Value of Cleaning Solar Panels in Hawai’i

There are some in Hawai’i who still question the value of having their solar panels cleaned. 

We often encounter this skepticism at Pacific Panel Cleaners LLC, (PPC) where we’ve been a leader in the industry since 2009 and operate on all the major islands.  So, let me explain as PPC’s founder, why it is wise for system owners to protect their investment with regular cleaning combined with thorough maintenance inspections.

The first question that comes to mind is how much more energy (and therefore $-savings) will result from periodic cleaning and preventive care? Since many factors are involved, there is no set formula or simplistic answer. The design of the system is a significant factor. Is it a central inverter system, and if so is it sized “even” or with an over-capacity of 10% or maybe 20%?  The design tells you something worth heeding when it over-sizes the system to help mitigate problems once the panels get soiled, as they invariably shall.  The message is, “Keep those panels clean!”  The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners states that soiling can rob a panel of 20% of its efficiency. Here at PPC we have seen even more extreme cases.

Another factor to consider involves micro inverters, which are underneath each panel.  If, for example, a 215-Watt micro inverter has been attached to a 250-Watt panel, the installer has built into the system an over-capacity of 16%. The aim, again, is to offset both the predictable loss of panel efficiency due to soiling and the likelihood that the owner will be sloppy about maintaining the system.  Both are reasonable assumptions.

The next effect to consider is the nature of the “soiling” in your area, predictable or unexpected.  Is it due to accumulated layers of local dirt, algae, mold, bird droppings, tree sap, and salt settling on the panel over time?  Or is the current soiling the result of wind-born residue from a building site where there’s excavation, sand work, or concrete laying?  Either way, a panel’s efficiency can be profoundly reduced from any one of these factors.  (See the before and after-cleaning photographs, below, Figs. 1 – 16.)

It’s not just that dirty panels will seriously lower efficiency, but whatever impairs them (like uric acid in bird droppings or salt in our island air) also takes its toll on the aluminum panel frames, exposed pipe work, and external wiring all of which when damaged can distort the system’s essential “balance”.

Among the locally sourced soiling and corrosive ingredients is that of VOG, or Volcanic Organic Gases, an intermittent feature of the Hawaiian Islands.  This acid rain is created by mother nature on the Big Island, and for days on end can blanket the entire island chain including Kauai.  Others have studied its corrosive effect on fences, vehicles, and buildings.  For years, we at PPC have been coping with the effect of VOG on clients’ photovoltaic and solar panels. The problem with VOG is that it will accumulate undetected while it eats slowly away at the panel’s anti-reflective coating.

Figs. 17 and 18 show what also happens when drizzle or light rain (but not the flushing effect of a downpour) causes VOG-laden water to drip from the corner of panels beneath which the particulate concentrates and then corrodes.  Pitting from VOG is frequently seen on panel frames, and over time the acid deposit will cause even USE 2-rated wiring to fade and become brittle appreciably faster than is normal.

Please Note:  Figs. 17 and 18 were taken on a system which had not previously been cleaned and inspected.  PPC began taking preventative measures years ago, and close inspection shows that professional intervention has halted the spread of the VOG-caused damage.

          At the outset of this informative article we noted that whenever a system is designed with 10% or 20% over-capacity, its designer is in effect alerting the owner that neglected dirt on the panels will impair their efficiency by a significant amount.  So, buyers beware! 

          Panel manufacturers also strike a warning note in their warranty guide that they are required to supply to the customer.  In Section 5 of this guide is where you will find their recommendation that the panels should be cleaned annually, presumably no matter how clean or foul the local air might be.  Thus, in the volcanic Hawaiian Islands’ comparatively harsh marine environment where salt laden air, VOG, uric acid bird-droppings, and other pollutants are unavoidable, it stands to reason that the manufacturer is giving sound advice.

          Think of it this way:  When your car manual advises changing the engine oil every so many thousand miles, only a cynic would suppose the recommendation is to help sell motor oil!  On the contrary, it is part and parcel of the smart preventive maintenance of a costly vehicle. An oil change is cheap, but electricity from the Grid is certainly not, anywhere in the Hawaiian Islands. Consumers on Oahu are paying 30 cents a kilowatt hour, while on Maui, Hawai’i, and Kauai it’s 40 cents. On Molokai and Lanai currently it is 50 cents per kilowatt hour ….and there, as elsewhere, it will no doubt keep on rising.  Hence the importance of maintaining your photovoltaic/solar system in top working order. Regular cleaning of the panels is the critical first step; at PPC we have seen an average of 7% to 10% efficiency gain on a number-to-number basis.  But, cleaning itself is often not enough, and is especially so with systems that are three or more years old. 

