Because they require large upfront costs, the only way to see a return on that investment is if they last a long time. And that means preventive maintenance is important for solar panels on commercial buildings.
But before looking at the how's, it's worth reviewing the why’s.
Importance of solar panel maintenance
Even if the preventive maintenance inspections and tasks are specific to the asset, the overall reasons for looking after them are the same. Just like with every other large investment in assets and equipment, you need to maintain your solar panels for that investment to pay off.
Protecting your long-term investment
Installing and configuring solar panels on commercial buildings take a lot of money up front, but it comes with the promise that once you recoup your costs, you save money for roughly the last two-thirds of the panels' collective useful life.
And it's a long life. From cradle to grave, current panels should last between 25 to 30 years. They're robust; manufacturers build them to last, but you still need a good preventive maintenance program to ensure they get all the way to those final years, where you've cleared the start-up debt and are generating renewable energy for free.
Seeing the most possible energy
Preventive maintenance also ensures you get the most energy out of the panels during that long useful life. Because it's not enough to just get to the finish line. You also want to get there having captured as much free energy as possible.
And something as simple as routinely checking that the panels are clean and connected can go a long way in boosting the amount of renewable energy they deliver.
Types of preventive maintenance for solar panels
There are good reasons for maintaining solar panels, but how do you go about doing it?
A big part of the process is just making sure they're clean. Remember, unlike other assets that vendors install so they're protected from the elements, your solar panel vendor installs the panels for maximum exposure. That means over time they accumulate:
- Debris (from trees, including leaves and sap)
- Droppings (from various area animals)
If your panels are tilted, in spring and summer, the rain does a lot of the work for you. If you're in a dryer climate, you likely have to do the cleaning yourself, but it's fast work per panel: all you need to do is spray some water. You can also use a leaf blower if the panels' position makes using water less than ideal. Try to schedule the work for when it's the coolest during the day, either early morning or late in the afternoon.
In winter, you need to remove any heavy snow, which you can do with a broom or warm water. Avoid using hot water, though, so you don't risk cracking the panels. For all their high-tech components, they're mostly just big sheets of tempered glass.
Additional preventive maintenance includes checking for:
- Corrosion and rust
- Damaged connections and wiring
- Blocked isolator switches
Although most panels are good at resisting rust, it can happen, especially if you're close to the coast and your panels are exposed to a lot of environmental salt. You need to make sure the brackets holding them in place are also free of rust. If a panel becomes loose, it can become damaged. Worst case, it can fall and injure someone.
For damaged wiring, you could be looking at reduced capacity or serious safety risks. And a blocked isolator switch makes it that much harder to disconnect the system in an emergency.
You should also periodically check for ground faults and system faults. Here, lower efficiency is the least of your problems. Ground faults can cause serious electrical shocks.
Specific CMMS features that help with solar panel maintenance
A modern CMMS comes packed with features that make it easier for you to set up, schedule, and track a robust preventive maintenance program for the solar panels on your commercial building.
The right CMMS solution helps you ensure techs are doing work that's both consistent and correct.
Templates and checklists for inspections and tasks
One of the biggest problems with PM programs is that every tech might do the inspections and tasks a bit differently. It's not enough to ask a tech to "go and check the panels." They might do a thorough job, but the next tech might not.
The solution is packing PM work orders with lots of specific information so that techs know how to do the work. That way, no matter who's doing it, they're doing it right.
But that leads to the next problem, which is that you're then stuck having to write out detailed explanations every time you assign a PM. If your work orders are on paper, you're wasting a lot of time scribbling. If your work orders are on spreadsheets, you're wasting a lot of time trying to find the old files so you can copy and paste from them.
With a cloud-based CMMS, you get everything ready once and then never worry about it again. You can create one master template packed with step-by-step instructions, information about potential safety hazards and how to avoid them, and even checklists. From there, you can add all that information to future PMs with just a few clicks.
And if you ever have to update your SOPs, you only have to make changes in one spot, on the master template.
Drag-and-drop calendar view for quick scheduling and rescheduling
One you have your PMs set up, you can then use the software to easily schedule them. With the clean, intuitive calendar dashboard, you can add PMs with just a few clicks.
But maintenance is more than just scheduling and closing out PMs. Even the best PM program can't remove on-demand work completely, so there are always times when unexpected work pops up and you need to reschedule a PM. With a CMMS, you simply drag and drop the PM to a new date.
Interactive floor maps and bar codes for resource efficiency and accuracy
Once you have your PMs set up and scheduled, you can start assigning them to the maintenance team. But even though you've packed the PMs with instructions and checklists, the techs can't start working until they're standing right in front of the right panel.
Which can be a problem when dealing with "repeating assets" like solar panels. Remember, for a commercial building, there are a lot of panels. It's not the same as at a private residence, where the homeowner might have enough room for ten or fewer. Commercial buildings have many more panels—all of them identical—making it tough for techs to know which ones to work on.
Using interactive floor maps, they can see exactly which panels are scheduled for work. And to double-check, they can use the built-in camera on their smart phone to scan a bar code sticker on the panel, which opens the panel's data, including any active on-demand or scheduled work orders.
Although they don't need a lot of maintenance, there are several preventive maintenance inspections and tasks you need for solar panels at a commercial building. You need to make sure they're clean, free from rust, and all the wiring is secure. If you don't put in the work, the panels don't last long enough for you to recoup the large initial investment. Or the panels can make it to the end of their useful life having never delivered as much renewable energy as they could have. Modern CMMS software makes it easier to set up, schedule, and track a preventive maintenance program. You can use templates to pack work orders with instructions and checklists to ensure techs do the work right, the calendar dashboard to schedule and reschedule work, and interactive site maps and bar codes to ensure techs work on the right panels.
Ready to take control of your PM program for solar panels with modern CMMS software?
Hippo's here to help you get the solution that works best for you, including answering your questions about facility maintenance software, helping you book a live software demo, or even setting you up with a free trial.