Solar arrays are valuable revenue generating assets that require a certain amount of maintenance. How much exactly depends on what type of installation we are talking about (ground mount vs. roof mount), the size of the installation (obviously larger systems require more than small systems), the system's age (older systems require more), and numerous smaller factors such as the tilt of the panels (flatter systems require more maintenance) and the quality of the original installation itself (better installs should lead to less maintenance).
With all of these factors influencing the amount of maintenance a system requires how is the system owner to know what is appropriate for their system? The easiest way to answer that is by asking what your risk tolerance is. If you are the type of person who gets their oil changed every 1500 miles, and never misses a checkup at the dealer, then you should definitely have your solar array looked at more than once a year. If you tend to push the envelope when it comes to changing your oil or painting your house, then maybe an annual checkup is enough. All systems, no matter what their size, tilt, mounting method, etc. should have an annual check up performed by a qualified technician.
The best time to perform maintenance is actually in the late fall / early winter. Daily generation rates are at an annual low at this point on the calendar and shutting the array down for a day or two if necessary will not amount to significant lost revenue. In fact sometimes it is three times cheaper in terms of lost revenue to maintain a system in December than in the peak generation months of April or May.
Some other points to consider about solar maintenance:
- Snow removal from atop a solar array is not necessary from an electricity generation standpoint. The snow will absolutely melt within a few days and the amount of electricity you are missing out on does not justify the cost of removing the snow.
- Snow removal may be necessary however if the system is roof mounted and if the roof cannot handle the combined weight of the snow and the array. This condition is next to impossible to find on a pitched roof that utilizes a penetrated racking. Flat roofs with ballasted systems are the most likely to face these sorts of issues. In New Jersey roofs with ballasted systems must be capable of carrying the weight of the array plus the prescribed snow load (The snow load starts at 20 pounds per square foot in the shore areas and southern part of the state, and increases up to 30 pounds per square foot in Warren and Sussex counties in the northwest).
- Snow removal should only be performed under the supervision of a qualified solar technician. A considerable amount of damage can be done using shovels and other tools around a solar array. You may be risking your installation and manufacturer's warranty if you do not have the proper supervision.
- A little maintenance can go a long way – small issues have a disproportional effect on array performance. A loose connection here, and a few dirty panels there can really reduce your production. The only way to reduce these effects is through regular maintenance.