Good maintenance is the key to the long service life of any equipment. Solar panels are no exception. When investing in installing a solar PV system in your household, you expect the system to serve the maximum years possible. To extend the service life, you must take care of every single part of your system. Solar panels are needed to install in such a place that they can get maximum sunlight exposure throughout the day. But as you are installing your panel in an open area, there is a high chance of getting dirty for different reasons. Dirty panels can’t serve your energy needs with the same efficiency as clean ones. In this article, we’ll learn more about whether a dirty solar panel can work and discuss some helpful solutions! Let’s start by answering your main query first.
Dirty solar panels don’t stop working in most cases. But the efficiency may fall by a significant percentage. It depends on the amount of dirt and how damaged the panel is. In case of too much damage by dust and dirt, your solar panel may stop working altogether.
Before we dive into understanding the impact on the working efficiency of the solar panels due to dust and dirt and finding its solution, it’s essential to know how our solar panels may get dirty!
How do solar panels get dirty?
1. Your solar panel is exposed to sunlight and so to rain, frost, wind, and pollution. Solar panels don’t get damaged because of rainfall. Usually, rain can clean the surface of the panels and make your cleaning work easy. But sometimes, rain carries pollen and dirt from the top part of your roof. And if you do not clean it afterward, dirt may get stuck to your panel and blocks the sunlight.
2. Similarly, frosts and wind carry dust, pollens, and other things that make your panel dirty. In some countries, the amount of dust and pollen can be significantly troublesome because of their geographical location. Noticeably, solar panels are more likely to get dirty in deserts and plains.
3. Another reason is increasing pollution. Wind can carry debris over extremely long distances, and a few percent of the debris is human-driven pollutants. Gaseous pollutants in the atmosphere can reduce energy production (output energy of the panels).
Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide, Sulphur compounds, Nitrogen Dioxide, halogen gases, Hydrocarbons, etc., can affect your solar panel. So if the atmosphere is abundant in these gases, you will likely see negative impacts on the working efficiency of your solar panels.
How much does it affect the efficiency of your panel?
Your old solar panel isn’t always as efficient as a brand new one, and this drop in efficiency might be because your panel got dirty. Efficiency due to dirt depends on where you have installed your solar panels, and that’s why household solar panels are reported to be affected lesser than commercial ones.
Also, it depends much upon the surface area of your panel. The larger the surface area, the much it is affected. According to Solar Energy Power Association, dirty solar panels can lose 20% of their energy output, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory puts the figure at 25%. Recent researches show that in the case of dirty solar panels, the efficiency may drop up to 50% compared to the clean ones.
How does the damage affect our daily needs?
Lesser efficiency means lesser energy production. If your panel loses 20% of its efficiency, you get only 4/5th of the expected energy output. Getting dirty may not stop your panel from generating electricity, and it doesn’t even make your system malfunction.
Your solar PV system will be in perfect working condition. Just you will be receiving lesser electricity than your daily need. Also, if you don’t clean your panel after certain time intervals, the service life of the solar panel may get shortened. You can get better service and long service life just by putting a bit of effort into cleaning. Take care of your equipment and maintain it well to maximize the service.
Can a panel be permanently damaged by getting dirty?
Small debris like twigs and leaves and small dirt particles cause micro scratches on the surface of the panels. Small tree branches can cause more significant scratches, and larger units can break your board.
Anyway, those scratches are permanent. They hinder sunlight to some extent. Sometimes these are carried by storm or wind, falling upon the panel from nearby trees. During storms, they can cause immediate damage. Otherwise, cleaning them once a season (before they make scratches) can’t cause much harm.
Old panels may have aged or deteriorated seals. These broken seals cause water to enter the panel and cause damage to the solar panel, which may cause short-circuit.
Dirt may enter the panel through the broken seals with rainwater and get stuck there, leading to a short circuit and permanent damage. So you need to check for old seals in your panel and repair them immediately.
How do we prevent the panels from getting dirty?
1. Trim nearby trees
If there are trees nearby, they need to be trimmed every once in a while. Even if the branches aren’t falling upon your panel, cutting them is necessary to avoid debris. Don’t consider installing solar panels where there is too much greenery nearby.
First of all, they make shadows on the panel, and also debris and tree branches may cause harm to the panel. If there is no other option, you may cut the trees short down from the surface of your panel.
2. Retaining walls
Retaining walls are mostly for those solar panels installed on the ground. It protects your panel from soil erosion. Frequent and heavy rain may cause soil erosion, so the solar panel installed on the ground gets much dirty.
