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Solar Operations And Maintenance

Updated: Jul 9


solar operations and maintenance

Because solar photovoltaic (PV) panels have no moving parts, manufacturers can confidently ship their modules with 25+ years of warranty protection. If there’s a solar panel defect or malfunction detected over that time frame, the solar system owner qualifies for a free replacement (assuming the original manufacturer is still in business).


However, any number of other problems can arise during that 25-year span – some of which aren’t covered under warranty. And this explains why many renewable power producers invest in solar operations and maintenance (O&M) to keep their PV systems in optimal working condition.


This article outlines solar panel operation and maintenance, why it's important, and what customers can expect to pay to have their solar systems regularly serviced.


Solar Panel Maintenance Requirements

Although solar PV is one of the most resilient energy generation technologies on the market, something as simple as dust accumulation can negatively impact panel performance. This is certainly true with a standard residential installation, with excessive dust build-up often resulting in noticeable dips in production – which in turn leads to lost solar savings. Those losses merely compound as the size of the PV system grows. This is why utility-scale solar farms invest in daily cleaning to maximize facility-wide power production.


However, panel cleaning is just one aspect of maintenance. And for most solar systems, it represents the lowest-hanging fruit. More advanced servicing includes things like:


  • System inspections

  • Recalibrations

  • PV panel repositioning

  • Inverter maintenance

  • Grid reconnections


In addition, PV systems are becoming more sophisticated, with many newer installations featuring battery storage and electric vehicle charging – both of which can increase a PV system’s servicing requirements.


Reactive vs. Preventative Solar PV Maintenance

Sometimes, emergency system maintenance is required to correct sudden drops in solar output. This reactive approach normally requires that system owners regularly check their utility bill statements – or that the PV systems themselves come with in-built solar monitoring to alert their owners to deviations in energy production. SolarEdge monitoring is one example of a popular monitoring system commonly used for solar panel operation and maintenance.


Other times, servicing is done on an ongoing basis as part of general upkeep. This strategy qualifies as preventative solar PV maintenance – similar to yearly auto inspections or annual physicals. During these visits, solar panel maintenance technicians will inspect the systems, reconfigure any loose wires or panels, and optimize the installations for maximum solar output. More severe problems – like cracked panels or faulty inverters – can also be addressed during these visits.


Many residential solar customers are reactive, treating their PV systems as set-it-and-forget-it technology. They only intervene when solar production drops significantly. Many smaller businesses also adopt this approach because it’s typically cheaper and easier than paying for scheduled solar PV maintenance.


As the size of the PV installation grows, however, it becomes easier to justify the ongoing cost of preventive solar panel maintenance. Whereas dust on 20 panels might translate to $30 in forfeited savings, that same dust across an entire PV farm could mean tens of thousands of dollars in lost savings.


And again – that’s just dust.


When you add all the other components, wires, nuts, and bolts that can potentially fail at any point, solar operations and maintenance can be a worthwhile investment that delivers tangible results.


But what can PV system owners expect to pay for regular upkeep?


Solar Panel Maintenance Costs

Every system is different, making it hard to give absolute costs. Just as you can’t price an installation without seeing the property, you can’t price solar maintenance until you see the PV system.


However, there are industry averages. According to HomeAdvisor, for example, residential solar customers can expect to pay:


  • $150 for a comprehensive solar PV system inspection

  • $3 – $10 per panel for cleaning (or a flat rate of $150 – $350)

  • $711 on average for solar panel repair


These estimates align with DIY portal, Fixr, which states that for a standard 2 kW residential PV system, you can expect to pay about $350 a year for routine cleaning and inspections for solar panel maintenance.


But again, size matters. Repairing a large commercial PV installation, for example, might cost significantly more if servicing requires removing damaged panels, reinforcing the roof, and installing newer PV modules.


The good news is that not all solar system repairs will necessarily be out-of-pocket. If a malfunction is covered under warranty (and the manufacturer is still around to honor it), the PV system owner should receive a free replacement. However, that customer will still need to pay out-of-pocket to remove the faulty panel and install the replacement module.


solar operations and maintenance

Monitoring Systems for Solar Operations and Maintenance

Effective monitoring systems are the unsung heroes of solar energy operations and maintenance, ensuring that installations perform at their best throughout their lifespan. These systems provide real-time data on energy production, system health, and individual component performance, such as inverters and solar panels. By offering detailed insights into the operational status of a solar energy system, monitoring platforms enable operators to detect and address issues promptly, minimizing downtime and maximizing energy output. This proactive approach to solar operations and maintenance boosts the reliability and efficiency of the solar installation and extends its operational life.


Beyond just keeping tabs on daily operations, these monitoring systems are crucial in predictive solar panel maintenance. They analyze performance trends and identify potential issues before they become serious problems.


This means solar PV maintenance teams can schedule activities proactively, avoiding unexpected failures and expensive repairs. The best part? Advanced monitoring solutions often include remote troubleshooting, so technicians can diagnose and resolve issues without traveling to the site.


