Joshua Bartlett
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Everything You Need to Know About Solar Monitoring

solar-monitoring

Solar monitoring: the metrics dashboard for your panels.

For anyone interested in installing a new solar system, or if you already have one in place, there are likely still some questions about how your system will perform once it’s actually up and working.  You might not have heard of solar monitoring before, but it will help you answer questions like:

  • How much energy is being produced?
  • How does rain or snow affect my production?
  • How much energy do my various appliances use?
  • How will I know if something has gone wrong?

Because solar power is a huge investment it is important to make sure that you are getting a good return on this investment. Many people are also interested in how solar power works and to see exactly how their system is performing.

Let’s check out some of the main advantages you’ll have by adding solar monitoring to your home system:

Advantages of Solar Monitoring:

Advantage #1: Having Live Data

It’s possible that a small monitoring panel came with your system by default, but the most basic systems do not provide the best data.  One great feature of an advanced system is that you’ll often have access to live data about your performance.  This means that instead of seeing updates every 10, 15, or 30 minutes you’ll see updates every few seconds.

Once you’re able to see these frequent updates, you’ll be able to clearly see how things affect your system by looking at shade during the day, turning off appliances, and seeing the real-time effects of rain and snowfall.

More frequent data also smooths out your data reports and means that the analysis will be more meaningful because it will have access to many more data points.

Advantage #2: Knowing Expected vs. Actual Solar Production

When you are picking out your solar panel system it will likely have some amount of expected solar production attached to it.  Your installer will use averages from your area or actual sunlight readings along with your system size to determine how much energy it should be producing on an average day.  The number that they arrive at is extremely important because it will determine how much you will be saving with your system on a monthly and yearly basis.

Depending on how you structured your contract, your system’s production may even be guaranteed.  In this situation, it would be extremely important for you to know exactly what your system is producing to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth!

Advantage #3: Increase in Performance and Efficiency

If you have access to the complete details of your solar system then you will be able to see ways to improve your performance. Say, for instance, that you see a couple of the panels on the left side of your roof are starting to produce less power during certain parts of the day.

You could use this real-time data to check and see what the cause might be. Perhaps some tree limbs are starting to grow over your roof. Maybe they are getting dirty for some specific reason. Either way, a monitoring system will allow you to capture these performance increases in your system.

Advantage #4: Optimize your Energy Use

optimize-energy

With any solar system, your production will be highest during the times of day in which the sun is brightest and aiming directly at your panels. It is during this time that you’ll want to time any high-consumption activities, such as pool pumps or recharging an electric vehicle, to coincide with your peak energy production. On the other side of the coin, you’ll be able to see when your production is lowest and try to avoid high-energy activities during that time of day.

Advantage #5: Resolve Troubleshooting and Alerts

Troubleshoot

Most systems come with advanced troubleshooting and diagnostics features. These will show you when a piece of equipment has failed, possibly avoiding a long period of time with lost production. Something as simple as a pest chewing through your wires could take ages to diagnose and locate without some type of solar monitoring software.

Which Features Differentiate Your Options?

As we begin to look at different options in the solar monitoring space, we’ll see that there is a huge amount of variation in what exactly each company is offering. Some systems want to maximize the amount of customizability while others want to offer the simplest process possible and everything in between.  Here are a few ways in which your solar monitoring systems could vary:

  • Measuring Interval – Your system could update every 15 minutes or every few seconds.
  • Communication Methods – Your system could communicate via WiFi or you might have to manually upload data.
  • Type of Inverter – If each panel has its own micro inverter then you will often be able to diagnose individual panels.  One central inverter might not allow this.
  • Cost – Some systems have a one-time install cost, others have a monthly, some have both!
  • Ease of Use – Does your system offer a portable monitoring solution like a phone app?  How difficult is it to use?

Most Popular Solar Monitoring Companies

There are lots of companies in the solar industry that offer some type of monitoring service. These services are either built into their own hardware, offered as an add-on piece of hardware, or simply plug into existing systems to provide information. Because of the wide-ranging differences between the systems, they all offer something a little different in terms of features, pricing, and convenience.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular options for solar monitoring companies:

1#: SolarEdge Monitoring

solaredge-monitoring

SolarEdge has been around since 2006 and was founded and incorporated in Delaware,  going public in 2015. They exist primarily as a secondary equipment provider for solar panel systems by selling power optimizers and inverters. Their SolarEdge PV Monitoring Platform is built into their hardware and it is offered along with the others as a complete package. This would allow you to take solar panels from other companies and couple it with the unique features of the SolarEdge system.

  • SolarEdge Power Optimizer – These power optimizers are either installed onto each PV module or embedded by module manufacturers, replacing the traditional solar junction box. These allow for increased energy output and allows for monitoring the performance of each module. Using these power optimizers allows the customer to have the flexibility and features of a micro inverter without the added costs.
  • SolarEdge PV Inverter – This inverter is specifically designed to work with their own optimizers. By using these components together, the inverter is simpler, more cost-effective, and more reliable than a traditional setup. It has a standard 12-year warranty (extendable to 20-25 years) and has a weighted efficiency rating of >97%.

#2: SolarEdge PV Monitoring System

solar-monitoring

This company has put a lot of effort into creating an optimized, all-in-one type of solution for your monitoring needs. Just keep in mind that you will need to be using their other equipment to effectively use their monitoring system. Let’s take a look at the major feature set:

Pros

  • Enables a top-down, visual map view of your panel installation
  • Shows real-time performance data for individual modules and for the whole system
  • Allows for historical and aggregated data, analysis, diagnostics, and guided root-cause fault analysis
  • Alerts user by email when a fault is detected along with troubleshooting advice
  • Remote service capabilities
  • High-resolution data from up to 12 months prior with visualization options
  • Service is free for 25 years when you purchase a system

Cons

  • Requires use of multiple SolarEdge Products to work
  • Requires an optimizer for each module in your system

Take a look at a home owner’s experience and review with a SolarEdge system:

#3: Enphase MyEnlighten

enphase-myenlighten

Enphase has been around since 2006 and has proven to be a major player in the solar energy space. In 2008 they actually introduced the world’s first microinverter system and since that time the technology has been an integral part of their total energy strategy. They go one step farther than SolarEdge by seeking to offer a complete, all-in-one package that includes everything you need to create an efficient and tightly monitored system for your home.

