How to Achieve Maximum Output with Your Solar System

The Most Common Causes of Damage to a Solar Panel

1. Natural Damage

Rain, condensation, hail, lightning, twigs, leaves and dirt (or any falling debris) are all the primary causes of damage to solar panels.
There’s no one thing to defend against all of nature’s onslaughts. Instead, you need to be on your toes here and use a variety of methods to protect your system: Install lightning conductors, make sure your panels are properly sealed, clean the panels regularly of loose dirt, angle your panels so that water can run down and off and generally keep an eye on how your solar panels are doing after a big rain or storm. 

 2. Bad Installations

Bad installations can lead to a multitude of problems, from micro cracks to PID damage, fire damage or overheating. When you are working with a solar installation team (link to blog 4) who is skimping on product or doesn’t know what they are doing, chances are your system won’t make it to even a fraction of its life expectancy. Saving money with your solar power system depends entirely on having the right system that is able to last as long as it is guaranteed to last for (25-30 years). When people decide to “save” a little money upfront by proceeding with the lowest possible quotation, it often results in their system underperforming or failing entirely after a couple of years – which means their investment has literally gone up in smoke. With solar power, the goal should be to save money for the next 25 to 30 years, not a little bit on the initial installation costs.

3. Electrical fires

Electrical fires involving solar panels are not common, but they can happen with incorrectly installed or maintained panels (always double check the wiring after an install to ensure you don’t have a problem on your hands). The reason for this is that panels should have a DC (direct current) switch disconnector, which turns the panel off in the case of a fire. To further lower your risk of fire damage, it’s a good idea to install a smoke detector near to your panels to give you ample warning of any fire starting. Lastly, double check that your insurance covers fire damage (as well as other issues mentioned in this list). 

Top Tips for Achieving Maximum Solar Output

There’s no benefit in having a solar panel that isn’t giving you the output that makes its investment worthy. There are various criteria that can influence this, some of which are fill factor, cell grades, light absorption techniques, and panel orientation. 

1. Fill factor

This is a fancy term that speaks to the utilisation of available surface area. The more surface area of a panel that is utilised, the more output you’ll get. Generally, a panel can obtain about 70-90% fill factor, and this would depend on the shape of the cells, the orientation of the panel, and the quality of the build. 

2. Cell grades 

When purchasing popular name brand solar panels, you don’t need to often worry about the quality, as the popularity of the brand speaks for itself. You will usually be getting perfect grade A cells. However, if you are purchasing garage shop solar panels, then you can’t know what the quality will be, and it is very easy to get cheated on the quality. 

  • Grade A: No imperfections and output at 100% (name brand panels).
  • Grade B: Some cosmetic imperfections and output at 90%.
  • Grade C: Contains chips and/or micro-cracks and output at 75-90%. 
  • Grade D: Fallout and output at 25-75% . Not recommended! 

3. Maximising Light Absorption

Being able to absorb light on both sides of a cell maximises the amount of energy that can be absorbed and converted. (bifacial solar panels). 

4. Solar Panel Orientation

Of course, if your solar panel isn’t pointing at the sun, you won’t get much output. For highest output, solar panels must be perpendicular to the sun’s rays. Automated systems that allow the panels to adjust their position during the day would increase efficiency slightly. However, it is generally practical and common for roof-top installations to follow the roof pitch and orientation.   

Solar System Maintenance: Everything you Need to Know

1. Cleaning Your Solar Panels

It is understandable that homeowners are concerned about weather conditions damaging their solar panels mounted on the roof. Solar systems are however installed in all types of climates and are designed to withstand most weather conditions. What is crucial however, especially when it comes to ensuring that your solar array is performing at maximum capacity, is to keep your solar panels clear of debris, whether from trees, birds or general dust build up. For debris and dust build up you can use the following to ensure your solar panels are clean:

  • A leaf blower;
  • A quick rinse with a hose; or
  • A light rain can also wash away the dust build up on your solar panels.

2. Solar Panel Monitoring

Your solar panel monitoring system provides data on the electrical output of your system which you can track over time with a view to calculate any degradation of your solar panels. The monitoring system is the best way to assure that your solar panels are performing and it will also provide you with a notification if there is malfunction or damage.

If your solar system is underperforming for whatever reason, the repair or cleaning costs, depending in your solar installer, can be covered by opting for a solar maintenance package. Besides covering the repair costs, maintenance packages also have several other benefits, some of which include:

  • Site Visits
  • Pest Control
  • Solar Panel Cleaning
  • Electrical System Check
  • Maintaining Solar Inverters

Installing solar power is a large upfront investment and proper maintenance is paramount to keep your system functional for a long period of time. All-in-all, maintaining your solar panels are easy if you have a good warranty, good insurance and your panels are kept free of dirt and debris build-up. It is advisable that you have your solar system inspected by an experienced and qualified solar contractor at least once a year.

Insurance Cover for Your Solar System

More South Africans are opting for renewable energy solutions which requires a significant capital cost, like a solar installation. It is therefore vital that you ensure that your solar system is adequately insured. As Deanne van Doesburgh from Hollard explains: “Green energy solutions can radically reduce your spend on and consumption of grid electricity, which not only makes a big difference to your pocket, but is a meaningful way to live a greener and more sustainable lifestyle. They also represent a significant financial investment, so it’s essential to have these fixed green assets correctly insured under your buildings insurance policy.”

Various insurance companies offer cover for renewable energy equipment specified under the building section of your homeowners insurance policy. Each company has different terms and conditions when it comes to the cover, however generally speaking the equipment will more often than not be specified under the building section with a sum insured equal to its replacement value – the assets listed would be covered for any loss or damage caused by an insured invent listed in the buildings section of the policy.

Steps to follow when applying for cover:

  1. Contact your current insurance provider prior to the actual installation to confirm whether or not they offer cover for the system you want to install.
  2. Find out if your current insurance plan can be amended to add a solar system to your policy. Generally, an amendment of your current policy is all that is required.
  3. In some instances, opening a separate policy may be required for sufficient cover.
  4. Make sure you discuss all the terms and conditions, especially the exclusions, related to the cover so as to avoid any surprises or claim repudiations when the time comes.