What level of maintenance does a solar PV system require?
Solar PV is considered a low-maintenance technology; there are no moving parts and in some instances a system may even be considered self-cleaning. However, a system that is not maintained or monitored at all is likely to fall well below its performance estimates.
The importance of monitoring
As an absolute minimum you should monitor your system to ensure it is performing as expected. If you are not monitoring your system then how do you know if it is even working? It is astonishing how many systems we come across when we are asked to inspect an existing system completed by another installer that aren't even generating or are falling well below the performance level we would expect. Sometimes this can go unnoticed for many months resulting in a huge loss of revenue. A system that is down for one month in the summer could lose up to 15% of its expected annual income!
A well-installed system will be fitted with monitoring hardware that sends out automated text or email fault alerts when a fault arises. Your maintenance contractor can then respond quickly to rectify the fault and minimise any downtime, keeping an potential lose of revenue to an absolute minimum.
At the very least, your solar PV company should conduct a site inspection once a year. This inspection may include thermal imaging of main boards to detect faulty connections and thermal imaging of the PV panels to detect faulty cells. At this stage it may also be necessary to clean the panels and cut the grass around a ground mounted system. A TUV study found that dirty panels could reduce yield by as much as 10%!
Poorly installed systems
Sadly there are many in the solar industry that continue to install sub-standard systems, despite the introduction of MCS installer requirements. To the untrained eye it is difficult to know what a safely installed quality system should look like so if you are in any doubt it is a good idea to have your existing system inspected by a solar PV contractor to check that it is operating safely and effectively.
Health and safety
Many businesses are unaware of their legal obligation to select a contractor that is suitably qualified to install and carry out any maintenance works on a solar PV system. The combination of electrical works and working at height on roof-mounted systems makes solar PV a high-risk industry. In the event of a Health and Safety related incident you could be held responsible if you have not adhered to HSE guidelines. There are cases in the UK where both the installer and the client have been fined by HSE following an accident during a solar PV install so it is vital that you check the credentials of your chosen contractor.
Cheap unmaintained solar is a false economy
Since the introduction of subsidies for solar, the industry has experienced phenomenal growth. Furthermore, the drop in installation prices has enabled this technology to become more accessible than ever before bit in some cases a drop in price has also been matched with a drop in quality. It is important to remember that your solar PV system is a 25 year investment and should be monitored and maintained throughout its lifetime to ensure it continues to perform as expected.