Their hardware solution consists of Enphase microinverters that will connect to each solar panel in the system. All of those modules will then connect to an Enphase Envoy – basically, the hub used to combine the data from each panel and feed it to the monitoring system and the Enphase AC Battery. From that point, you can access system data from your home or over their cloud-based software called MyEnlighten. Let’s take a look at MyEnlighten’s feature set:

Pros

  • Real-time monitoring of data and system performance
  • Automatic emails of any event that affects system performance.  You can view maintenance issues on graphs or a map of your system.
  • Secure, backed-up online data storage
  • Compare actual system performance against the modeled data to see how your system is producing
  • Share data across social media
  • View historical weather data along with analysis of how it affects performance
  • Today’s performance at-a-glance

Cons

  • Requires multiple pieces of equipment from Enphase
  • Requires a microinverter on each panel

If you are looking for a complete, easy-to-use system that allows for great mobile access to advanced monitoring features, Enphase’s MyEnlighten looks like it could be a good option.

Below is a video of an Enphase customer going through the software and experience:

#4: Locus Energy

locus-energy

As opposed to the two companies we’ve looked at so far, Locus Energy doesn’t produce its own proprietary inverters, batteries, or optimizers. Instead, they produce a piece of equipment that can tie-in to a variety of other installations and provide data on their output. The main drawback to sourcing data in this way is that there is no way to monitor performance from individual modules from their products alone. Their solution is meant to provide general data on your system and doesn’t dig too deeply into the finer details. Let’s look at a few features:

Pros

  • Modular interface allows you to hook their product into a wide range of preexisting installations or plan it as part of your future build
  • Current and historical data
  • Reporting tools
  • Net metering data shows you how much power you are adding to the grid vs. drawing from it
  • On-site data storage with backup and offline access
  • Neat visualization of environmental benefits such as gasoline offset or homes powered

Cons

  • Can’t see data from individual strings or modules
  • No troubleshooting information or alerts about problems with your system
  • Limited ability to diagnose performance issues or optimize efficiency

Here’s a video of the software in action:

#5: AlsoEnergy

alsoenergy

Founded in 2007, AlsoEnergy is another company that focuses on providing a tie-in solution to either previously installed systems or to compliment a new build. They developed their own software, PowerTrack, and then added DECK Monitoring to their product line after acquiring the company that created it in 2013. This allows for both an option between advanced-level and an essentials-only software for your installation. Here’s what both options offer:

  • Revenue-grade Reporting
  • Production values and status indicators
  • Compare actual production against benchmark values
  • Automated alerts for device status and system performance

In addition to this, their individual options offer:

AlsoEnergy Option 1: PowerTrack

  • Has data points for lots of factors including performance models, shading, panel tilts, seasonal variation, etc
  • Workflow Suite for installers and operators that need access to multi-site monitoring and maintenance planning
  • Personalized string maps
  • Apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android

AlsoEnergy Option 2: DECK Monitoring

  • Intuitive tools and navigation to simplify routine tasks. Emphasis is on user-friendliness around alarms, analytics, and reporting
  • Great front-facing PR tool for public displays

Pros

  • Works with a variety of other equipment providers
  • Different levels of software for different levels of needs
  • App support on a variety of devices

Cons

  • No module-level data from individual panels

Conclusion

After looking at some of the most popular options, it’s easy to see how much variation there is in the solar monitoring market. Your final choice will depend on exactly what it is you’re looking to get out of your system, but we think that SolarEdge takes the win here for their overall feature set and convenience. Although there will be more equipment to get up and running, having access to all of the information that their system provides could be worth it to many buyers, enabling your system to perform at its expected level.

With SolarEdge, you’ll get a complete system to couple with the solar panels of your choice and you won’t have to worry about assembling a hodge-podge of different options. You’ll get access to live, visual data, historical analysis, troubleshooting alerts and diagnostics, and much more.

SolarEdge looks to be a great option for anyone looking into maximizing their solar panel system.

Photo Credits:

Images courtesy of SolarEdge; Enphase; Locus; AlsoEnergy.

Buying Solar Panels in Miami, Florida

miami-solar-panels

Miami Solar

For those of you living in Miami, you'll find a lot of good news and some bad news about the state of solar Florida.

As a solar customer there, you’ll find that you will come out way ahead in areas such as property taxes, sales taxes, net metering, and tax credits. Unfortunately, you will be left behind in state-specific tax credits and energy policies.

If you are interested in purchasing a solar system in Miami, then I advise you to read through all of the various options included in this article to find which one works best for you.You will find that solar is a compelling investment no matter where you live, but specifics to the state of Florida will be important to any decision that you make.​

#1 Overall Solar Grade: Miami, Fl

C Overall State Grade
12 years Avg. Payback Time
3.54 % Estimate IRR (Return on your investment on cash purchase over 25 years)
$17,844.22 Your Net Profit Over 25 Years (Cash Purchase)

* Note that these are estimated values for informational purposes only, and do not take into account the full complexity of all financial projections. They also only apply to cash purchases, which means your numbers will be different if you lease your system or pay for it with a loan (factoring in interest). 

#2 Options for buying solar panels in Miami

As with the rest of Florida, the best return for investment in solar comes from a cash purchase.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll use an average install price of $16,600 before any incentives or discounts for a 5kW system. This system size is a great balance between savings and costs for an average home. Below we will talk about the three main ways to purchase a solar system for your house: cash, leasing, and loans.

We’ll look at the upfront costs and expected returns on your investment over a 25-year period. How long does it take to pay off the system? When will you start making money? What is your average return? Which is the best route to take? Read on!

Let me explain a little bit. Consider solar power to be an investment. Investments usually offer some kind of return.

Following me so far?

If you think of the savings that solar provides as the “return” on your investment, then you can look at the value of the system over its 25 year life. 

Cash upfront

If you are able to come up with the cash to buy your solar system outright, it would make sense that this would be the best approach to getting a new solar system for your home. This, however, is not the case.

With cash, you will be plunking down the $16,600 out of your own pocket during that first year. This is a big upfront payment. Now, after you file your taxes for that year you will also get that 30% federal tax credit for $4980 and you will have also saved about $843.54 on your energy bills for a combined total of $6447.54.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Your system will produce roughly the same amount of power each and every year that it is operating, but the cost to produce that energy will stay the same (nothing). Your power company, on the other hand, will typically increase their prices each year. While the national average has increased by less than 3% per year on average since 2008, but some areas see much higher increases.

In Florida, for instance, FPL (Florida Power and Light) recently asked for a 24% increase over 3 years. Increases like this can definitely impact your monthly bills.

With the cash method, your system will typically pay for itself after the 12th year and you’ll see a $17,844.22 income from the system for its remaining 13 years in service. Again, if you look at solar as an investment you’ll be doing a lot better than any kind of savings accounts or bonds.

Leases

Unfortunately, Florida has currently outlawed any leasing agreements between solar producers and potential customers in the state. This is unfortunate, because while it may not always be the best financial method to get access to solar power it is definitely the easiest method to create widespread adoption because of the zero-down nature of leasing.

