The importance of solar maintenance [Checklist]

The importance of solar maintenance [Checklist]

Proper maintenance is critical to keeping your solar solution in top working condition. When you purchase a solar solution cash you own that system – which means the maintenance becomes your responsibility as owner.

Why maintenance is crucial to solar preservation

Maintenance is nothing new in the business world. Whether you need to keep your fleet of company vehicles serviced, make sure your office buildings are in good condition or regularly service machines in your factory: your parts, processes and operations last so much longer with proper maintenance. Solar modules are no different; they need maintenance to deliver their full potential over a long period of time.

Most of the time, solar panels are low maintenance. But over time, they can collect dust, bird droppings, or debris and need to be cleaned. The disruptive material on your solar panels can result in a 15% loss in efficiency. Most of the time, rain can wash off the dirt, but without proper cleaning this dirt accumulates over time and causes problems. You also need to consider the technical side to maintenance. Your wiring, inverter, transformers, batteries, monitoring software, and solar panels need care.

Extending the lifespan of your equipment delivers a better return on investment on the equipment and your green credentials. The average lifespan of a solar energy system is 25 years but you can extend it even further through proper maintenance.

You can do this by:

  • Keeping your equipment free from damage such as rust, dust, or animals.
  • Replacing parts when they no longer perform at optimum levels
  • Upgrading to new replacement parts (Solar technology is improving quickly, so you can take advantage of it by using better components)

You can also extend the life of your solar equipment is possible through a decommissioning plan. The plan will inform you when you need to replace parts like the insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBT) and communication boards in your inverter every eight years.

Is self-maintenance a good option?

In business, everything is about numbers; you can say the same about your maintenance plan. When you purchase your solar energy system cash, you can maintain it yourself or hire SolarAfrica to do it for you. Both scenarios have a cost factor you must consider before making a decision.

On the other hand, clients who have a PPA agreement with SolarAfrica don’t have to worry about maintenance; SolarAfrica carries it out for them as part of the agreement. It’s one of the many benefits of a PPA.

Clients who own the solar modules sometimes think it’s easier and cheaper to do the maintenance themselves. They believe it’s logical to use in-house resources to manage and maintain their solar equipment to retain control and leverage sunk costs from other operations. It’s a seemingly logical option, but it hardly ever turns out that way.

Assigning staff to look after the solar modules means they have to split their attention between their primary role and what they might believe is their secondary, less important role: maintaining solar equipment. The company will also have to take resources away from its primary operations to invest in maintenance equipment and supplies.

These are in part a big reason why companies end neglecting system maintenance which often leads them to outsource the work. They will usually outsource to a company that didn’t install the equipment and wasn’t involved in the design, bringing new issues to the fore. In the end, after three years, most companies won’t get the savings promised due to much downtime and other issues. In an effort to save money by doing maintenance themselves, most companies end up losing in the long run.

An alternative is to contract SolarAfrica to perform maintenance on your solar modules. Why choose SolarAfrica for your solar system maintenance? Well, we built your solution and understand it fully, so we know what it takes to get maximum productivity out of it. SolarAfrica also offers a buyback option for solar modules you bought in cash and have SolarAfrica-run maintenance. The buyback option reduces your financial risks and can boost your cash flow in the future. In the end, you get optimum performance and a financial injection should you need it in the future.

Requirements for solar module maintenance

If you still feel inclined to preserve the solar modules yourself, there are a few things you will need.

Qualified and certified electricians

This will be a required in-house skill, with no third parties. Hiring third-party electricians is a gamble as they may not understand solar modules or your design. It is dangerous to handle industrial electricals as a single person, so you will need a minimum of two electricians to do the wiring and maintenance of equipment.

Solar monitoring software

Key to your maintenance strategy will be solar monitoring software. It will give you real-time data on output, and efficiency, and provide alerts should there be an issue. If you are to conduct your maintenance, you will need software that can transmit the data and be accessible from any device (desktop, laptop, and mobile devices).

Photovoltaic (PV) analyst

You will also need a photovoltaic (PV) analyst on site. The PV analyst oversees your monitoring software. They form part of the predictive and condition maintenance of the system. The monitoring system provides data, and the PV Analyst interprets it to provide solutions.

Never underestimate the dangers of a solar module site; it is a high-voltage system. Health and safety precautions are necessary on site. It’s a regulatory compliance as a lot can go wrong on site; some incidents can be fatal.

The five pillars of maintenance

You’ll need to take specific actions at designated and sometimes ad hoc times to keep your solar modules operating at their optimum performance. The five pillars of maintenance will help you determine and plan when you need to carry out maintenance on your solar energy system. Each is critical, and you can’t skip any of them. If you drop one, your system will not perform optimally.

1. Preventative maintenance

Preventative maintenance performs routine checks to ensure that your equipment doesn’t fail in the future. This can be things like testing electrical connections and fastening bolts or screws.

2. Predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance uses an algorithm that monitors your system and lets you know what to expect. You must have a sound monitoring system that will inform you how your equipment will perform in the future in case you need to change how you use it.

3. Condition monitoring

Condition monitoring is real-time and full-time monitoring by a PV analyst of the equipment’s condition. They will keep an eye on indicators like inverter and transformer temperature. Note that condition monitoring uses human oversight, while predictive maintenance uses data and algorithms.

4. Corrective/condition-based maintenance

Corrective/condition-based maintenance occurs when something unique that has broken unexpectedly needs repairs or replacement. It is there to ensure maximum up-time.

5. Scheduled maintenance

Scheduled maintenance is the repair and replacement work necessary within a period. OEM specifications enforce it, but it’s typically once every six months. Systems in some provinces or areas require more care, such as those in dry landscapes with lots of dust, or near mills that produce fine waste products that can get into and onto the equipment.

Solar energy system maintenance checklist

Solar modules may vary in size but they usually require the same basic routines for for scheduled maintenance. Having a checklist on-hand can help make sure that you don’t skip a step:

It’s important to have a qualified technician to do technical maintenance but as a business owner you and your employees can also keep an eye out for the following:

  • Roof clogging or water pooling if the installation is on the roof, and that the roof has adequate drainage.
  • Soil erosion around the base of a ground installations
  • Corrosion on the racking system or the outside enclosures.
  • Loose-hanging wiring or connections around the modules.
  • Signs of animal habitation or infestation under the modules.

The solar modules will need the most preventative maintenance. For that, you will need to:

  • Conduct light cleaning of the panels regularly. Dust and debris can generally be cleaned up easily. You will need to use water, calcium, and chloride that have total dissolved solids (TDS) under 250 parts per million.
  • Acquire high-quality brushes that do not have stiff bristles to avoid scratching or damaging the glass surface of the panels.
  • Ensure panels are dry after washing them to avoid stains or dried dirt.

The more technical maintenance will take place less often but is very critical. You need to ensure that you service the inverter regularly. Dust can get inside it, so the dustier the area, the more often you need to service it. Additionally, megawatt transformers need constant monitoring of parameters like operating temperature, oil temperature (OTI), winding temperature (WTI), and oil level.

Constant maintenance is critical for your solar modules. Without care, your system will experience breakdowns, downtimes, and inefficiencies. Additionally, if you don’t follow maintenance guidelines from OEMS, you can void warranties. Invest in maintenance to get the most out of your solar energy system.

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