Too much erosion even can loosen the foundation of the solar panel. Retaining walls made of concrete provide impenetrable protection from rain, wind, and other erosive forces.
The most beneficial thing about retaining walls is that it gives you lifetime service without needing major maintenance. This is mainly for solar firms and other commercial needs. We generally don’t install solar panels on the ground for residential use.
3. Panel resealing
Solar panels have seals on them, and they get loosened with time. Old solar panels may have many loose seals, which must be repaired or resealed. You need to keep checking your panel at least once a season.
Broken seals easily capture dirt particles and get stuck into the broken seals, and that can harm your panel’s service to a great extent. So it requires being careful.
Is it possible to clean a dirty panel?
It is possible to remove the dirt from the surface of your panel most of the time. You can wipe off the specks of dust and debris. Rainwater cleans the panel surface naturally by washing the dirt off.
In case of sticky dirt, you may have to rub a little. If it gets stuck into the broken seals, it might become harder to clean, and there be a risk of damaging the panel while cleaning. Sand particles, debris, and tree branches cause scratches that aren’t easy to remove. Sometimes those scratches become permanent.
But by cleaning your panel correctly, you can regain most of the functionality lost because of the dirty surface area of the panel. The efficiency that was lost will be regained by just cleaning.
How to clean them?
Water is the best thing to clean the surface of your solar panel. Though rainwater can do most of the work for you well, grime build-ups still need to be cleaned. Not every solar panel is meant to be DIY cleaned following the same procedure.
So, it’s better to check the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning. For safety, you may turn off your panel before cleaning. Remember, it’s only the surface that needs cleaning. So, don’t touch the underside. Homeowners may do it themselves, and they can hire professionals too for this job. Do the cleaning step by step.
1. Step 1
At first, remove dust and debris by brushing softly. That makes the panel cleaner for the next step, as mixing water with dust may muddy the panel directly. Wear work gloves to keep your hands clean.
2. Step 2
The next step is to spray water all over the surface. You may use a garden hose to do this. Spray gently. Don’t hit the panel surface with high-speed spraying with as much water as possible. It may create fine cracks. Be careful about the water pressure while spraying water. Your panel may not sustain high pressure or deliberate spraying.
3. Step 3
After spraying water, dirt can still be stuck in some places. Check for those places and pay some extra attention to those. It may need a little scrubbing with a sponge or some soft cloth. Again, don’t be aggressive about scrubbing. Gentle repetitive scrubbing will do the job pretty well.
If you feel water alone isn’t enough for some rigid kind of grimes or spots on the panel surface, you may use some mild dishwashing liquid mixed with vinegar. If that’s not available, any other soap will serve the purpose more or less well. Use soaps with caution. After scrubbing, rinse the soap off very carefully. If there’s any soap residue left on the surface, it’s very likely for the place to capture dirt.
You may monitor your solar panel before and after cleaning, and you’ll see the difference in functionality and efficiency. That would help you to know how much your panel needs cleaning in a season and how frequently you need to clean.
How to Clean Solar Panels on Roof: Best Practices
Check this post to learn more about how to clean Solar Panels on the roof!
How frequently do you need to clean your panel?
I’ll recommend you clean solar panels twice every year. However, it depends very much upon where you live. The pollution and dust are much higher if you live in an industrial area. So you may need to clean your panel more frequently. If your locality is cleaner and the air is less polluted, you need to clean it less frequently.
The best way to know how often you need to clean your panel is to monitor the panel’s functionality before and after cleaning. If you notice a significant change, then probably it’s a sign that you need to do cleaning more frequently than you usually do. If you are among the first-time users and have no idea about all these things, try cleaning twice a year. Then monitor like just said.
If you notice just a few percent rises in efficiency after cleaning, then it’s ok to continue with the twice-a-year frequency. If you observe a significant rise in efficiency after cleaning the dirty one, you need to increase the frequency of cleaning.
To conclude, I must say that yes, solar panels work when they are dirty. But you can see a significant fall in efficiency. And hence, the functionality becomes poor. You’ll receive poor service and less electricity from a dirty solar panel. Also, as solar panels need to be exposed to the sun as much as possible, it’s not always possible to protect them from every kind of thing that can make them dirty.
Still, some precautions can protect your panel from being excessively dirty within a short time. Then, as you know, maintenance is the key to receiving good service and the long service life of your panel. So, cleaning is a critical job, especially when your panel is old enough. Solar panels are one excellent investment. So, it is worth being very careful for.