More: Solar Leases

Loan

Although it may seem a little counter-intuitive, loans may actually the best overall method to pay for your new solar system (in terms of return on investment). The reason is simple: you are using someone else’s money to save money. Financing isn’t usually associated with saving money in the long run, but due to utilities’ yearly price increases, the math will work out in our favor.

Let’s take that same $16,600 system from the cash example. We’ll also assume that you are taking out a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to provide the financing for the solar system, but this scenario works for any loan that has a 5% or less interest rate.

The interesting thing about taking out a loan for solar is that you, as the loan purchaser, actually still get access to the 30% federal tax credit. So, you’ll be taking out a loan for the $16,600, but when you file your first year’s taxes you’ll be getting $4,980 back in your pocket (you’ve already made money!).

Of course, it’s not a perfect scenario. Due to your loan payment, you’ll end up paying about $60 per month for solar in the first year. This is your total loan payments (about $1,575) minus your energy savings (about $843). The good news is that because your utility bills tend to increase each year, you’ll be paying less and less for your solar system as the years go by. Also, after you’ve paid off your system in 15 years, you’ll start to see savings of up to $1100 per year from your system until the end of its 25-year life.

This scenario will give you about $10,815 in profits over the life of your system and you never took a dime out of your pocket to pay for the system up front!

More: Solar Loans

There are tons of credit unions, banks, and loan companies that can provide a loan for you in Florida.  You also have the option to take out a HELOC to finance your solar panels.  If you are shopping for a solar loan, just be sure that you are getting fair terms and keep in mind that all of my scenarios below assume that you are getting at least a 5% interest rate or better.

#3 Solar Policy Information

Miami’s solar energy policies are complicated because Florida, as a whole, seems to be a bit confused in terms of its solar energy policy. On the one hand, they are extremely enthusiastic with certain areas while completely shutting out solar in the other. It can be shown that Miami does have some interest in bringing solar power to various parts of the city, but there are still no real incentives for average customers.

The landscape of solar policy also stays rather turbulent because of the state’s four major energy companies actively trying to circumvent solar progress. Let’s take a look at how the main areas of Florida’s energy policy stack up.

Renewable Portfolio Standard

Florida, and therefore Miami, does not currently have a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). An RPS is essentially a decision by the government to mandate that a certain percentage of the power generated within the state comes from renewable sources.
Florida’s lack of RPS means that it is up to smaller companies and individuals to lead the charge for bringing solar energy to the forefront in the state. It’s still very possible to effect this change, but there is no officially mandated support yet.

Electricity Prices

On average, Floridians pay about 11 cents for a kilowatt-hour which is two cents cheaper than the national average. This means that for those interested in solar, you won’t be offsetting as high of a cost as you might in other states. One of the major highlights of solar, however, is that no matter how low your costs for power are you will eventually recoup your investment and start generating a profit from solar power.

The reason behind this is that your initial cost won’t increase, but utility companies tend to increase prices slightly on a year-to-year basis.

Net Metering

If you are not familiar with net metering, then you really should learn about how it can help you make money with solar power. See, net metering is a system that requires your utility company to monitor how much power you are actually consuming from the grid while also making sure that you get a credit for any surplus energy that you are feeding into it. This means that your power-conscious lifestyle can help your solar panels generate even more savings and even income in the long run.

Florida actually has a very generous set of standards for net metering that they set back in 2008. Basically, it will be easy to hook up to their grid because there is no maximum for the amount of people that can tie in. The energy surplus you generate will roll forward for up to 12 months at which point the utility will pay you for any leftover excess!
Making money by saving money is a win-win in my book!

More: Net Metering

Interconnection Rules

Florida’s interconnection policies are a bit of a mixed bag. In case you didn’t know, interconnection policies state how customers are allowed to “plug in” to the power grid and send power to the utility companies from their home system. The good news is that for small, single-home systems there shouldn’t be any issues at all with connecting to the grid.

Florida has a few requirements for larger systems such as external disconnect switches and mandatory insurance. For systems under 10kw, which would be almost everyone reading this interested in a single-home system, there are no such requirements!

#4 Financial Incentives, Rebates, and Other Tax Credits 

In yet another example of the mixed bag that Florida offers for its solar energy customers, there are huge pros and huge cons in the list of incentives that you can expect from the government. But remember that incentives are just that – incentives to encourage people that wouldn’t normally be interested in solar to try it. There are compelling financial reasons for going solar even without generous rebates or credits!

Solar Rebates

Unfortunately, there are no statewide rebate programs in Florida and nothing specific to Miami. The one program that was available in Florida, the Florida renewable energy tax incentive program, is no longer available. These types of programs offer rebates to help offset the costs incurred with setting up a new solar system.

Miami, FL Tax Credits

As mentioned before, Florida offers no official tax credits and Miami has shown no effort to create it’s own. There are no local rebates in this area.

Utility-based Performance Payments

First of all, what is a performance payment and why is it important for you? Most places will, in some shape or form, pay their citizens to generate solar power. They do this because the state mandates that they do so through some type of incentive program or RPS. This allows companies and individuals to help offset some of the costs associated with installing a new solar setup.
Unfortunately, the Miami area does not offer any such performance payments. The OUC in Orlando does offer some payments for solar, but this is the extent of these programs in Florida.

Property Tax Exemption

Finally, an area that the Sunshine State begins to shine in! The state of Florida allows a 100% exemption for any value added to your home from installing solar for the purposes of assessing property taxes. This is a huge deal because your home’s value can increase up to $20 for every one dollar of electricity that you save each year from solar.

Basically, the value increases because the cost of maintaining the home actually decreases. It also means that any value captured from adding the solar panels could actually be assessed when selling your home. This is a win-win from a financial perspective in Miami!

Sales Tax Exemption

This is another category in which Florida gets a stellar rating. If you purchase a solar system in Miami, you will not have to pay any sales tax on your purchase because the state offers a 100% exemption. This is equal to an automatic 7% tax savings on your solar system in Miami-Dade County. If your system cost $18,000, you’ll be saving $1260 right off the bat!

What to do next?

If you are in the market to buy a new solar system in Miami, FL then you will definitely find lots of businesses willing to provide you service.  Although the state is not the most pro-solar in the US, it has not stopped producers and third-party installers from stepping up to the plate and offering packaged systems with set pricing.

For residents of Miami, you have tons of opportunities to save money by investing in solar technology. The state ranks 3rd in the nation for rooftop solar potential so you are almost guaranteed to have a great experience with your panels.

You’ll also be eligible for federal tax credits, state tax savings, and a strong net metering proposition.

If you are on the fence about going solar, my recommendation is to jump in and check out your options. You’re bound to find something that works for you!

6 Tips for Finding Good Solar Contractors and Going Solar

solar-contractors

Finding Solar Contractors

Going solar can seem like a daunting challenge if you are just starting your research.  You’ll need to figure out how large your system should be, who should install it, how to finance the system, and how to work with your local utility company to tie into the grid – among other things!

