If you have solar on your home, firstly, a huge 'good on you', and if you don't, here's why you should consider it! Solar is such a huge step towards reducing your reliance on fossil fuels, and a foothold into the new world order of energy independence. And although solar power system prices are dropping rapidly, you probably paid a significant amount for your solar.
For many of us, it comes as a shock then, to find out that up to 51.8%* of solar power systems in Australia are under-performing. What?!? Yes – there are many, many reasons for why a solar system may under-perform, and you might not have a clue about it. Every hour of under-performance means less solar production, and more reliance on dirty grid energy which costs a lot more, pollutes our environment and emits huge amounts of CO2.
So what could be causing these problems with your solar, and what can you do about them?
Shading from a tree or shrub that has grown since your system was installed can have a serious effect on your solar performance. Some systems cope well with a small amount of shading on a panel, but some won't generate any power at all with even a small amount of shading. Short of cutting down every tree within cooee of your home, you'll need to find out when shading becomes an issue, and keep the offending tree pruned.
2. Dirt and Debris
Then there are maintenance issues – a build-up of dust or dirt (or even bird droppings) will also affect the amount of solar you can produce. Rain should keep your panels moderately dirt-free, but you can keep on top of soiling issues by scheduling regular cleaning; maybe time this when you have your gutters cleared.
3. Panel Damage
Solar panels have an amazing 25-year warranty (seriously – what other product gives you a warranty that long!) and better quality panels have been designed to last for the long haul. However there are a number of problems that can occur to the panels themselves, including micro-cracks, breakdown of the lamination, burnt out hotspots, and other issues that occur due to water intake and extreme heat (a big issues this past summer). Panel degradation is covered under product warranty, but needs to be identified and taken care of quickly.
4 .Tech Fail
Although quality solar panels can be expected to last for over 20 years, solar inverters (the technology that converts your solar energy into usable AC energy for your home and export to the grid) generally last between seven and 10 years. In fact, the majority of solar system failure is due to an inverter on the blink. A good monitoring system will pick up inverter issues and alert you as soon as they happen, but if you don't have monitoring, keep a close eye on the lights of your inverter and investigate any issues quickly.
But don't panic! Solar is still an incredible investment (I know I'd rather be paying off my own solar rather than handing over the same money to my electricity company every month). It's just that it's not quite set-and-forget. Treat your solar the same way that you would your pool or your car - keep an eye on your solar dashboard if you have one, and schedule in regular maintenance.
By Steph Bond-Hutkin from Solar Analytics, a proud 1 Million Women partner
*Ausgrid data from 8000 solar PV systems shows that approximately 51.8% are not performing to capacity, 'Performance lessons from the real world', SunWiz 2012
Want to see if your solar is currently up-to-scratch? Head to the Solar Performance Calculator.
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