For homeowners who want to rein in their carbon footprint, solar arrays offer an option worth considering. The panels capture energy from the sun and transform it into power for the home. But solar panels aren't maintenance-free: They require regular cleaning to stay effective. Several cleaning tools and methods can help solar-panel owners get the most out of their investment. The proper washing technique will depend on factors including the surrounding environment and the accessibility of the panels.
Why Clean Panels?
Solar panels lose their ability to generate power when their surfaces accumulate dirt and debris. A layer of dust on panels can curb their energy production by 40 per cent or more, according to reports from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It's time to wash solar panels whenever their electricity yield drops. You can reduce washing frequency if you install your panels at an angle; dirt is more likely to settle on flatly laid arrays. While you're cleaning, conduct other routine maintenance, such as checking to ensure the panels' mountings are tight.
Pick up basic tools for solar-panel cleaning at your local hardware store. You'll need a bucket to hold water, a sponge or soft cloth for washing, streak-free glass cleaner and a thick, soft drying towel. Avoid cleaning and drying cloths with abrasive surfaces, because they could scratch your panels and harm their efficacy. Before you wash, remove larger debris, such as sticks, leaves and branches. Dip the sponge or cloth in the bucket of water and wash down the panels to remove dirt and dust. Spray the panels with glass cleaner and wipe them with the dry cloth to finish the job. Rub out any streaks, because they can affect panel performance as well.
For solar panels mounted on roofs, retailers offer panel-cleaning tools with extension arms so owners can avoid climbing ladders and risking dangerous falls. These kits typically come with flow-through extension poles that allow panel owners to soak their systems in water from a distance of 10 to 20 feet. Some kits also have detachable squeegee rubbers, similar to window-washing tools, and squeegee wash sleeves. Other kits offer attachable options, including cleaning brushes and microfiber cleaning cloths. The kits come apart for storage in smaller spaces. Examples of kits include the Mr. Long Arm Solar Panel Cleaning System Kit and the Pro Curve Solar Panel Kit.
For hard-to-reach panels, or systems that need frequent cleaning because of surroundings that might be dustier or windier than average, some homeowners invest in automatic-cleaning tools that attach permanently to their solar panels. These systems use motorised spray hoses and mechanical arms similar to windshield wipers to regularly clear dirt and debris. These cleaning tools can add upfront costs to a solar-panel system, but they're a good choice in many dusty, arid environments, such as deserts.
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