The good news is that if you find the right solar contractor, they can help you navigate the entire process, answer questions along the way, and provide you with the peace of mind that you need in order to feel great about your decision to invest in solar.

Let’s read about some things that we should be considering during our search for the right installer.

Flipping through the yellow pages and making random phone calls might work, but there are a few things that you can try to help narrow down your list before you start researching individual contractors in earnest.  To start, check with your local utility or the local/state agency in charge of your local utility.  They might already have a list of pre-qualified installers that are certified to work on your system.  Most pro-solar states, like California, have a database like this to help you get started.

#1 Getting Multiple Quotes

Before you commit to any specific solar contractor it is highly important that you get multiple quotes and interview with multiple installers.  Yes, interview.  Make no mistake, purchasing a solar panel system and having it professionally installed is not a small job.  The workers will be performing modifications to your roof and handling very expensive electrical equipment.  With this in mind, it is important that you are doing your due diligence in determining who is right for the job.

Don’t be afraid to entertain multiple bids and ask lots of questions during the interviews to determine how knowledgeable your potential installer is about solar power and roofing.  During this time you should also be paying attention to how quickly the company responds to your inquiries, their general attitude, their level of helpfulness, and how genuine they are.  All of these qualities will factor into their finished product and it might be worth paying a little extra to ensure that your process is as painless as possible.

Questions to Ask Your Potential Solar Contractor:

  • How many years have you been in business?
  • How many installations have you completed?  In my area?
  • Have you worked with my roof type in the past?
  • Who will design the solar system?
  • Are you familiar with local rules and regulations for installing solar?
  • Do you have experience with interconnection and net metering?
  • Are you certified?
  • Are you insured?
  • May I have a list of references to contact about your previous work?

#2 Checking Solar Contractor Reviews and References

Once you’ve identified a small list of contractors that you are interested in working with, start by looking online for reviews of these companies.  If they do not have an online presence it is not necessarily a red flag, but it should be comforting to see lots of positive reviews on the company that you are looking into.  Pay special attention to any details provided about finished work, timeliness, and general level of satisfaction from the job.

More: What are the best residential solar installers?

After you’ve tossed out any contractors with poor or a lack of reviews you can start asking for references.  Even in the modern age of internet reviews, honest face-to-face recommendations from other customers simply cannot be matched in terms of authenticity.  Don’t shy away from asking your potential installer for references from some of their recent clients.  If they refuse to give you the information then they are probably not worth working with.

Questions to Ask Your References:

Just as if you were checking up on any other contractor, you should ask the following:

  • How similar is their system to what you are looking for?
  • Did the contractor clearly explain the entire process to you?
  • Were they timely?
  • How did their crew perform the work?  Were they pleasant and easy to work with?
  • How was communication with the company?
  • Did the job come in under budget?
  • Did you get the results you were looking for?
  • Would you hire them again?

#3 Handling the Fine Print

As I mentioned before, a solar panel installation is a major commitment and carries a substantial financial investment.  It is extremely important to read your entire contract carefully and ask questions about anything that seems unclear or disadvantageous to you.

Getting into every detail of a contract could require the services of a lawyer if you want to be certain you are protected.  Here are some key things to watch out for to make sure that you are aware of how the contractor will perform under certain circumstances and to ensure that you are protected.

  • Scope of work – this includes obtaining permits, labor, equipment, materials, etc. as well as adherence to the design specs.
  • Timing of the work – making sure the project starts and finishes on time.
  • Payment – how and when the contractor is to be paid for work.
  • Changes to work – you should make sure that you must sign for any changes made.
  • Warranties – What type of warranty is included?
  • Default Provisions – what happens if there is a breach of contract?
  • Lein waivers – in construction projects, it is typical that you request a lien waiver after each milestone payment to ensure that both parties have signed off on the work.
  • Project dates – having a timeline written into the contract will help ensure a timely finish.
  • Escape Hatch – what happens if your financing falls through or you otherwise have to pull out of the contract?
  • Signatures – a binding contract must have the signature of both parties.

#4 Choosing the Right Equipment/Installation

Determining how large your system should be and what type of equipment will work best is one of the first priorities that you’ll have.  This will factor into your next decisions about the type of equipment you need for your system.  The right solar contractor should be able to help you navigate through these options and find what works best for your unique situation.

Earlier I mentioned that you should ask your installer who will be designing your system.  The reason for this is simple:  not every system works on every roof.  It is important that your installer is capable of designing a system that is tailored to your exact needs:  roof pitch, shade, sunlight exposure, etc.

How Big Should Your System Be?

First, ask yourself what your goals are for your system:

  • Are you trying to power your entire home and be completely independent of your utility company’s power?
  • Do you just want to save a portion of your energy bill?
  • What is your budget for the project?

Solar Contractor Roof Square Footage

Photo courtesy of NREL.gov

As you can see in the chart, the size requirements for your system will be determined by multiple factors such as the panels used and your desired output.

Different Types of Equipment

An experienced installer should be familiar with lots of different types of equipment.  Remember that your system will include not only the panels themselves, but also inverters, cables, mounting framework, and other miscellaneous items.  If you have done your research and selected a top-notch solar contractor then you should feel confident that they will be able to help you determine the best equipment for the job.

You do not need to be an expert, but review some information online about power inverters and the basics of solar panel installations so that you can ask your potential solar contractor some questions about your system:

  • What type of power inverter will they be using?
  • What type of solar panels will they be using?
  • What is the efficiency rating of the panels?
  • Will you be able to monitor the electrical output?
  • What is the expected degradation over time?
  • What is the lifespan of individual components in the system?

#5 Exploring Payment Options

There are two major ways that you will be paying for your system and your solar contractor will be more or less relevant depending on the method you choose.

Cash and Loans

If you choose the cash or loan method, remember that you will be responsible for the total upfront cost of the system.  This means that a ballooning budget could end up setting you back way more than you originally thought.  It is highly important that you lock in some kind of price guarantee if you are going this route so that they cannot sneak any hidden costs into the equation.  If you have your financing pre-approved for a certain amount you could try to put that in the contract as a maximum allowable spend.  Also remember that you will be 100% responsible for any maintenance or repairs to your system so you should have complete knowledge of your warranty’s stipulations.

Leasing

If you are leasing your solar panels from your contractor or installer then you should be looking at different areas of the process.  Your monthly payment as a lessee will probably be fixed, but this means that your contractor will have a perverse incentive to save as much money as possible on the equipment and installation process.  Be sure to double-check their work and ensure that your contract has iron-clad protection for any potential roof damage caused by your system installation.  You do not want to ruin the value of your home due to a shoddy solar installation.

#6 What Happens After the Install

It is easy for solar contractors to install your system, take your money, and then ride off into the sunset, never to be seen again.  It is important that you put in the work up front to ensure that you will be covered in the future.

