Friday, January 27, 2012

Do Solar Systems Require Maintenance?


It's a fair question and one which every single solar customer we've ever had has asked at one point in time. Let's delve a bit deeper into the issue by asking a question first:


What is the perception from the customer
in terms of solar system maintenance?

Having spoken with a few hundred homeowners regarding this very topic, I can assure you these are many perceptions out there from our customers, such as:

"After a few months, solar panels get dirty and don't work well."

Despite the fact this assertion seems to make sense, the overall efficiency loss of solar panels when they've accumulated a film of dirt or other sun-blocking material is not as significant as is seems. In fact, at the Cosmic Solar headquarters in Valley Center, we have two systems. One is nearly eight years old and another is coming up on its first birthday. Neither system has been cleaned or washed and they continue to faithfully produce kWhs while the meter spins backward. Regular San Diego rains periodically clean the surface of the panels and we've had success without doing any cleaning whatsoever.

"Inverters are very unreliable and I'll need to replace them often."

Since the inverter has moving parts, it is technically the weakest link of the system. However, with that said, the inverters we use have warranties ranging anywhere from 10 years to 25 years down the road. Even though the inverter will need to be replaced at one point in the future -- if a homeowner chooses a quality inverter brand -- it's likely they will not need to worry about inverter maintenance for a few decades down the road. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, inverters do not need to be entirely changed out as there are a few specific parts that can be replaced to have them up and running again for a few more decades. When speaking to a representative at SMA America, our favorite inverter brand, he noted refurbishing an inverter can currently be done for around $500 dollars. Suffice to say it's less of a concern than it would seem.

 "I'd prefer to lease my system rather than purchase
since all maintenance is included."

I will be the first to admit that leasing a system is a great option for many homeowners. Typically for individuals with good credit but limited access to money for a solar investment or for a homeowner who would prefer to spend their money elsewhere, leasing is an important option. However, if you choose a quality installer who performs a quality installation, maintenance is generally a non issue anyway. Here at Cosmic Solar, we've installed hundreds of systems and I can count on one hand the number of times we've had to return to take another look at our work. The reality is maintenance is -- at least when performed by a good installer -- extremely rare.
"Solar panels are fragile and will easily break."

The truth of the matter is solar panels are extensively tested and time and time again have been shown to be extremely resilient. SunPower, one of the panel manufacturers we use, guarantee their panel will stand up to golf ball-sized hail at 51 miles per hour. Moreover, panels are installed in some of the warmest areas in the world -- like deserts -- and some of the coldest places in the world -- like various areas in Europe -- without any issues to energy production. Believe it or not, installers even walk on panels from time-to-time in certain situations where access to a panel is limited and no complications are observed. (It's always best to avoid whenever possible, of course.) So, I feel comfortable saying this myth is busted.