When Is Solar Panel Maintenance Needed?

Servicing is ongoing for customers who adopt a preventative maintenance strategy, with most homeowners and businesses choosing an annual schedule. However, cleaning and inspections may need to happen more frequently, depending on local conditions. For example, pollen, dust, leaves, and snow are all seasonal factors that can impact PV system performance.


Daily or weekly servicing is normal for industrial-scale PV farms. This frequency doesn’t mean every single component is serviced every single day (unless bird droppings are a major problem). But, the facility as a whole undergoes daily or weekly upkeep to help optimize solar power production across the entire PV farm.


Customers who choose a reactive solar panel maintenance strategy only need to intervene when they detect a problem due to:


  • Solar monitoring that alerts them to deviations in PV system output. These monitoring solutions exist at the residential solar consumer level all the way up to the utility scale.

  • Noticeable increases in utility bill spending. However, this requires a lot of vigilance from the PV system owner since they must regularly check their statements. Using an “eyeball” approach also makes it harder to account for seasonal variations in energy production. And solar energy system owners may be better off comparing statements from year-to-year instead of month-to-month.

  • Visible damage to the solar panel system. This includes slipped panels, loose wires, or even modules cracked by falling debris like tree limbs or hail. Even if this damage doesn’t immediately translate to lost solar energy savings, tiny problems can quickly grow into larger and more expensive ones if they aren’t corrected early on.


How Often Do Solar Panels Need Maintenance?

Solar panels generally require minimal maintenance, often limited to periodic cleaning to ensure optimal performance. The frequency of maintenance can vary based on factors such as location, climate, and environmental conditions. On average, an annual inspection and cleaning are recommended, which can be done by the homeowner or by hiring a solar professional if preferred.


Can Homeowners Clean Solar Panels Themselves?

Yes, homeowners can clean their solar panels themselves using water, a gentle brush, and mild soap if necessary. However, it's important to follow proper safety precautions and consult the manufacturer's guidelines. Alternatively, they can hire a professional solar panel cleaning service.


When cleaning solar panels, it's important to avoid using abrasive materials, pressure washers, or harsh chemicals, as these can damage the surface of the panels. Similarly, it's best to avoid walking on the panels to prevent any physical damage.


solar PV maintenance

What Are The Options For Solar Maintenance?

Customers who require emergency or preventative solar system maintenance have two main options:


  • Work with a PV installer that offers in-house solar operations and maintenance

  • Work with a dedicated solar O&M company


Solar Installer O&M

Some solar contractors provide one-off repairs for the PV systems they’ve installed. Others offer maintenance and cleaning as add-on services – but again – only to their own customers.


The benefit of using this approach is that the original solar installer already has a working knowledge of the photovoltaic components in the system, including the panels, solar inverter, and racking system. They’re also more aware of local variables like climate, irradiation, and permitting.


But aside from having to be a customer already, there are other downsides of keeping everything in-house:


  • Many installers don’t offer maintenance or cleaning

  • It’s not usually their core service, so the quality can vary

  • Installers have limited resources for larger jobs


Plus, if the initial installation experience wasn’t positive, it may not be worth working with that contractor again.


Solar Operations and Maintenance Companies

As the PV industry matures, more companies specialize exclusively in solar operations and maintenance. And in fact, many solar installers subcontract their own projects to these solar operations and maintenance services. If you do too, you should be able to recommend reputable maintenance companies to your clients. However, it’s also important that you explain the pros and cons of this approach.


For example, dedicated solar O&M companies tend to have the resources for much larger jobs – complete with the tools, inventory, and personnel required for 24/7 coverage. And because they’re solar operations and maintenance specialists, they are better equipped to tackle more complex projects – often faster than their installer counterparts can.


For a homeowner who just wants regular servicing, paying for annual solar system inspections and cleanings makes sense. But, hiring a dedicated solar O&M company full-time is probably overkill for most residential systems. This option is best reserved for larger PV installations at the commercial or industrial scale. And even then, one must carefully balance the cost of ongoing maintenance against the potential boost in solar power output.


Ongoing Solar Operation and Maintenance Are Critical

Many solar customers are initially caught off-guard when they discover their PV systems require regular maintenance. That’s because the technology is often marketed as ultra-resilient and hassle-free.


But while solar maintenance requirements are indeed low, they’re not zero. Problems can and will arise over the 25-plus years of a PV panel’s warrantied lifetime – to say nothing of the countless other components that go into a solar installation. And failure to correct these problems as they arise will inevitably lead to forfeited financial and environmental savings.


Emergency maintenance can help reclaim those savings in the short term. And preventative maintenance can help protect them in the long term.


GreenLancer is expanding its operations and maintenance offerings, so if you’re looking to have trucks roll to your solar PV installations, sign up now and browse our network of solar field service providers.



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