Warranty Information

This is the most obvious thing to check.  Key watch-outs are the time covered and any exceptions that would void the warranty.  Remember that individual components might have different warranty lengths.  For instance, even though the panels might be good for 25 years, the inverter might only have a 10-year warranty.  Ask as many questions as you need in order to make sure that you are well aware of your rights and limitation.

Longevity of the Company

An iron-clad lease or contract does not really mean anything if the company you are doing business with has gone out of business when you need them to perform a service.  Just because a company offers the cheapest price does not mean that they are the best team for the job.  In order for them to stay in business, they must provide quality workmanship and service while generating a fair profit.  Companies with long histories are preferable.  Also preferable is a larger construction company that simply has a branch specifically for solar.  This means that they are well-diversified and probably able to withstand changes and ups and downs in the market.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you are feeling a bit more secure about your upcoming solar system installation.  Although the task of finding solar contractors can seem daunting, if you break the process down it doesn’t have to be overly complicated.  Attention to detail and due diligence are your best friends during this journey.  Follow the steps I outlined and you will be well on your way to a great relationship with a great installer!

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions please feel free to leave a comment!

Buying Solar Panels in Tampa, FL

solar-panels-tampa-florida

Going Solar in Tampa, Florida

If you are living and looking into solar panels in Tampa, FL then you are no doubt aware that your state is called the "Sunshine State" with good reason. In fact, you are usually able to enjoy up to 244 days of sunshine each year!

With all those golden rays coming in, it's no surprise that you are interested in installing a solar panel system on your roof to invest in the free energy available to you. Solar systems represent a great investment for your home, community, and nature itself and this opportunity is ready for you in Tampa!

Unfortunately, there are a few obstacles that you will have to deal with while living in Florida and due to the mixed bag of policies in the state, we currently rank it a solid 'C' compared to other states in the US. You will come out way ahead in some areas, but some financial opportunities will be closed to you as well. Let's find out what we're dealing with.

#1 Overall Solar Grade: Tampa, Fl

C Overall State Grade
12 years Avg. Payback Time
3.54 % Estimate IRR (Return on your investment on cash purchase over 25 years)
$17,844.22 Your Net Profit Over 25 Years (Cash Purchase)

* Note that these are estimated values for informational purposes only, and do not take into account the full complexity of all financial projections. They also only apply to cash purchases, which means your numbers will be different if you lease your system or pay for it with a loan (factoring in interest). 

#2 Options for buying solar panels in Tampa

There are a few options for buying or otherwise getting access to solar panels in Tampa and we will look at the pros and cons for each method.

Although it is impossible to tell you exactly how much your system will cost to purchase and install, we can look at sources like the Solar Electric Power Association and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to get an average cost of $16,600 for a typical home-sized 5-kilowatt system. This size is a good balance between the savings you’ll generate and the costs you will have to cover in order to install it, assuming that you are getting good productivity! We will use this cost to show upfront costs and expected returns on your investment into solar energy.

Remember, this cost is also before any financial incentives such as rebates or tax savings (such as the Federal Tax Credit that knocks off 30%). So, how long would it take to pay off your system? When will you start making some free money by selling energy back to your utility? Which payment method should you choose?

These are all great questions, but to answer those questions let’s look at why solar panel systems are considered an investment. The lifespan of a typical solar panel system is about 25-40 years and it will be producing free energy for your home over this time period.

We’ll take the conservative estimate and say that buying a solar system is like making an upfront investment in the next 25 years of your home’s energy. The “return” on this investment is all of the money that you are saving by not paying the utility company for energy production. Your returns will also improve from any extra energy that you are able to produce and sell back to the utility (more on that later!).

Cash upfront

Cash is king and there is always an argument to buying something outright with cold, hard money.

Paying cash avoids any type of interest payments, for instance, and it will possibly allow you a little more flexibility with your installer depending on the situation. Financially, however, it might not always make the most sense to pull out $14,560 from your pocket upfront when there are other options available.

Let’s check out how it would work.

Using cash, you will be pulling out $16,600 up front for your system during your first year. This is obviously a big down payment. When you file your taxes for the year you purchase your system, however, you will be able to take advantage of the 30% federal tax credit for $4,980 and you will have also saved about $843.54 during that first year in reduced energy costs for a combined total savings of $5,823.54!

We’ll talk more below about how we can determine the energy savings you will see with your system. The beauty of solar is that your system will produce about this much energy each and every year over its lifetime, but the cost of generating that energy stays the same (nothing except for maintenance).

The energy that you would normally be using from your utility company, however, ordinarily increases each year. As a normal customer of your utility company, you might not be paying a whole lot of attention to the details of your energy bill, but your costs each year can rise substantially and you will have no choice but to pay the utility company what they are asking.

You see, utility companies are often granted monopoly rights by the state and that means that there is very little flexibility when it comes to changing companies unless you are willing to move to another part of the state. Although Duke Energy does not currently service the Tampa area, they recently raised their rates by 48% over a 10 year period. Wow.

Looking back at the cash method, your system will usually pay itself off in around 12 years and you will see $17,844.22 (total savings on electricity – total system cost) in income from your system over its lifetime!

Leases

Leasing is an option that has surged in popularity across the US as companies have recognized that there is a huge market for making solar affordable to those that wouldn’t ordinarily have the means to pay cash or finance a loan for their system.

Unfortunately, the state of Florida does not currently allow leasing. Don’t worry though because leasing may be the cheapest option up front, but there are less long-term benefits to this method.

More: Solar Leases

Loan

Due to the simple fact that you are using someone else’s money to invest in your solar panel system, taking out a loan can represent the best option for a lot of people looking to take the leap into solar.

Obviously, financing is not usually the tool of choice when someone is looking to make money in the long run, but due to the nature of rising utility costs, the math can actually work in your favor.

Let’s use the $16,600 from the cash example. Let’s also assume that you are using a 15-year home equity line of credit (HELOC) or any other loan source that has a 5% or less interest rate.

Remember that even though you are taking out a loan to finance your system, you still have access to the 30% tax credit because you are the one doing the financing. So you will actually be taking the loan out for $16,600, but you will be getting back $4,980 when you file your taxes for the first year. See, you’ve already made money!

The rub to this method comes down to the loan payment. Due to this payment, you will actually end up spending about $61 per month for solar in your first year. We can find that number by taking your total loan payments (about $1,575) and subtracting your energy savings (about $843.54).

Btw, you can use just about any loan calculator to come up with these numbers for yourself.

Because your utility bills typically increase each year, however, you’ll end up paying less and less for your system as the years go by. Your loan payments and the percentage of energy covered by your system stays the same each year while the amount of energy you are saving is worth more and more. After your loan is paid off in 15 years you will actually start to see savings north of $1,000 per year from your system until the end of its 25-year lifespan.