         Only when the panels are properly clean can a close inspection then reveal a host of less visible factors that might already be robbing your system of full efficiency. If left undetected, these factors could potentially require major repairs.  Figures 19 through 26 illustrate different types of panel blemishing, de-lamination, burn marks, and even manufacturing defects all which merit watching even if immediate attention and possibly replacement is not yet required. Time is of the essence.

It takes a fully certified professional to spot some of these defects in the panels themselves as well as to identify other issues the owner will want to know about, such as an installer’s initial error or ill-advised quick cut when laying out all else that goes into the making of a well-designed, balanced, and truly efficient system.  Given your sizable investment, we are not talking here of something akin to mere window washing!  Far from it.  At PPC, we are fully certified, qualified, and experienced to provide maintenance services above and beyond the TLC cleaning of your precious panels.

Fredrick G Brooks, CEM,CEA
Pacific Panel Cleaners LLC Owner

 

PPC bLog Page

Thermal Gallery

Thermal imagery is a critical tool in helping to determine the health of an installed photovoltaic system. It is not good enough to have someone who just has a thermal camera but to have a person who has been certified to use a thermal camera. There are certified thermographers.

At Pacific Panel Cleaners, LLC, there are two certified thermographers, Fred Brooks and Daniel Guerland. They have been doing documentation on thermal imagery in the photovoltaic field since 2013.

In September of 2016, Fred Brooks went as the expert speaker at the Thermal Imagery Conference in Las Vegas, NV.

 

FLIR – Forward Looking InfraRed system

FLIR Systems, Inc. is PPC’s number one choice for all of our thermal imagery needs. Showing our customers who need to know the hidden problems that we’ve found with our FLIR thermal camera is just as important as uncovering them in the first place. FLIR Tools is the powerful software solution that helps us present these findings to our customers most effectively. 

Here are some visual examples of the FLIR system technology:


Learn more about FLIR @: www.flir.com

Customer Resources

Pacific Panel Cleaners wants to provide their customers with all the essential information for installation and operation of the top-of-the-line manufacturer’s documentation and manuals.

Please find links and page information for your specific brand of solar equipment.

Click on the corresponding logo image to download the PDF files.

Solar Panels Manufacturers’ Documentation.

 

sunpower logo sanyo logo LG logo
panasonic logo canadian solar logo Suniva logoSuniva MVP Installation and Instruction Manual
Suntech logo Trina Solar Suniva logoSuniva OPTIMUS Installation and Instruction Manual
mitsubishi Kyocera_Webby.21294631_std Yingli solar logo

 

 

 

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Training Classes

Learn How To Protect Your Own Solar Investment!

Pacific Panel Cleaners LLC. is offering a training class teaching homeowners and commercial sites how to clean and inspect your system.  We will come to your location and make it site specific for you, giving you the knowledge on what to do and what to look for.

Services Included

  • A basic understanding on how photovoltaic systems work.
  • Knowledge on your specific inverter and what to look for.
  • Terminology of equipment.
  • What to look for during the inspection.
  • How to clean the panels in a safe and effective manner.
  • Training on your specific monitoring system.
  • An Itemized checklist of what issues to look for.

 Please call for more information.

Before & After

At Pacific Panel Cleaners, our skilled technicians execute a thorough investigation and service of your solar equipment. They routinely find a variety of equipment issues ranging from “Mother Nature”, or lazy prior workmanship to potentially hazardous conditions when we inspect new customers systems and structures.

We strive to make our clients’ solar system the best, most efficient and powerful that they can be! Here are some examples of our quality work.

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Contact Us

Feel free to contact us at any time with any questions or concerns you may have, or about scheduling a cleaning & inspection, we provide free estimates.

808-772-4705
info@pacificpanelcleaners.com
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Pacific Panel Cleaners, LLC
4348 Waialae Avenue # 286
Honolulu HI, 96816
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm, HST.

Service Area:

We currently service all of Oahu and Maui islands residential and commercial.

We are currently expanding our commercial division to Maui, Kona and Kauai.

Feel free to contact Pacific Panel Cleaners LLC anytime with questions or comments about solar panel cleaning or solar panel maintenance. We will gladly answer any questions you may have.

Ask about our O&M packages we provide for our clients.

Routine cleaning and inspection of your installed solar panel systems is the easiest and most efficient way to protect your solar investment.

FAQ

Why do I need to clean my panels?

Solar panels work from the energy coming from the sun in the form of photons. If the panel has dirt, dust, or salt buildup the photons from the light will be reflected or absorbed, thereby wasting the energy that you could be harnessing which is going to cost you money. Solar panel cleaning is an absolute necessity to ensure that you get the most out of your solar panels.

