “monitors” the energy production levels of PV systems. The process requires connecting solar installations to:

    • Sensors that can detect solar power output in real time.
    • Receivers that can transmit this data via router to Web-based dashboards, solar monitoring apps, or even to the utility-scale distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) that grid operators use to monitor and stabilize the electricity network.

    Many modern solar monitoring systems come with notification support that alerts PV system owners whenever there are deviations in energy generation. With any solar installation, it’s natural to see fluctuations in power output throughout the day – or as the seasons change. Having solar activity monitoring in place provides users with a baseline against which to compare production levels across similar time frames (e.g. July of this year vs. July of last year).

    The emergence of machine learning technology now enables some monitoring platforms to automatically factor in real-time weather and cloud cover data when accounting for potential dips in output. Some solar panel monitoring software can also compare production levels of similarly-sized PV systems in the region to determine how closely one’s own installation is performing.

    The Benefits of Solar Monitoring Software

    For most homeowners and businesses, solar is an investment whose returns are measured in:

    • Money saved – in the form of reduced grid reliance and lower utility bills
    • Carbon offsets – thanks to fossil fuel avoidance and less pollution

    And as with any investment, the goal is to maximize these returns over the useful lifetime of the PV system, with most panels coming with at least 25 years of warranty protection. 

    Accomplishing this means occasionally repairing solar panels or some of the other PV system components whenever necessary. And monitoring helps achieve this by automatically sending alerts whenever the system detects sudden and unexplainable dips in power output. The user can then bring in a technician for any necessary repairs or replacements.

    However, protecting one’s solar investment also means using preventative maintenance to keep their PV system in optimal working order. Because scheduled maintenance is done yearly, minor issues can go undetected for as long as 12 months. This doesn’t mean that the PV system is necessarily broken. But long stretches of reduced output mean the user won’t generate the financial and environmental returns they were expecting.

    Here again, solar activity monitoring can help.

    Monitoring helps users quickly identify performance dips as they happen. And this allows them to bring in technicians to optimize their installations and help them reclaim lost utility bills and carbon savings.

    How Do Solar Monitoring Systems Work?

    Most solar PV monitoring solutions are sector-specific, with different tools available for residential and commercial customers vs. industrial and utility-scale power producers. 

    With most platforms, however:

    • The monitoring software is connected to the PV system’s inverter(s) using wireless sensors and receivers that communicate with the home or business’s WiFi router.
    • The monitoring system collects real-time solar production data throughout the day – allowing the owner to track output and verify that their PV system is performing as it should.

    As solar activity monitoring software evolves, however, newly developed features continue to expand with the technology can do.  

    Modern Solar Monitoring Capabilities

    Below are just some of the most recent features and add-ons that frequently come standard with many modern solar monitoring systems.

    1. Email and Text Auto-Alerts

    Auto notifications eliminate the need for PV system owners to regularly check performance statistics. Instead, alerts are instantly sent to the user whenever deviations in solar output are detected. Some monitoring solutions can also be configured to send performance alerts to installers. Doing so is a wise investment for PV contractors who offer service agreements or performance guarantees to their clients.

    2. Performance Tracking

    For those who do like to check the numbers, newer solar panel monitoring platforms come with performance tracking that shows historic data:

    how many kilowatt-hours were generated daily, weekly, annually – or even throughout the entire PV system’s operational lifetime?

    3. Panel-Level Monitoring

    Most solar monitoring solutions are configured to track system-wide performance, but some newer software platforms come with panel-specific monitoring capabilities. This level of granular control makes it easier to identify the exact cause and location of potential issues. Just keep in mind that panel-level monitoring requires installing microinverters for each individual module in the solar installation.

    4. Anytime-Anywhere Access

    Many of the earliest solar monitoring software solutions were only accessible via locally connected computers. As a result, one had to be on-site to check their PV system’s performance stats.

    However, most of today’s monitoring platforms now come with cloud access, allowing users to check their numbers from any Web browser. Many software solutions also come with dedicated smartphone apps.

    5. Solar Consumption Data

    Solar monitoring technology was originally created to track production data – i.e. how much clean energy a PV system generates across a given timeframe. But for optimal savings, it’s important users know how much of this solar energy they’re using on the spot, storing in on-site batteries, or sending into the grid. 

    This real-time consumption data is particularly important for PV system owners enrolled in programs like net energy metering (NEM) or feed-in tariffs. Both incentives reward users for any excess solar electricity they feed into the utility grid.

    Types of Solar Monitoring Systems

    Although all solar monitoring platforms are designed for the same purpose, they’re often categorized into three different groups (or types of providers).

    1. Monitoring from Inverter Manufacturers

    Manufacturers like SMA SolarEnphase, and SolarEdge all offer native solar monitoring support for their inverters. This service is typically free when using that manufacturer’s specific inverter technology.