In this scenario, you’ll be generating about $10,815.22 in net savings from your system over its lifetime, but you never paid any of your own money up front!

More: Solar Loans

#3 Solar Policy Information

Here we discuss some of the larger policy issues related to solar in Tampa, Fl.

Renewable Portfolio Standard

The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is basically the overall energy policy that determines how much energy is required (if any) to be produced by renewable sources such as wind, biomass and solar. If the state is interested in developing renewable energy, this policy gives them an opportunity to force the state utility companies to start developing energy production.

Unfortunately for those of you living in Tampa, Florida does not currently have any type of renewable portfolio standard. Not having an RPS means that there is no incentive for the major utility monopolies to lift a finger to help grow renewable energy sources in the state and it is up to smaller companies and individuals to help lead the movement for solar energy in Florida. There is no reason to give up hope without an RPS, but it is certainly encouraging to see official support from your government.

Electricity Prices

On average, Floridians pay about 11 cents per kilowatt-hour on their electricity bills which is actually two cents cheaper than the national average. Energy costs are important because these costs factor into how much your solar panel system will save you. If you are paying less than the national average, then you will be saving slightly less than someone else that has the same system as you do.

Don’t get discouraged by this fact, however, because no matter how low your costs are from your utility company are now you will eventually recoup your solar investment and start generating profit from it.

Don’t forget that utility companies tend to raise their rates by at least 3-4% per year and the electricity produced by your solar panels won’t cost you any more in the future. The math works out in your favor!

Net Metering

For anyone interested in powering their home with solar energy, net metering is something that you need to learn about immediately! Basically, net metering is a system that requires your utility company to monitor exactly how much power you are consuming from them while also checking to see how much power you are feeding back into the grid. You see, solar systems work by producing abundant energy during the daytime, but less at night.

What this means is that you might actually be producing more electricity than you need during the day while you use energy from your utility grid during the night. The other part of net metering, the best part, is that the utility companies must actually pay you a set rate for any energy surplus that your system provides to the grid!

Florida’s state net metering laws, set back in 2008, make it very easy to hook up to the grid to start gaining from these benefits because there is no maximum amount of people that can tie in. They will also roll your energy surplus forward for up to 12 months, at which point they will pay you for any excess. This is a win-win for those of you that have frugal energy lifestyles and want to help serve your community and the planet by providing clean, renewable energy!

More: Net Metering

Interconnection Rules

In Florida, the interconnection rules are a bit of a jumble between good and bad for any would-be solar installer.

Interconnection policies define exactly how customers are allowed to “plug in” to their local power grid and deliver power to the utility company from their home system. The good news for you is that the rules are actually quite simple for smaller, single-home systems. The rules state that larger systems have features such as external disconnect switches and they also make insurance mandatory on those systems.

For systems under 10kw, which should be pretty much anyone reading this article, there are no such requirements. Your single-home system will be very straight forward!

#4 Financial Incentives, Rebates, and other Tax Credits 

Some cities and states have really gotten behind solar in a big way, but unfortunately Florida is a bit of bad and good at the same time. In some ways, it seems like the state government really wants to open up the doors for solar and invite new customers to start paving the way to cleaner energy. In other ways, it looks like it is purposefully trying to close the doors. Just remember that local incentives are just icing on the cake for anyone interested in solar because you will be coming out way ahead once your system is paid off and you are able to reap the rewards of your investment.

Rebates

The only official statewide rebate program that has ever existed in Florida was the Florida renewable energy tax incentive program which has unfortunately been discontinued. Under this program, the state would reimburse individuals and companies for certain expenses related to renewable energy and even refund previously paid taxes for eligible equipment. The state government did not anticipate the demand for solar that its citizens would have and subsequently ran out of funding for the program. Who would have ever thought that the sunshine state wouldn’t be enthusiastic about solar?

Other Incentives

Unfortunately, there are no other incentives available to residents in Tampa, FL. One bright note, however, is that the local utility (Tampa Electric) does seem to make it easy to get your system connected and fully supports net metering. They also offer citizens without a solar system the ability to purchase “blocks” of renewable energy produced by the utility as a way to help the environment.

 

Federal Tax Credit

The big score for anyone interested in solar since 2005 has been the residential renewable tax credit. This credit allows for a 30% tax credit for any costs related to purchasing and installing a new solar panel system. This basically means that you can take 30% of the cost right off the top of going solar. Remember that you can qualify for this credit when you pay for the system with cash or a loan, but leasing the system means that your installer gets the credit.

Property Tax Exemption

Moving on to local property taxes, residents of Tampa will be pleased to learn that the state of Florida currently allows for a 100% exemption for any solar equipment that adds value to your home when assessing your tax bill. This is quite a financial windfall for you because the value of your home can actually increase up to $20 for every dollar of electricity that you are saving each year with your solar panel system.

The reason your home will increase in value with solar is that the cost of maintaining your home actually decreases when you go solar. Don’t worry about losing the value added to your home when the time comes to sell it though because you’ll be able to roll the value into the asking price.

Sales Tax Exemption

Continuing with the awesome tax trend in Tampa, sales tax is another area in which you will see a great incentive to go solar. If you purchase a system for your home, you won’t have to pay a cent of sales tax because the state offers a 100% exemption on the sale! This is basically equal to a 7% reduction in the cost of your system in Hillsborough county. If your system cost $14560, you are saving $1019 at the time of purchase.

General Increase in Home Value

As we touched on before, a solar panel system can definitely add value to your home. A recent study suggests that people were willing to spend up to a $4 per watt premium for homes with a standard-sized system. If you look at the math, it means that a 5-kilowatt system could add as much as $20,000 to your home. Considering that you won’t be paying any additional property taxes on this extra value in Tampa, it definitely looks like a win-win!

Conclusion

If you are currently trying to decide whether or not to purchase a solar panel system in Tampa, FL then my recommendation is that you strongly consider all of the wonderful benefits that are available to you in your state. Although there might not be the most direct incentives available to you, the tax credits, state tax savings and a strong net metering opportunity are all great ways to save money.

Don’t forget that you are in the Sunshine State and you are living in the third highest state in the country in solar potential! Also, we recommend that you contact a local qualified installer to get an actual solar estimate for your exact situation!

The best way to get started is by getting a solar estimate from a qualified solar installer in Tampa. Click the link below to get started!

What are Thin Film Solar Panels?

What-are-thin-film-solar-panels

The details about thin film solar panels.

In recent years we have seen radical improvements in the underlying technology of solar panels and although you are familiar with the traditional-style solar panels in pictures and on rooftops, thin film solar panels are now making their way into the mainstream.  They are called ‘thin film’ because they are able to be produced in such a way that allows them to be flexible and coat materials other than the standard wafer boards. This allows for many more applications for solar power and can allow them to blend more seamlessly into your home’s aesthetics.

