Solar System Maintenance: A Comprehensive Guide
Congratulations! If you are reading this, you've probably already made the excellent decision to buy a solar power kit. You've installed it, you've fired up your lights, and you've earned bragging rights with all of your friends and family. So - now what?
Solar kits are sold as low maintenance, but they aren't exactly no maintenance. The good news is that solar power kits are easy to maintain and even repair. Looking after your solar kit means you'll enjoy independent, free solar power for years to come. In this article, we'll teach you how to keep your solar kit in peak condition.
Does a Solar Power System Need Maintenance?
The short answer is yes, your solar kit will need maintenance. The good news is that it will require a lot less maintenance than traditional power sources. Solar power systems can operate for more than a decade with very little interference, but like anything else, you may run into issues that need your urgent attention to keep your solar power system performing at its best.
How Does a Solar System Work?
Before we dive into maintenance, let's first understand how a solar power system works.
Solar panels convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity, which is then sent to the charge controller. The charge controller regulates the amount of electricity going into the battery bank, preventing overcharging or undercharging.
The batteries store the electricity generated by the panels, making them available for use when needed. From the battery bank, the inverter converts the DC electricity to alternating current (AC) electricity, which is used to power appliances in the home.
What Can Go Wrong with a Solar Power System?
Your solar power system is designed to be pretty hardy, but things can go wrong from
time to time. Here are a few of the issues you might experience over time:
If you encounter a severe storm, falling debris like twigs and dirt can cause damage to your panels. Small scratches can affect the overall energy efficiency because they reduce the amount of solar energy the panel can absorb.
Think of those pesky scratches on your favorite sunglasses. The scratches hinder the sun from shining directly on the panel cells. Heavier debris like acorns or falling branches can lead to even more damage, so you should ensure that your panels are installed away from trees. (Or just keep those branches trimmed, like your wife's been nagging you to do for weeks, Jim!)
Bird droppings or debris
Have you ever noticed how birds seem to love unloading on a freshly washed car? The same applies to solar panels. Bird droppings aren't so corrosive that they will damage your solar panels, but bird droppings, dirt, and fallen leaves will obscure the sunlight and lead to hot-spotting. Like with your car, hosing down your panels from time to time will solve the issue, but you may also want to invest in an owl decoy or anti-nesting devices to keep the birds at bay.
Batteries can become damaged or fail over time, resulting in decreased performance. One of the common problems is that the battery drains quickly. This could be due to aging, short circuits, and overloading. It is crucial to discharge and recharge the battery at the right time to extend its life cycle. Faulty battery packs should be replaced immediately.
Low voltage is another issue that occurs when the battery is sitting idle for a long time. Battery balancers can help prevent this problem. You may also find that your battery experiences over-temperature due to quick charging or discharging, in which case the best solution is to stop charging and keep the battery idle.
Speak to your solar kit provider about any battery issues you may experience - and most importantly, don't skimp on the battery when putting together your kit!
Charge controller failure
Your solar panel charge controller is a critical component of the solar power system. It regulates the current and voltage flowing from solar panels to batteries to prevent overcharging or undercharging. It’s rare, but harge controllers can experience a number of issues–the good news is that you can fix most of them yourself.
Checking the battery voltage, maximum voltage limit, and cable connections and monitoring the temperature can help resolve issues. Another common problem is that the solar panels are producing too much current for the controller to handle, which can lower charging efficiency. Using two controllers in parallel or getting a more powerful charge controller can fix this issue.
If you haven't got your kit yet, look for a solar panel charge controller with a high maximum voltage limit to prevent damage to the cells from the get-go. (We recommend the Outback Power FlexMax FM80 MPPT Charge Controller).
Your inverter can fail, resulting in no electricity being produced. This often happens when solar panel and inverter capabilities are mismatched. A general guideline is to use solar panels with a capacity of up to 133% of the inverter's capacity. For instance, if you have a 4 kW solar panel, you should pair it with a 3 kW inverter. Likewise, if you have a 6 kW solar panel, your inverter should have a capacity of 4.5 kW. Speak to your solar kit provider about buying the right inverter for your solar panels; it will help you avoid a world of hurt down the road.
Solar Power System Maintenance
Thankfully you can easily maintain your solar panels and avoid these issues pretty easily. Here's how:
Clean your panels
Hosing off your panels or washing them with a sponge will keep their efficiency up. Don't use abrasive chemicals or materials that can lead to scratches–a soft cloth, hose, or simple dish soap is enough.
Look after the battery
We’re going to assume you’ve got lithium-ion batteries, because they’re simply the best option. One of the reasons why they’re the best is because they don’t really require maintenance, just a periodic cleaning: disconnect the terminals and wipe the battery down with a damp cloth before drying and reconnecting. If you go with something like a lead acid battery you’ve got to muck about with cleaning the terminals and checking fluid levels and such, and who wants to do that?
Just go with lithium-ion and make one less thing to worry about.
While you’re cleaning your batteries check the connections on the charge controller. Pretty much the only thing that might go wrong is if they somehow loosen and don’t connect properly.
Keep your inverter in good shape
Avoid placing heat-sensitive or flammable materials near your inverter. If the inverter has a cooling fan, ensure that it functions properly and the airflow is not obstructed.
You'll need to clean it at least once a year to prevent dust and dirt buildup, which may affect the efficiency of the system. You can also avoid overloading the inverter with high electrical devices and appliances by using energy-saving electrical appliances. Using LED bulbs instead of ordinary bulbs and energy-efficient air conditioners or refrigerators can guarantee a long backup power time and prolong the service life of your inverter system.
How Long Does a Solar Power System Last?
The lifespan of a solar power system depends on several factors, including the quality of the components used, the installation process, and the level of maintenance performed. Typically, solar panels have a lifespan of 25-30 years, while batteries can last up to 10 years. Charge controllers and inverters typically have a lifespan of 10-15 years.
What to Do if Something Goes Wrong with Your Solar Power System
Don't panic! As we said, solar panels are pretty easy to maintain and even repair. You've already installed your solar kit, which means you know where everything goes. It's a good idea to check to see if there are any obvious faults, like loose wires or damage. If a panel has been destroyed or damaged beyond your ability to repair it, get in touch with the manufacturer. Most solar panels come with warranties.
If your solar panels look extremely dirty and dull, try giving them a good wash following our instructions. If there's no obvious damage, check that your breaker switch is on.
Switches can trip due to glitches or sudden surges.
We should also talk about the weather. Seasonal changes in output are completely normal, so if you feel like your system isn't performing as it should, it could be due to cloudier skies or even foliage that has grown over the path of the sun. Check your panels at different times of the day to see if your panels are getting more shade than they should.
If that doesn't work and you can't find the issue, give your solar panel kit provider a call. The good ones offer lifelong support and troubleshooting advice.
Your solar power system is pretty hardy, but it's not 100% immune to wear and tear and glitches. To keep it performing the way you want it to, you'll have to put in a little work, including washing your panels and casting an eye over it at least once a year. (If you've ever kept a cactus alive, it's pretty much the same procedure).
If you get stuck, visit our learning center for troubleshooting and installation advice. You'll find everything you need to get the most from your solar kit for years to come!