Assuming your solar system was built strategically to answer directly to your energy use needs, you should see quick and significant changes to your energy costs. However, as your panels withstand the elements of the season, there are three small steps you can take to ensure the savings you saw in your initial bills remain consistently high throughout the life of your system. Since residential solar installations are generally very low maintenance, you can rest assured that the steps to take to ensure top performance of your solar array are simple, free, and will promote high efficiency for the life of your panels.
Keep Your Panels Clean
If you have residential solar panels, chances are quite good that you truly never need to do much to clean your panels. Rainfall, in most cases, is more than enough to keep your panels running at high efficiencies and producing powerful energy from the sun rays. However, since the panels are exposed and most likely on your roof, dirt, dust and pollen will accumulate. If you live in an area with a lot of birds, bird-droppings may also amass. Yet, as the rainy season begins, the drops of raining falling on to the panel is generally more than enough to keep the panels clean.
Cleaning may be a necessity for the solar owners who live in areas that go for extended stretches of time between rainfall or live on a ranch or farm, where excessive amounts of dirt are in the air. In these situations, it might mean your panels need a good clean every once in a while. Too much dirt or debris on a panel can impact how much sunlight is actually able to penetrate the panel and be converted into energy. The amount of efficiency is quite minute (less than 5% - which won’t convert to much on an energy bill) and the efforts and potential expense in cleaning, might not be worth it.
If you do choose to clean your panels, there are two strategies: Hire a professional or do it yourself. Professionals are a bit pricier, but most will have a guarantee on potential damage to the panel. Doing it yourself generally requires a hose to rinse off the panels, just as the rain would. In extreme conditions, a bit of soap gently applied and rinsed with the hose is enough. Ensure you do not use anything that will scratch the surface of the panel if you are scrubbing it and avoid high pressure sprayer at all costs. Scratches and small fissures in the panel will decrease the panel’s efficiency.
Learn to Read Your Energy Bill
Although we all seem to know how to read our energy bill well enough to ensure we are making the total monthly payment, actually understanding what is on your bill will allow you to make strategic choices in how you use your energy and be more proactive in determining if there is an issue with your energy usages. Without knowing how to read your bill, it is quite difficult for the consumer to determine what problems, if any, exist and what steps that can be taken to mediate them. There is also a chance that there are errors which can go unnoticed, and cost you a lot of money if they are not corrected.
For homeowners with solar, there are several areas of the bill to familiarize yourself with. First, understand what Rate Plan you are on. The rate plan is the cost of electricity that is being used and specify the rules for how homeowner’s bills are calculated. Consumers with solar are increasingly on a Time-Of-Use (TOU) plan which results in different energy rate charges through varying times of day. Another section to be aware of is the Account Summary. This summary allows homeowners to understand what portion of the bill is for gas, electric, balances due, and previous account balances. The Bill Details demonstrate the actual number of KWh (kilowatt hours – which is the unit of measurement for electrical use) a consumer used during a billing period. The Electricity Charge Breakdown breaks down various electrical charges, commonly including electrical generation, transmission and distribution charges. Finally, most bills include a Usage Profile which allows a homeowner to compare consumption to other like consumers and previous years’ usages.
Solar users also get a "True-Up" statement at the end of the year that itemizes the solar energy they produced, the electricity they consumed from the grid, and any net solar energy credits remaining at the end of the year. This is a good document to read carefully to ensure your system is working correctly, and can be confusing to new solar users. Read more: "Understanding Your True-Up Statement".
Use Your System Monitor
System monitoring is increasingly included in solar installations, and allows a homeowner, through software or an app, to see how much energy their panels are producing on a moment-by-moment basis. It is a 24/7 monitoring system that will alert a homeowner, and frequently the installation company, when there is a problem with a panel or an inverter. As soon as a problem is recognized, maintenance can be scheduled to mediate the problem and get the system up and functioning at full speed. Additionally, the monitoring system allows you to determine if your panels are not working at full efficiency. This is often an indicator that perhaps they need to be washed, there is some technical issue, or potentially there is a tree that is creating shadows on the panels and reducing their production potential.
If you are unsure if you have system monitoring, check with your solar installation provider and speak with a sales consultant. Most installation companies will send out a sales representative to set up system monitoring and show you how to access the software through an online platform or convenient app for your smartphone. It is recommended that you check in and observe monitoring at least once a week to learn the typical production nuances – keeping in mind that there will be variations daily due to variations that impact solar production, such as temperature or clouding.
You can also set up your monitoring system to give you monthly reports and, on a minimum, email you when there is a system outage or panels are not producing. These reports will ensure you are getting the most out of your solar installation consistently.
Get the Most Out of Your Panels
Getting solar panels installed on your home is a big investment with the potential for big payoffs. You will be able to save money and ensure the energy you are depending on stems from a clean, renewable source. However, solar ownership becomes even more beneficial when homeowners take proactive steps to promote the highest levels of efficiency out of their panels. Taking the time to learn how to get more out of your solar panels will allow you to rest assured you can sit back, relax and let the sun and your solar system generate clean, reliable, renewable energy for decades to come.