The Difference Between Traditional Solar Panels and Thin Film

The most obvious difference between the traditional silicon wafer solar panel and newer thin film varieties is the thickness. There are also currently gaps in solar capture efficiencies between first-generation silicon-based wafers and newer, second-generation methods that use different compounds. This comes down to the materials being used in the panels themselves.

Traditional panels often use crystalline silicon (c-Si) in their manufacture. This process has been around for years and has established itself to be reliable.  It should be mentioned that although c-Si is considered to have a high-efficiency rate in terms of energy production from installed systems, it is actually a relatively poor absorber of light. This means that the cells must be fairly thick and rigid in order to produce effectively.

Related: Comparing Solar Panel Types 

In contrast, thin film technologies employ different elements that allow the cells to be up to 350 times thinner than the traditional wafer. This material can then be layered over coated glass, metal, or plastic to create a solar cell, and allows for many different types of materials and objects to produce energy.

Main Types of Thin Film Solar Cells

There are two main goals for thin film solar cells today: to have the flexibility to attach it to a larger variety of building materials and to eventually achieve the same or higher efficiency than traditional silicon-based methods. All of these methods below offer some differences in pros and cons compared to the traditional-style panels. Their names usually derives from the type of material that is used for its semiconductor. Let’s take a look at four and see how the different technologies compare:

#1: Amorphous Silicon (a-Si)a-Si photovoltaic cell structure

a-Si photovoltaic cell structure.  Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov

Amorphous Silicon is the oldest and most mature type of thin film to produce solar power. This is likely because silicon was already being used in its crystalline form to produce the more traditional panels and silicon’s electrical properties were well understood.

Pros:

  • Unlike crystalline silicon, the amorphous silicon version actually has a very high solar absorption rate which makes very thin layers of the material possible. This effectively reduced material costs and because it is relatively abundant, nontoxic, and inexpensive it quickly became the first thin film method to break into the mainstream.

Cons:

  • Because of its relatively low efficiency, however, you will mostly only see this method used in small-scale, flexible power packs and electronics.

#2: Cadmium Telluride (CdTe)

CdTe

CdTe photovoltaic cell structure.  Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov

Solar technology based on cadmium telluride is now the second most popular PV technology in the world, sitting at around 5%. This is thanks to the fact that manufacturing of this process is cheaper and quicker than comparable silicon-based methods and recent leaps in efficiency have prompted more mainstream adoption.

Pros:

  • As mentioned before, CdTe is cheaper than silicon-based methods, but it is important to note that by 2014 the technology had the smallest overall carbon footprint and payback time from purchase. Although CdTe, as well as thin film cells in general, lag behind the traditional c-Si panels in terms of efficiency, they have been rapidly approaching that gold standard. As of 2015, a company called First Solar reached an average commercial module efficiency of 16.1%.
  • CdTe panels are also highly adaptable to hot, humid weather and low light when compared to traditional cells. This means that they work best in the areas with the most sun and are able to be used in areas that up until now were less than ideal.

Cons:

  • One possible disadvantage of the CdTe method lies in the very materials used to manufacture them. Cadmium, by itself, is a very toxic substance that can accumulate in the food chain much like Mercury. Early results show that cadmium can leach from the compound over time in landfills and CdTe itself has shown toxic effects when inhaled by test rats. Fortunately, proper handling and disposal methods will negate much of the potential concern.
  • As such, many agencies and laboratories are actively searching for alternatives that are safe for the environment while also being efficient. Current manufacturers are also searching for ways to reuse or recycle these materials as a way to help solve the issues concerning the environment.

#3: Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide (CIGS)

CIGS

CIGS photovoltaic cell structure.  Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov

This type of solar cell is another popular type of semiconductor used to create thin film applications. The CIGS method is currently more popular in Europe and Japan, but there are manufacturers all over the world making use of this technique to take advantage of its environmentally safe materials and peak efficiency potential.

Pros:

  • CIGS have the benefit of being environmentally friendly in terms of materials used which is a boon for manufacturers looking for a long-term benefit to the planet. The materials used also allow it to have the highest potential efficiency of any of the thin-film technologies as well as a great resistance to heat. There is also a great potential for long-life applications due to the lack of significant degradation over time.
  • The methods used also allow for extremely thin sizes of less than one micrometer to be used in creating devices. This means that there are even more potential applications for this technology such as building materials, cars, and airplanes.

Cons:

  • CIGS technology has yet to reach or surpass the traditional silicon-based panels, but it has made great leaps forward in recent years. Although the record for lab-based efficiency is over 20%, real-world applications still fall in the mid-teens.

#4: New Copper Zinc Tin Sulphur (CZTS) Method

CZTS photovoltaic cell structure

CZTS photovoltaic cell structure.  Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov

In an ongoing effort to find solar technology that is both environmentally friendly as well as manufactured using abundant materials, the CZTS method was discovered. This method is very similar to CIGS in terms of properties and methods of fabrication, but its efficiency is still very low.

Pros:

  • As mentioned before, CZTS is made up of the earth-abundant elements copper, zinc, tin, and sulfoselenide. This means that the compound is both environmentally friendly and could ultimately become quite cheap because of the material cost. The tellurium and indium found in the CdTe and CIGS models are extremely rare, for instance.

Cons:

  • CZTS is still in the early stages of development and in order to be more commercially viable, higher efficiencies are required. The technology current taps out at around 7.6%. It would need to hit around 20% efficiency before it could become competitive among its peers.

Conclusion

We trust this information has helped shed light on what exactly are thin film solar panels and how they are shaping the current landscape of solar energy production.

As these technologies mature, they will make their way into competitive products available for purchase. Already there are alternative methods of solar production, such as solar roof tiles, that allow customers to have a more aesthetically pleasing look while still saving money on their energy bills. Watch this space to see what innovative and new trends will be developed.

Photos courtesy of NREL.gov

The Complete Guide to Solar Panel Cleaning

Solar Panel Cleaning

What are the best options for solar panel cleaning?

If you are looking for some great information on how to clean your solar panels, you have found the right place! But first, let’s talk about why solar panel cleaning is so important in the first place.

An accumulation of dirt, dust, oil, sap, droppings, and a host of other things will prevent the surface area of your solar panels from producing electrical power. According to a recent study on Google’s campus, your solar power output could be reduced by up to 36% in a year without a system of routine maintenance.

To improve (or maintain) solar panel efficiency - the conversion rate that determines how much of the incoming solar energy is converted into electrical power - there’s a few steps you can take which we will discuss here.

