‘Can I clean my own solar panels?’ is a question more and more people in Ireland are asking. Many properties all over Ireland now have solar panels and they continue to be installed on homes, farms and businesses. More and more multi-MW solar farms continue to be developed.
Time has proven that solar panels are not self-cleaning abut that regular cleaning is needed to keep them running efficiently, especially in the Irish climate. This has put an extra cost to a solar array owner that they may not have anticipated. Rather than wanting to pay a professional, some people feel that cleaning solar panels is rather like cleaning windows and choose to try to clean their own solar panels. Is cleaning your solar panels yourself a good idea?
Put simply, no, cleaning your own panels is not a good idea. There are common risks with cleaning your own solar panels, which include electrocution and working at height. Both should not be undertaken without suitable training.
It is also important to know what solar panel manufacturers say about solar panel cleaning. Following are quotes from instructions and warranties of solar panel manufacturers. BP Solar, Trina, Schott, Sharp and Axter are some of the most popular solar panel brands. Yingli are a brand that is known internationally and were official sponsors of the 2014 World Cup. All are authoritative sources of information.
BP Solar: “Do not attempt to access the roof and wash the solar array unless safety precautions to prevent falling from heights are in place. The risk of falling from height is increased with a sloped surface that has been made slippery by water.”
Falls from height are the most common cause of fatality in the workplace each year. There are thousands of accidents from people working at height in Ireland and the UK each year. This is because many either lack training or lack the safety measures necessary in order to safely work at height.
Solar panels are often mounted on sloped roofs, at height. If you are not trained or do not have the correct safety equipment available, it is ill-advised to try and clean your own solar panels. the gentlemen below may look professional, but obviously lack training in the correct use of ladders. Neither are even holding on!
Yingli Solar: “Water with high mineral content may leave deposits on the glass surface and is not recommended.”
Normal tap water contains a high mineral content. Why is this not suitable for cleaning your own solar panels? Mineral deposits in your water will leave grey or white mineral deposits on your solar panels which, when dry, are very difficult to remove. These mineral deposits create shading on the solar panel and reduce the output. If you try to remove dust or bird droppings and try to clean your own solar panels with tap water, you may replace one type of dirt which is easy for a professional to remove with another which is difficult even for solar panel cleaning professionals to remove. If the water on the picture below were tap water,when it dried, that pattern would be left, but in white mineral deposit.
Schott & Sharp: “Do not use high pressure spray or chemicals to clean the modules.”
Yingli Solar: “In order to avoid module damage, do not clean PV modules with a power washer or pressure washer.”
Axter: “Pressurised power washers should not be used directly on the laminates.”
If you are choosing to clean your own solar panels you may notice that some marks are especially stubborn, such as bird droppings. Solar panels can get incredibly hot and bake bird droppings to the surface of the panel. The temptation may be to reach for the trusty pressure washer. Clearly though, solar panels are not deigned to take such pressures, a fact that the gentleman below, again a professional-looking man fails to take note of.
Yingli Solar: “Failure to comply with the requirements listed in this manual will invalidate the Limited Warranty for PV Modules as provided by Yingli Solar at the time of sale to the direct customer.”
Cleaning your own solar panels if done just once incorrectly can invalidate the warranty of your solar panels. Should you have a problem and your manufacturer discovers you have been cleaning your own solar panels, your warranty may be rendered invalid and your expensive investment be wasted. On the other hand, if you have a problem with your array and you can prove by way of receipts or a cleaning log to your manufacturer that your solar panels have regularly been cleaned by solar panel cleaning professionals, your warranty will stay intact.
Axter: “A grid connected General Solar PV system is a potentially dangerous, high voltage electrical generator. Use caution when cleaning PV modules, as the combination of water and electricity may present a shock hazard.”
Trina: “Improper maintenance can cause lethal electric shock and/or burns.”
One aspect that is often overlooked by those who choose to clean their own solar panels is the very real risk of electrocution. Water and electricity is never a good mix. Should water find a way into the workings of a solar panel or into some lose wiring, a nasty DC shock will result. As professional solar panel cleaners, we have safety measures in place which protects our workforce from electrocution while they are cleaning solar panels. This is perhaps the most important reason why you should not try to clean your own solar panels.
In conclusion, can you clean your own solar panels? The answer is yes if you can meet the following criterion:
1. You are trained for working at height and have suitable safety measures in place to protect you from falling from your roof.
2. You do not use water with a high mineral content, such as tap water.
3. You take steps to protect yourself from electrocution.
With this in mind, next time you wonder ‘Can I clean my own solar panels?’ it may be advisable to call in the professionals.