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Cleaning Solar PV Panels

Updated February 2020. If the recent awful weather including storms, driving rain and powerful winds haven't cleaned your solar panels yet, then it's time to face some hard facts ... we suspect, having found this article, as you might already know, these so called 'self cleaning' solar panels are sometimes nothing of the sort! We regularly find solar panels covered in bird droppings, moss, algae, lichen, dust ... Needless to say, there are a lot of very dirty 'self cleaning' solar panels out there... So what do you do about it? If anything?

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Cleaning Solar Panels: Lichen & Algae

Lichen can be a real pain to shift once it's taken a hold of the glass on the top of the solar panel. If you scrub lichen off a solar panel when you are up close, you can see that the lichen is constructed in layers. The top layer (the flower) is relatively easy to dislodge. As this is sometimes coloured, from the ground it might look like once the flower has been removed that the panel is clean. However, it is when you look closely that you can see that the bulk of the underside of the lichen, which has the look and consistency of sticky mud, remains, and that your day of scrubbing has only just begun.

The thing to know about lichen is that it can take many forms and comes in different colours. From the ground lichen can easily be mistaken for bird droppings. Lichen is however much harder to clean. The only way we have ever succesfuly completely cleaned lichen off a solar panel is up close by hand, scrubbing quite hard, using just water.

In researching this topic we did find chemical solutions that claimed to be endorsed by solar panel manufacturers but we haven't yet tried or verified any of these.

Lichen finds the conditions it needs to grow, in wet, warm environments where algae is present, solar panels fit this bill quite nicely. If you can see a luminous green liquid or seaweed looking stuff on your solar panels, then this is likely algae.

Algae will feed the lichen, if you keep the panels free from algae then you will reduce the risk of a lichen problem.

What to do? - Lichen is just horrible for solar panels, the less lichen you have on them the better. Lichens will reduce power outputs and potentially create hot spots on the panels, neither good for power production or the life of your panels. Eventually, if the situation isn't changed and warm, wet conditions and algae remain, then there is nothing stopping the lichen eventually completely covering the solar panels.

A little bit of lichen If there's only a small amount of lichen on your solar panels, then it might be the case that managing the algae with a semi-regular cleaning schedule might keep the situation under control. The best solutions for this (that we know of) are long fibre glass window cleaning poles, no chemicals, cleaned using 'pure water'.

A lot of lichen If there's a lot of lichen, then we would advise that you either hire a scaffold and clean them by hand, pay to get them cleaned, or if you're comfortable, by using chemical methods. Either way, be aware that although cleaning lichen off solar panels is long, hard work by hand. We do not believe that the amount of pressure needed to clean the panels completely free of lichen could be carried out from ground level or even from a scaffold using pure water and poles.

It will be worth it, cleaning off the lichen; as well as likely seeing an increase in power production straight away, your panels will thank you for it. Once cleaned, if the algae problem can be kept in check, than so will the lichen problem. A good window cleaner with a pure water solution could then help keep them clean.

Cleaning Solar Panels: Dust, Dirt & Droppings

Although we have heard of some epic battles involving seagulls, rubbish tips and solar panels; in less extreme cases, a reasonable amount of dirt and soiling can be cleaned off solar panels relatively easily from either ground level or from a scaffold tower with the aid of a fibre glass pole and a 'pure water' system.

The question of when, or whether or not to clean the panels will come down to power production, the cost of cleaning and your personal preference. If you like your panels looking sparkling clean at all times, then your system will not complain if treated this way. If the decision comes down to power production Vs the cost to clean the panels then in our experience, although panels will always perform better when sparkling clean, they can also get pretty dirty before any noticable reduction in power production is experienced.

When looking at the panels, it's the cells that generate the electricity. Quite a bit of dirt could build up on the frames and the non cell parts without neccessarily affecting power production. However if the cells or circuitry is covered with dirt than power will likely be affected.

Most solar panels can also deal quite well with random dirt such as bird droppings but should there come a time where the cells are starting to get covered in dirt and dust and the rain isn't washing it off, and or you notice a decrease in power production then this would be a good time to clean them. Every location and system is different, so the regularity of cleaning could be from every couple of months, to once every few years.

