Solar Power Maintenance

Solar power maintenance.

A few questions may come to mind when the maintenance of a solar power system is considered, namely:
– Is solar power maintenance high or low?
– Is solar power maintenance costly?
– What routine maintenance will be needed?
– What lifespan can be expected from the solar power installation?

Discussion framework:

1 Short Overview of a basic Solar Power System
2 Solar panel maintenance requirements
3 Charge controller maintenance
4 Battery Maintenance and service
5 Inverter service checks
6 Wiring connections look over

1 Short Overview of a basic Solar Power System

A photovoltaic system, commonly called a PV system, or a solar power system, is a system designed to make use of photovoltaics to supply electricity for normal use.

This is actually very simple. There are basically four components in the system, of which each has a specific function. It can be summarized as follows:

–    PV PANELS:  (Solar panels) –Harvest energy from the sun which is converted to electricity.

–    A CHARGE CONTROLLER: (MPPT) is a maximum power point tracker.  This is an electronic DC to DC converter that optimizes the match between the solar panels and the battery. It converts the higher output of the panels (i.e.18 Volts) to the capacity of the battery (i.e. 12 Volts). It also prevents the battery from being over charged.

–    THE BATTERY is basically the reservoir in which the electricity is stored until used. The battery is a direct source for DC output.

–    AN INVERTER: Converts the 12 Volts DC power to for example 120, or 220 Volts AC power.

–    All this is connected by WIRING between the components.

2 Solar panel maintenance requirements

Solar panels require very little maintenance. The panels are normally installed on roof tops and at an angle.  Should a layer of dust build up on the panels, it will wash away with the next rains. Even snow will melt and wash away within a few days, making it unnecessary to get up to the roof and shovel it away.

When installed properly and fixed securely right from the start, the solar panel installation will require close to no maintenance.

Should a dust or dirt layer, or even bird droppings become an issue, it can simply be washed away by rubbing it down with a sponge and clean water.

DO NOT scrub the surface or use detergents.
Do a visual inspection of the modules and look for delamination, cracks and resulting fogged glazing. Re-seal if necessary.

Check the mounting points of the solar panels for corrosion, resulting in fatigue or the possibility of roof leaks through the mounting points. Remedy when required.

3 Charge controller maintenance

Do a visual inspection of the charge controller (MPPT). Make sure the LED indicators are working and indicate that the system is charging during daytime when the sun is shining.

Check the wiring to and from the unit and make sure that no connections are loose.

Apart from the above, just keep the surrounding area in which the charge controller (MPPT) is installed free from dust. You may choose to wipe the unit with a dry cloth, and / or cleaning the surrounds with a vacuum cleaner occasionally.

4 Battery Maintenance and service

Of all the components in the solar power system, batteries need the most attention.
Sealed gel batteries requires less maintenance than the more commonly used deep cycle lead acid flooded batteries.

Four things are key to ensure lasting service from deep cycle batteries, namely:
–    Keep the batteries and their terminals clean.
–    Check for leaks.
–    Keep electrolyte up to the required level (required for flooded lead acid batteries only).
–    Keep the batteries in a high state of charge.

Keep the batteries and their terminals clean

Make sure the batteries are clean from electrolyte.
Remove any greenish powdery corrosion residue from the terminals, the floor and surrounds of the batteries.
Such residue and electrolyte spill will be extremely acidy. It will damage your clothes on contact.

Isolate the components in the system before doing maintenance and disconnect loads from the system.
Wear protective gloves
Use isolated tools and refrain from using metal tools when cleaning the batteries.
Make sure the filler caps of the batteries are sealed tight.
Clean and neutralize the battery terminals and the surrounding areas with a bicarbonate soda solution.

Check for leaks

Check the battery casings for leaks. Remove the leaking batteries and if the leaks can’t be sealed, replace those batteries.

Keep electrolyte up to the required level

This is required for flooded lead acid batteries only.
Top up the cells with distilled water and ensure that the level is half way between the top of the lead plates and the bottom of the vent well.
Do a monthly check and make sure the gravity of electrolyte is within specs.

Use a Hydrometer to get a reading of the gravity of the electrolyte.
The table below indicates the charge state of the batteries in relation to hydro (electrolyte) gravity.

Draw liquid from each cell separately into the hydrometer and log the reading for each cell of each battery into a table. Make sure not to return the liquid from one cell to another.

Keep the batteries in a high state of charge.

Using a Volt Meter to measure the voltage of each battery is another important measurement..

A 12 Volt battery can be viewed as fully charged at 12,7 to 13 Volts and it can be viewed as discharged at 10.0 Volts

As a precautionary measure, a low voltage switch can be fitted to a battery. This will shut off power use from the battery when the load drops as low as 10 Volts and thereby protect the battery from being damaged by further discharging.

5 Inverter service checks

Quite similar as with the charge controller (MPPT), the inverter is basically maintenance free.
Make sure the LED indicators are working and the system is functional.
Also check the wiring to and from the component and keep the surroundings of the unit free from dust.

6 Wiring connections check over

For some reason, electrical wires sometimes become a bit slack inside connection points. Every now and then, check connections for tightness.

Another enemy of electrical wires are rodents. Insulation around wires seems to be a snack food for them. Rodents may chew away insulation and cause severe damage to the system by short circuiting.

Do a monthly check of the full wiring harness of the solar power system.

Make sure to include the whole system, starting from the solar panels and working through all the wires right through to the load outlets.
Look for cracks, corrosion, burnt switches and make sure that all ground wires are intact and properly secured.

In Conclusion:

A solar power installation can be viewed as a low maintenance system. It does however require some attention and can’t be left with no maintenance indefinitely.

Especially the batteries need to be attended to. It is also fairly costly to replace the batteries. Though the batteries may last a good few years, manufactures tend not to guarantee batteries for more than 24 months.
Key is therefore, to look after your batteries. They seem to be the weakest link in the system.

The solar panels will last for a good couple of years. Some manufactures say it will last for 20 to 25 years, but it may be that the technology does not have a shelf life that long.

Thanks for reading this article.
Cheers
Your comments will be appreciated. 🙂

Copyright:
Cobus vdM / https://offgridbasics.com

 

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for explaining first in a detailed way and with images what consist a solar power system. Otherwise, it would not have understood a thing… 😉

    I really liked to have solar power system because I would like to live as ecologic as possible. At the moment I live in rent so it probably is not a good an idea to spend money on a solar power system, or can you estimate how fast could it start to pay off? Not in less than ten years, I suppose…
    Cheers
    Maria

    • Thanks for your comment Maria. I’m glad you found the content informative.
      Because of the financial layout, it is definitely not an option to install a PV system if you’re renting.
      The size of the system will be determined on what you want to power from it. Mostly these systems are rather costly when you want to power a whole house and it will take a good couple of years to recover your outlay.
      It’s best application is smaller scale where grid supply is not available or limited.

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