Winter Maintenance Tips for Solar Systems

Winter Maintenance Tips for Solar Systems

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Preparing Solar System for Winter

In January 2015, the East Coast was pummeled with a winter storm dubbed “Snowpocalypse,” and another winter is just around the corner. Winters are the most demanding time for solar power systems. In addition to the inclement weather issues we discuss below, people generally spend more time indoors using more electricity—especially those with electric heating.

However, if you take the proper precautions, you can be sure your solar energy system will function properly even during the harshest winter weather.

Your solar system doesn’t require any additional maintenance to run smoothly in snowy weather, but it may require your attention more frequently. Keep these simple tips in mind to keep your system operating safely all winter long.

It Starts With Energy Conservation

You may see your solar system’s production decrease during the winter months. That’s because the days are shorter, sunlight strikes the panels at a “lower angle,” and accumulated snowfall can cover panels and temporarily halt production.

Therefore, it’s best to know how to minimize your electricity usage in order to maximize your savings. Using energy more efficiently this winter can help keep your utility bills under control.

Consider these energy saving tips to make the most of your clean electricity:

  • Ensure that your house has proper insulation to conserve heat. If not, investigate the cost of adding insulation to exterior walls and attic.
  • Before turning on your heater, check your ducts for leaks.
  • Use a heating system that automatically maintains a preset temperature with the help of a digital thermostat.
  • Make sure to close your damper when the fireplace is not in use.
  • Take advantage of sunny days to heat your house.
  • Open the curtains on your south-facing windows during the day and close them at night to lock the warmth in. Thermal curtains help insulate windows even better than regular curtains.
  • Make sure you only use necessary loads.
  • Turn off excessive lighting when not needed.
  • Disconnect ghost loads that consume power even when off as long as they are plugged in. Over a period of 24 hours, a plugged in TV consumes the same power as when it is ON for thirty minutes.
  • Replace all the high wattage bulbs with energy efficient ones. You could save about 75% of energy consumed by a 60 watt bulb by replacing it with a 15 watt energy efficient CFL, without sacrificing your light output.
Steps to Lower Energy Use
Visit our website for a list of 53 Steps to Lower Your Energy Usage.

Snow On Your Solar Panels

After heavy snowfall, snow or ice may accumulate on your rooftop and cover your solar panels. If you have a rooftop array that is out of reach, we don’t recommend trying to get on your roof to shovel snow off your solar panels. Their dark surface will gather sun and actually help melt the snow, causing it to slide off the system’s glass surface.

Raking snow off rooftop arrays could harm the panels by scratching them or worse, harm you, if you slip and fall or get caught under snow and ice falling from your roof.

Snow Melting on Solar Panels
In most areas, sun will melt the snow from your panels on its own.

If you have a ground-mount array that is easily accessible, and you do choose to brush snow off your panels, use a soft brush or broom so you don’t scratch the panels. Also, be mindful of your footing, and beware of falling ice or heavy snow loads from the panels.

If you’re living in a country where you get plenty of snow and wind during the winter, it’s highly recommended to purchase solar panel that have been tested to withstand a certain snow load. Wholesale Solar recommends the strong and durable SolarWorld SW270 Protect Solar Panel.

Most IEC / UL certified solar panels can withstand 50 psf (pounds per square foot) of snow load and wind load. However if you expect several feet of snow every winter, it’s highly recommended to go with a more robust version, such as panels that withstand 113 psf snow load.

Nowadays there are even panels on the market that withstand 150 psf of snow load. That may seem excessive, but when snow builds up, and it starts raining snow starts melting, the pressure from the snow will be very extensive.

Maintaining Your Battery Bank During Winter Months

Extreme cold temperatures can be very hard on your deep cycle batteries. Make sure your batteries are installed indoors, and if they are outdoors, make sure that the compartment is properly insulated. Lead acid batteries freeze at below zero temperatures and will be destroyed.

Make sure that you have all the diagnostic tools ready at your disposal. This includes a digital multi-meter, a set of clampers and cutters, and a handheld battery refractometer.

If a constant power supply is crucial, make sure that you have a backup generator ready and tested for functionality in advance. Some fuel supply would be handy as well.

For Off-Grid solar system owners, have enough supply of anti-freeze distilled water for your batteries. The battery fluid level should be checked regularly. The fluid level should be at the plastic fill port lower ring. If the level is low, add distilled water.

Battery output voltage and battery capacity both decrease with temperature. Check battery voltage often. If battery level is at or below 12 volts DC, you should charge the batteries. Use a 45 amp or greater capacity 12 volt DC battery charger.

Adding fluid to offgrid battery banks
Warning: If fluid levels are low, replenish prior to charging batteries!

If possible, the batteries should receive an equalizing battery charge from a high capacity battery charger about once a year to keep the plates free of sulfate buildup.

Most batteries do not fail instantaneously, but over time. Regularly checking the voltages identifies a potential problem earlier than later.

The Final Word

During the severe winter months, it’s essential that you maximize your electricity generation, minimize your electricity consumption, and be diligent about maintaining your solar system.

Following the above tips can help you and your solar system fare a little better this winter when the inevitable “Snowmaggeddon” comes barreling through your city.

Have questions? Need help choosing the right solar system for your needs? Call the solar experts at Wholesale Solar at 1-800-472-1142. After all, we don’t just sell solar, we live it.

Related Links:

Energy Conservation Tips
Solar Panels
SolarWorld SW270 Protect Solar Panels
Battery Backup Power Systems
Grid-Tie with Battery Backup Solar Systems
Off-Grid Solar Systems

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