How to clean Solar Panels Safely

Not too hot! Don't clean solar panels when the weather is too hot.

Never clean a damaged system Even when isolated from the mains and with the inverter off, the DC connections will remain live.

Isolate Whenever anyone is working on or near the solar PV system the system should always be isolated and shut down. Isolate the solar PV system by 1) Turning off the AC Isolator (either at the inverter or meter point) 2) Turning off the DC isolators either near or within the inverter. The system will then shutdown.

Watch out for cables Don't touch them or get them wet.

Be on a Safe Footing Ideally cleaning should be carried out from ground level using a long fibre glass pole and a 'pure water' system. If this isn't practicle, then cleaning from a scaffold tower would be far more preferable to using ladders, we would advise against cleaning solar panels from a ladder.

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Mains/Grid Isolation and Surge Protection

Mains/AC Surge Protection Solar PV Systems

A whole house surge protector is installed to provide protection from transient overvoltages originating from the mains/grid. A whole house surge protector is installed directly inline and as close as possible to the incoming mains/grid supply meter, this allows for surge protection for all circuits and equipment including solar inverters, routers, stereos and other sensitive electrical equipment within the network. The addition of a 100Amp lockable isolator also allows for safe and convenient isolation of all electrical equipment within the network including consumer units, solar inverters, battery storage units and EV chargers from the mains/grid in one place.

Surge protectors are in compliance with the recently updated 18th edition amendment 2 of BS7671.

Mains/Grid Isolation and Surge Protection

 

Solar PV Surge Protection (DC Surge Protection)

DC Surge Protection Solar PV Systems

DC surge protection devices (SPDs) are installed between the solar panels and the solar inverter to protect both the inverter and the downstream electrical equipment from transient overvoltages of an atmospheric origin impacting the electrical system via the DC side of the system / the solar panels.

DC Surge protectors are in compliance with the recently updated 18th edition amendment 2 of BS7671.

Solar PV Surge Protection (DC Surge Protection)

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Articles: Further Information, Calculators & Inverter Fault Codes

Lots of articles, calculators and technical information including links for further reading. Covering a range of topics related to the installation and maintenance of solar photovoltaic and electrical systems in the UK.

/Solar PV Information Articles

Safely Retrofitting Solar PV Roof Mounts

The things to consider before installing a retrofited solar PV system on a roof and an introduction to the type of equipment used to secure an on-roof solar PV system.

How to provide power to a house using a portable generator

In this article we show you how to power your home using a portable diesel, petrol or LPG generator. We look at changeover switches, the importance of earthing, generator loadings, how to isolate non essential loads. We ask where to locate the generator when it's in operation, how best to safely isolate the mains supply and switch to a generator supply.

Mains Power Supplies & Earthing Systems

Mains Supply and Earthing Systems: Location & accessability, supply systems, earthing, bonding, labelling, installing RCDs.

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We are located in Wanborough, very close to Swindon in Wiltshire, Southern England, UK. From here we service clients within a 90 minute driving radius including the towns, cities and regions below:

Swindon: Abingdon, Aldbourne, Andover, Banbury, Basingstoke, Bath, Berkshire, Bicester, Blunsdon, Box, Bracknell, Bradford on Avon, Bristol, Burford, Calne, Camberley, Carterton, Cheltenham, Chippenham, Chipping Norton, Chipping Sodbury, Cirencester, Corsham, Cricklade, Devizes, Didcot, Evesham, Faringdon, Fleet, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Henley-on-Thames, Highclere, Highworth, Hook, Hungerford, Keynsham, Kingsclere, Lambourn, Lechlade, Lyneham, Maidenhead, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Marshfield, Melksham, Minety, Newbury, Oxford, Oxfordshire, Pewsey, Purton, Ramsbury, Reading, Royal Wootton Bassett, Salisbury, Shalbourne, Slough, Stow, Swindon, Tewkesbury, Thatcham, Trowbridge, Wanborough, Wantage, Warminster, Wiltshire, Winchester, Windsor, Witney, Wokingham, Worcester, Wroughton and Yate.

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