What does your service cover?

Pacific Panel Cleaners service covers cleaning and inspection of panels. We will inspect your racking, wiring , roof attachments, and all the associated piping with the system on the roof top that is visible. We take before and after pictures of your system, as well as a summary of what was noted during your service. If there is minor work that needs to be corrected like tightening down of clamps or putting new tie wraps on hanging wires, we will take care of these issues on the spot.

If there are any concerns such as worn lagging on solar hot water pipes or a worn seal on solar hot water panels, you will be notified and these issues will be fixed upon request.

If there is a serious problem with a system such as a wiring issue or any major issue that can be hazardous, you will be immediately notified.

How often do I need routine maintenance?

A once annual cleaning and inspection of your system is recommended. Certain factors do play a role such as proximity to the ocean, freeway, or areas where red dirt is airborne and can get on the panels.

What if there is a major problem with my system?

Pacific Panel Cleaners will notify you immediately and you will be informed of all possible solutions to the problem.

How do I know if my system needs to be cleaned?

If you have never had your system cleaned and inspected since installation, we would recommend having your panels serviced.

There are indicators that you can look out for, such as salt buildup on systems located near the ocean. Salt will gradually build up on the metallic components as well as the panels themselves.

If you live in an area that has red dirt in the air naturally or from construction like in Makakilo and Kapolei, more frequent cleaning is recommended to reap the rewards of your investment. Similar to car maintenance, solar panel maintenance is a necessity to ensure the longevity and performance of your solar panels.

Will I be able to tell if my solar panels are dirty by looking at them?

Significant stains such as bird droppings are very visible, but gradual dust buildup is harder to detect due to the nature of it’s even distribution on the panel.  This effect is similar to when you wipe a finger on a car and realize how much dirt buildup there actually is.

Customer Comments

Read what some of our customers have to say.

“We are impressed with the quality of your work-it was definitely a cut above.”

Joseph P. Nicolai – JN Group Inc.

 

“Excellent Service”

Don F. – Austin Tsutsumi

 

“I highly recommend Fred Brooks and Pacific Panel Cleaners for all your solar needs. My experience with his performance with respect to both installation of my PV system and his follow-up with maintaining its optional function has been exceptional. I have no hesitation about recommending him to friends neighbors and relatives with the highest confidence His attention to detail and reliability is outstanding.”

B. Cooney – Mililani

 

“I installed my two 4×10 solar water panels about 8 years ago as part of my new house construction. Recently after installing 16 new photo-voltaic solar panels, I noticed that my original solar water panels had a dirty film along with many yellow bee droppings on it. In addition, the insulation covering the water lines was worn and the copper pipe exposed in many areas. I knew that all of these factors would reduce the efficiency of my system.

Recently, my neighbor’s house was destroyed by fire. All my panels (water and electric) had a thin film of soot from the heavy smoke. I want to thank Fred Brooks from Pacific Panel Cleaners for his excellent work in restoring both my systems by cleaning the panels and replacing the insulation. In addition, he removed and installed new sealant around the glass on the hot water panels. Without this change, it would be a matter of time when the seal would fail and condensation could have formed under the glass greatly reducing the effectiveness to generate hot water. This preventative measure helped save me a more expensive service call.

Friendly service and high quality workmanship is what this company is about. I highly recommend Fred and his company in maintaining and restoring your solar systems to operate at maximum efficiency.”

K. Kimi – Oahu

Dear Fred,

Thank you for cleaning the photovoltaic panels when you did the annual maintenance recently. I was a little skeptical when you told me the power output would increase. I had thought that the rain would keep them clean. I was very pleasantly surprised when my power graphs showed about a 5 to 10% increase. I am very happy to squeeze every bit of power out of my system.

Looking forward to your next annual visit.

Sincerely,

J. Sue – Oahu

“Great value and service. I was surprised by the difference in how clean our panels looked afterward.”

S.A. – Mililani

“I recommend Pacific Panel Cleaners for all types of solar systems. Fred Brooks is knowledgeable as well as personable and with his care I’m certain we have added years to our solar investment with Fred’s detailed attention.”

J. Franco – Portlock

“Fred: I was very pleased with your work, and we noticed a big increase in our solar hot water supply after you cleaned our solar panels. I expect to save quite a bit on my electricity bills in the coming year. Great job!”

R.J. – Manoa

“Fred, Thanks for the receipt. I am very satisfied with your service. I believe that anyone who has solar would benefit by having a professional inspect their system on a regular basis. It has certainly increased my comfort level.”

B.V. – Hawaii Kai