Different Approaches to Cleaning Solar Panels

While we should all remember that the solar panels on our roofs are high-tech pieces of hardware, it is also important to note that the exterior of these panels is strong, tempered glass meant to survive the elements. This durability means that they are also able to withstand scrubbing and water exposure. Although the cleaning process is very simple, how you choose to clean them will depend on your individual situation and how comfortable you are accessing your roof (or wherever you installed your panels).

Option 1: Don’t clean them at all!

The good news is that if you have a Solar Lease or PPA, it is the duty of the solar company to maintain and clean the panels. This is because they legally own the panels and they are simply leasing the equipment and energy production to you under a contract.

However “maintenance” is a loose term contractually, because it will be up to the installer to determine what services are included. It is possible that they won’t consider cleaning to be a required service which could lead to the panels accumulating dirt and grime, potentially reducing your system’s effectiveness and increasing your energy bills.

Have a look at your contract or give them a call. If cleaning is part of your agreement, they will have a group of professionals that will be able to safely and effectively clean your panels without you having to lift a finger.

Rain on a solar panel

The other good news is that with the help of rainfall, solar panels are generally self-cleaning, so depending on your geographical location, you may not need to worry about cleaning them at all.

Note: You should still check occasionally for blockage due to debris.

If you live in a dusty area, like the southwest, or near traffic and other factors contributing to dust accumulation on your solar panels, you may want to clean your solar panels more often and more effectively. Then you will have to look at these other options:

Option 2 : Do It Yourself (DIY)

Solar Panel Cleaning DYI

Warning! It's obviously dangerous to be on your roof, so take necessary safety precautions or better yet, hire a professional!

If you own the solar array DIY panel cleaning is the most cost-effective option. You may even have some or all of these materials in your garage already.

Here is what you will need for the job:

  • Tall ladder for accessing the roof
  • Soft bristle brush with a long handle (automotive cleaning brushes work well)
  • Soft foam or rubberized squeegee with a long handle
  • Bucket with a wide bottom (it should be able to sit tilted on the roof)
  • Water hose with a low-pressure setting (garden hose set to shower is ideal)
  • Deionized water (either jugs or hooked up to a hose) (Optional)
  • Mild liquid soap
  • Shoes with quality grip

Cleaning Materials:

Consider using these products to make the job quicker and easier:

Solar Panel Cleaning Kit
Waterfedpole
  • A Water fed pole runs water through the center and can reach 12 feet. These aren't cheap though (basic model we linked to is $152).

Instructions for Cleaning Solar Panels Yourself

Solar panel cleaning is not much more complicated or time consuming than cleaning your average window. Just remember that with any DIY project, safety is the number one priority! If you do not feel safe accessing your solar panels then leave the cleaning to the professionals.

Pro Tip: Always clean your solar panels in the morning or evening. During the middle part of the day the panels can get very hot making cleaning dangerous for both you and the panels. 

Pre-Cleaning considerations

  • Refer to your manual for instructions prior to shutting down the system and beginning to clean.
  • If you encounter tough spots, never use an abrasive sponge or soap as you run the risk of scratching the glass and decreasing it’s efficiency.
  • If you have mineral-rich hard water, this can leave residue on the glass as it dries. Try to squeegee the panels as well as possible or rinse with captured rainwater if this is your only option.

Step 1: Assemble Your Materials on the Roof

Once you have gathered all the materials you need for the job together, you have to get them up on the roof. Ask a partner to help you by handing items up to you from the ladder. Lay items flat on the roof and make sure they are secure before letting them go. Have your bucket or spray bottle ready with warm water and some biodegradable soap.

Pro Tip: Wear shoes with dependable tread to prevent slipping.

Step 2: Spray Down Your Panels

Take your hose and gently spray down your panels. Spraying the panels will help to remove the top layer of dirt, loosen up the other layers, and cool your panels if you need to place your hands on them during the cleaning. While you are spraying, note any stubborn pieces of debris or dirt that don’t seem to be moved by the water. Common culprits include tree sap and bird droppings.

Pro Tip: Never use a pressure washer on solar panels. Although the glass is quite durable, they are not designed to be hit with high-pressure water jets.

Step 3: Gently Scrub Each Panel With Mild Soap Solution

Use your soapy solution and a long-handled brush, sponge or soft cloth to gently scrub each panel. Be sure to cover the entire surface and especially the corners along the bottom edge – they are the most prone to dirt build-up. As long as you are using a non-abrasive brush, you will be able to scrub as much as you need to clear the debris. Start from the top of the panels working your way down as you clean.

Step 4: Rinse

Rinsing off the soap is a step that most home DIY’ers wouldn’t think about too much. While normal hose water will work fine for rinsing the panels, it can also leave bad water spots. Deionizing removes all of the natural minerals from the water. If you have some extra deionized water lying around, it won't hurt to use it for the final rinse.

Step 5: Squeegee Panels

Be sure to squeegee the panels with care from the top of the panels to the bottom to remove excess water. Avoid making contact with the panels with anything other than foam or rubber.

Step 6: Clean Up and Mark Your Calendar for the Next Cleaning

After you’ve completed the cleaning, it’s time to get all of your materials back to ground level and mark your calendar for the next cleaning - six months to one year.

Option 3: Solar Panel Self-Cleaning Technology

Heliotex Self Cleaning System

There are automated systems for many household chores. Whether it’s a vacuum cleaner for your home or an automatic cleaning system for your swimming pool, there’s technology available to help you get most jobs easily done.

Now, there are also systems to clean your solar panels! If you live in a remote and dry location, or maybe DIY just isn’t your thing, you may want to consider looking into self-cleaning panels such as those offered by Heliotex Automated Solar Cleaning Systems.

These systems are especially handy if you don’t have time to clean your panels yourself by acting as a type of sprinkler system for your panels.

Option 4: Hire a Professional Panel Cleaner

Professional Solar Panel cleaners

For those of you that do not wish to tackle this project on your own, there are many options for hiring a professional cleaning service. These companies will often set up an annual or biannual service agreement for your solar panel cleaning.

Service prices for a professional will vary, and will usually include a base fee, roof access fee, or minimum charge associated with this type of cleaning. Because of these charges the price will typically be well over one hundred dollars for even a small house grid.

Before calling a professional assemble this information to help improve the accuracy of your estimate:

  • Number of panels
  • Location of panels (roof, carport, ground-mounted, etc.)
  • Number of stories (if panels are on the roof)
  • Any dirt on the panels that is unusually stubborn (such as tree sap)

Conclusion

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this tutorial and also learned the importance of solar panel cleaning. Remember even if you live in an area with heavy rainfall to check your panels for dust and debris which could decrease efficiency by up to 50%.

If you are still unsure if your panels need cleaning and/or how often they should be cleaned, simply follow our solar panel cleaning guide and monitor the changes in the power output of your solar panels before and after. Alternatively, contact your solar panel manufacturer or installer for their advice.