Thinking Tech

Solar panel cleaning jacks output

Solar panel cleaning jacks output

Posting in Energy

True or false? Solar panels are maintenance free. Wrong! When Google cleaned its solar panels specified to generate 1.6 megawatts, it reaped major gains in output. by John Dodge

True or false? Solar panels are maintenance free.

False! When Google cleaned its solar panels specified to generate 1.6 megawatts, it reaped major gains in output. The installation is at the Mountain View Googleplex headquarters where the sun shines a lot and the temperature ranges between the high 50s and low 80s - ideal for solar.

After analyzing "mountains of data," Google cleaned the flat-mounted panels following 15 months of operation and output doubled. They were cleaned again eight months later and output spiked 36%, according to Google's blog. These panels were located near car ports and a sand field so the surrounding atmosphere was dusty and dirty.

Google's rooftop panels collect dirt in the corners.

"We found that cleaning these panels is the #1 way to maximize the energy they produce," the blog says. See the video below on how to clean solar panels. Google's rooftop panels were sufficiently angled and rain-washed so only the corners collected dirt had to be cleaned.

It's a different story in the Northeast where weather dynamics are markedly different.

"Snow cover is an issue. I could just not worry about it, but then I'd lose most of my output until it melted. In a winter like last year, it can be pain. I was out there 10 times," says West Newbury, Mass. resident Rick Parker with his 3.6 kilowatt home installation. His cleaning tool  is a car windshield brush attached to a long handle.

The only other time he cleans his panels is hosing them down to remove pollen in spring and early summer. They are angled at 35.5 degrees, face south and sit on a separate platform behind his garage.

"Otherwise, they clean themselves on their own accord in spring, summer and fall. I rub my fingers across them to see if there is [visually] undetectable grit and they come off clean," he says.

Parker's installation will be exactly two years old two days from now and has met his expectations. However, output in the second year is down eight per cent from the first. He suspects the culprit is weather, not panel degradation.

"This has been a very rainy and cloudy year." The panels have cut his electric bill by 70-75 per cent.

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure