In most cases, solar power systems are simpler to install than other energy generation equipment. However, this does not mean you can get careless when deploying a rooftop PV system, since things can go wrong if the design and installation procedure are not performed correctly. Of course, the opposite also applies: with smart decisions and best practices, you can maximise the benefits obtained from solar power.
The underlying principle of solar power systems is simple: photovoltaic modules produce DC power from sunlight, and the inverter converts it to AC power usable by your home appliances. However, it is also important to consider site conditions in actual projects. In the case of rooftop PV systems, the following aspects should be analysed carefully:
You can tell you are working with qualified solar designers if they pay close attention to all the factors above. Avoid generic offers where the same solar system configuration is offered for all properties.
Quality is often associated with a higher price, but it would be more correct to say that quality is an investment; you pay more upfront to get even greater benefits in the long run. In solar power systems, the main benefits of using top grade equipment are more productivity and solid warranties. Of course, you should also perform a background check of equipment suppliers. You will want to work with companies that will be around in the future if warranty claims are required.
Solar panels typically come with two warranties: a 10-year warranty against manufacturing defects, and a 25-year energy generation warranty – if production drops below a value specified by the manufacturer, you can get the faulty panel replaced. Note that the term of these warranties may change, but these are the typical values in the industry.
Unlike solar panels, inverters are normally rated for only 10 years, which means you can expect two replacements over the 25-year life of panels. Also consider that solar panels are built for direct exposure to the weather, while many inverters are not – they should be installed in a protected area where they will be easy to service, and eventually be replaced.
Finally, the wiring and racking should also be suitable for use with solar panels, considering they are also exposed to the weather. Wiring should be optimally sized: there are power losses if the conductors are too small, but oversized conductors represent an unnecessary expense.
Although a solar power system can operate without monitoring, many benefits are achieved by tracking performance. For example, if a sudden drop in generation cannot be attributed to the weather or the passing seasons, a performance issue is very likely. Problems can range from solar array areas covered by leaves to loose connections or malfunctioning modules, but the first indication is a performance drop indicated by the monitoring system. Many modern inverters come with built-in monitoring capabilities, and they often include a mobile application.
When no system components have failed, the most common maintenance activity for solar installations is routine cleaning. Maintenance personnel should avoid stepping on the modules, although this is not an issue if you work with professionals, and maintenance is under the provider’s responsibility if you deploy solar power through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The cleaning procedure should also be performed avoiding damage to the surface of modules, since it causes a performance degradation over time; for this reason, cleaning modules with a high-pressure water jet is not recommended.
To summarise, you will get the best results with a solar power system if it is custom-designed for your property, while using high-quality equipment and keeping in mind that some system components last less than solar modules. The combination of a monitoring system and adequate maintenance ensures that issues are prevented, which is much cheaper than solving problems after they occur.