    2. Monitoring from Installers and Panel Producers

    Some of the largest solar installers and panel manufacturers now offer monitoring support – including SunPower. In addition, those who own Tesla electric vehicles (EV’s) or its PowerWall storage solutions can now track PV power production levels through the company’s dedicated smartphone app

    3. Monitoring from Third-Party Providers

    The final group of solar monitoring providers is standalone software and hardware developers – most of whom neither manufacturer nor install solar PV technology themselves. These third-party providers specialize in-home energy monitoring systems in which the trackers and sensors are connected to the property’s main breaker panel. 

    Some of these third-party solutions use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to determine what portion of the electricity flowing through a user’s home is coming from the grid versus the PV system’s solar panels. CurbSense, and Emporia all fall into this category.

    There’s technically a 4th category of solar activity monitoring.

    Many utilities use DERMS software to collect real-time production levels from all the distributed energy resources connected to the grid – including intermittent ones like rooftop solar installations and privately owned wind turbines. These utilities often use AI-powered DERMS technology to help them track and manage terabytes of real-time production data across the grid to help make the entire electricity network more reliable.  

    At this scale, monitoring isn’t about detecting issues in any given panel or PV system. It’s about managing and optimizing the electricity grid as a whole.

    Potential Limitations of Solar Monitoring Software

    Solar panel monitoring was created to help PV system owners detect problems. But what if the monitoring platform itself faces issues?

    For example, IT glitches are commonplace in today’s hyper-digital world, with everything from phones to computers to “smart” toasters needing the occasional reboot or update. And the same is true with solar monitoring. The technology provides peace of mind, freeing users from the responsibility of regularly tracking performance stats. But it’s still important that users check in once in a while to make sure production levels are being captured accurately.

    An even bigger concern is the impending 3G Network Shutdown.

    Many of the routers, sensors, and receivers used to capture and send solar production data to rely on 2G and 3G bandwidth. But throughout 2021 and 2022, these devices will all lose connectivity as major US telecom carriers phase out support for older cellular technologies in favor of the newer 4G and 5G standards. In fact, any residential, commercial, or industrial solar monitoring technology dependent on legacy routers will need to be upgraded at some point before 2023 to continue collecting and sharing production data.

    Steps to Troubleshooting a Solar PV System

    What exactly should a PV system owner do if their solar monitoring software alerts them to a potential problem in the installation? It ultimately depends on the issue – and how the solar monitoring platform is configured.

    If the monitoring solution tracks performance at the panel level, it’s relatively easy to pinpoint the location of the problem. There might even be an error message indicating the exact type of problem – whether it’s a broken panel or slipped wires.

    If the monitoring solution tracks performance at the system level, identifying the location of the problem becomes more challenging. And installation owners may need to go through the DIY checklist below to pinpoint potential sources of the issue:

    • For most power-related problems, the best place to start is with the breaker switches in the electrical panel. More specifically, users should check to see if their own fuses are in the “off” position when they shouldn’t be.
    • Next, the user should check the inverter boxes. Steady green lights typically mean that the inverter is performing correctly. Red, yellow, or flashing lights normally indicate that the inverter is experiencing some kind of problem.
    • The final step involves checking the panels themselves for debris, fallen branches, dust accumulation, or excessive pollen buildup. Although washing panels can be a DIY job, be sure to read our longer article on why you should always bring in a professional cleaner that specializes in solar PV technology.

    If none of the above steps are enough to isolate the issue, the PV system owner will need to bring in a licensed professional to perform more detailed diagnostics. The average user should never attempt repairs, replacements, or optimizations on their own since doing so involves working with high-voltage electrical equipment. In addition to safety concerns, troubleshooting one’s own PV system could void warranty protections for the individual components in the system. And there’s also the very real possibility that maintenance performed by amateurs will only make the problem worse.

    This is why solar installation owners should always bring in a licensed and trained technician to source the problem, make any necessary repairs, and help restore the PV system to its full production capacity. 

    An Easier, Faster, and Cheaper Way to Repair Solar PV Systems

    Whether the goal is to save money or protect the planet, solar monitoring is an increasingly essential component of modern PV systems. However, monitoring itself can’t automatically fix issues. The technology can only detect them. And PV system owners still need to bring in professionals who can diagnose system-wide problems and implement the most appropriate solutions.

    However, finding the right technicians for the job can prove challenging. There is no guarantee that the repair team brought in to troubleshoot the system is experienced and competent in the technology-specific to that customer’s solar installation.

    And this is where 365 Pronto can help.

    Our software platform can analyze a PV system’s exact DNA – based on variables like location, size, components, and even local weather conditions. It then uses this DNA profile to instantly match each solar installation with the most appropriate service repair teams, regardless of the underlying problem – whether it’s a faulty inverter, dislodged panel, or glitchy monitoring software. 

    To learn how our solar matching technology can help make repairing PV installations cheaper, easier, and faster, visit our About Page today.