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Solar panel cleaning- Is it worthwhile?

09 December 2015

With solar panels appearing on homes and business premises across the UK, it's clear that the drive to utilise renewable energy sources and subsequently save money on our fuel bills is in full swing.

However, what many beneficiaries of solar panels don't recognise is that in order to maintain their optimum performance levels, a certain amount of protection and maintenance needs to be completed at regular intervals. 

With solar panels working and generating power through sunlight hitting the solar cells, a build up of dirt can have a negative effect and, with manufacturer's basing their predicted energy level forecasts on the performance of clean panels, users could soon start to see their figures fall below these expected levels if maintenance is ignored.

Dust and dirt that will no longer be washed away by general rainwater, as well as pollution, leaves and bird droppings, can all have an impact on the amount of sunlight hitting solar panels. As a result of this, the more dirt present on the panels, the less electricity they will be producing.

This is why solar panel cleaning is so important. Most installers and manufacturers recommend this task be undertaken every six to eight months, and some even make it a feature of the panel's warranty. If you were therefore unfortunate enough to suffer a problem with the panels but had no proof that they had been regularly cleaned by a professional, the warranty could well be void.

Undergoing regular cleaning though can save numerous problems, and there are facts to back this up. A case study from Google provides one example. The company installed solar panels at their Mountain View headquarters back in 2007 and recorded the impact cleaning had on their huge installation. After the first clean 15 months after the panels were installed, output on a number of the panels immediately doubled. When cleaning was completed again another eight months later, a 32% overall increase in efficiency was recorded. 

The owner of Leicester based Direct Solar Care, Steve Metcalfe, also has evidence that regular cleaning can improve the efficiency and performance of solar panels, stating: “We have worked with a number of homeowners and businesses across the UK who have come back to us saying they had noticed an immediate increase in the electricity generated from their solar panels after our team had finished work at their property.

"Having been sent readings from our customers that highlight an immediate and prolonged rise in the amount of electricity generated after cleaning, we are now looking to highlight the importance of regular cleaning to maintain desired performance to all those who have had solar panels installed.”

There has been a plethora of research undertaken into the impact of dirty solar panels, and the same result comes back every time. Dirty solar panels will not be as efficient as well maintained, clean ones. Whether it's Solar Energy Power Association stating that they'll lose 20% of their energy output, The National Renewable Energy Laboratory quoting a loss of 25% or recent university studies taking this figure up to 50%, it seems that to ensure long lasting performance from solar panels, regular cleaning from a professional is the way forward.