Solar panel cleaning across Australia is increasing in importance. It is a growing part of the Australian operations and maintenance (O&M) market. As of January 2017, Australia had 5.7GW of solar installed, with 0.7GW being installed during 2016. We now rank in the top 10 solar energy producing nations in the world. There is set to be a flurry of solar installation activity across Australia, with over 800MW set to be installed across just 7 locations. As time passes, the rate of solar installations increases across Australia, but so does the need to operate and maintain these arrays. Testing, servicing and monitoring these assets is a given. Other services carry a little more controversy it seems and solar panel cleaning is one of them. But just taking into account the 800MW recently approved to be installed, this will mean an additional 3.2 million solar panels that will need an O&M contract. What role is solar panel cleaning likely to play in these contracts and others?
Do Solar Panels Even Need Cleaning?
It is an often debated subject in countries where solar technology is taking off big time. Australia firmly fits that bracket. Just over 400 years since Shakespeare penned his famous words in Macbeth, we now ask about solar panels "To clean or not to clean? That is the question".
In 2015, a key figure in the Australian solar industry somewhat controversially claimed that "solar panels do not need ongoing cleaning or yearly maintenance - they are cleaned by the rain". At best, this is mis-information. Clean Solar Solutions feel that thinking of this type is pretty pre-historic. The collated evidence from all corners of the world proves that the notion of self cleaning panels is indeed a complete myth. Rain will not clean solar panels any more than it will clean any other outdoor surface. It is worrying that top figures voice their opinion that there is no need for solar panel cleaning, when there very clearly is.
Bird droppings, bee pollen, dust, traffic film and other sources of detritus can adhere to solar panels quite strongly and in hotter areas of the country, this can become baked on to the panel and prove very difficult to remove, without damaging the panel.
Do Asset Owners Clean Their Solar Panels Overseas?
Yes. Cast your eye over to Europe in particular at the moment and you will see a burgeoning solar panel cleaning industry. In fact, organisations such as the UK Solar Trade Association and Solar Power Europe are in discussions to now regulate the blossoming European solar panel cleaning industry by way of training and certification. They are seeking to professionalise solar panel cleaning to the point whereby you must hold a valid training certificate in order to clean solar panels. Anyone cleaning without that certificate will be operating outside the Law.
Should Window Cleaners Be Cleaning Solar Panels?
No, not without adequate training and knowledge. Presently in Australia, it seems that every window cleaner and their dog claims they are a 'solar panel cleaning professional' and some even claim to be 'fully trained'. Ask your local window cleaner for a certificate of their training though and they most likely will not be able to produce one.
This is a phenomena that has been seen in other countries such as the UK. The risks associated with solar panel cleaning is one of the reasons that the UK feels the need to start regulating this new industry. In fact, one window cleaner in the UK has already suffered serious electrocution and spent six weeks in hospital revering as a direct result of cleaning solar panels.
There are also documented cases of firefighters experiencing electrocution whilst putting out fires. It is a serious concern that many window cleaners are simply not aware of.
Window cleaners may own many of the same tools as solar panel cleaning professionals, but merely owning the same working tools, does not mean they are qualified, nor knowledgeable. One may own a set of screwdrivers and know how to re-wire a plug on an appliance, but this certainly does not qualify him to re-wire his home. So it is with solar panel cleaning. There is increased risk associated with solar panel cleaning, that simply does not exist with window cleaning.
Electricity, a potential killer, does not flow through a pane of glass. Spraying electricity on to an electrified panel whilst holding a carbon pole in your hand sounds like an ideal way to open yourself up to electrocution to us! We know from experience, that window cleaners the land over are not even considering this risk, let alone taking precautions to protect themselves from it. Below is one of the many examples of a window cleaner cleaning solar panels with no PPE to protect him from electrocution.
Training for solar panel cleaning is very important to ensure that your asset and the people cleaning your asset are kept safe. All Clean Solar Solutions cleaning operatives have been specifically trained for solar panel cleaning, carry certification for such and use appropriate PPE. We also carry in our vehicles appropriate equipment, should electrocution occur.
Cleaning your own solar panels or employing the services of a window cleaner to clean them in the above fashion is definitely not recommended. PPE must be in place to protect solar panel cleaners from electrocution. Asset owners can do their part to highlight the danger with correct signage.
Technology continues to be developed for solar panel cleaning. Everything from manual cleaning to robotic cleaning to tractor mounted cleaning is being tried and tested in various applications. It seems that all have their pros and cons, but the message overseas is consistent, solar panels need to be cleaned.
What Do Solar Panel Manufacturers Warranties Say About Solar Panel Cleaning?
Cleaning is recommended by virtually all solar panel manufacturers. Look through solar panel manufacturers warranty documents and virtually every single one will are reference to 'annual' or 'regular cleaning'. Already, when claims are being made against warranties on faulty solar panels, the manufacturers are asking the claimant to provide proof that the panels have been cleaned regularly. If this evidence cannot be produced, the warranty is often declared void. This alone should be a reason for any solar array owner to start getting their panels cleaned if they do not already.
How Often Should Solar Panels Be Cleaned?
This is one of the most common questions that we are asked. Currently, when it comes to cleaning anything, we tend to do so based on frequency. We may clean our car once a week, clean our windows once a month or clean our driveway once a year. But the thinking regarding solar panel cleaning needs to be different. Cleaning your car, windows or driveway, will likely not result in bettering its performance and mean you have more money in your pocket. This is the case however with cleaning your solar panels. Cleaning your solar panels regularly will help them produce more electricity and help you save more money off your energy bill.
As a result, we feel that solar panel cleaning needs to be a finance-based decision, as opposed to a frequency-based decision.
Steve Williams, M.D. Of Clean Solar Solutions Ltd explains more: "This idea of solar panel cleaning being a finance-based decision is one that we promote heavily in the UK. The industry there is listening too. There is little point spending $100 having your solar panels cleaned if it will only give you an extra $75 in uplift. But as soon as the uplift is more than $100, you should be cleaning your panels."
Why Choose Clean Solar Solutions To Clean Your Solar Panels?
Clean Solar Solutions have over 5 years experience of cleaning solar panels in the UK. They cleaned over 250MW in 2016 alone, more than any other UK company.
We have experience of cleaning utility scale ground mount and large scale roof mounted solar arrays both automatically and manually. We have cleaned solar carports and even floating solar panels!
We are committed to professionalising our industry and as a result, have developed a solar panel cleaning training course and also advise the UK solar industry about health and safety for solar panel cleaning.
Managing Director Steve Williams has a deep knowledge of the solar panel cleaning industry as a whole and regularly speaks at solar conferences and trade shows to international audiences. All of our accumulated experience over a number of years in many different applications, means that you can be assured that your solar panels will be in safe hands when it comes to having them cleaned by Clean Solar Solutions.
While solar panels have been around for some time, the professional solar panel cleaning industry is only just gaining traction here in Australia. It will be fascinating to see how it develops and grows in importance in the Australian solar O&M industry in the coming years.