Everything You Need to Know About Operations & Maintenance For Solar Panels
“If it weren’t for electricity we’d all be watching television by candlelight.” ~ George Gobal
So now that you have a long lasting renewable energy supply at your disposal, what can you do with it? Well, you can use anything you can use in a normal mains general-purpose outlet, as long as the load/appliance is less than or equal to the rating of your mains inverter. Here are some suggestions;
Water pump connected to rainwater tanks for gardening irrigation. Extra Low voltage lighting around your garden Small air compressor for car or bike tires Charge a portable Jump Start kit for cars Run a camp fridge/freezer Any 12-volt DC accessory designed for automobiles Charge any portable electronic devices via USB adaptor suited for cars.
Mains Voltage via Inverter
Run low rated power tools in your garage Supply electricity to vital household appliances during blackouts Run portable lighting and music equipment for outdoor parties Run appliance suitably rated — the choice is yours.
Capacity and System Life
The most common question I hear after showing someone my small solar power system is “How long do the batteries last?” Well, that all depends on how you want to utilise the system. If you run the system at the full rating of your inverter without any sunshine (at night-time), it will probably only keep you out of the clutches of anarchy for a few hours.
However, if you use it sparingly, run a low wattage fridge/freezer, and a few low watt lights and batteries get a daily charge, then you will almost have an unlimited supply for the life of your system.
As for the life of the system, the solar modules should last for at least 25 years, and most are guaranteed for that long. AGM batteries have a lifespan of between 4–8 years depending on the depth of discharge and frequency of recharge. Read here for our article on Solar Battery Maintenance.
If properly looked after they should last even longer. If your batteries fail for some reason, fear not, there may be a solution. I have, on a sunny day, used the 12-volt DC part of the system with the battery circuit turned off. The solar modules fed current to the solar charge controller, which worked fine, as did the water pump that I connected to the load.
However, this will not work with all regulators. Some will not function without the battery connected. Check the instruction manual of your charge controller to determine if this is a function.
Given the small size, and the ease of disconnecting the solar modules, it makes for a truly portable system.
The battery box is quite heavy, and would require a few people to lift it, however, if you fix castors or wheels as I have recommended, and ensure that the box’s width is less than the width of your house door, then wheeling it into your home would be no problem at all.
This type of system can be transported on the back of a utility vehicle (pickup truck), to where you need the power supply. It is ideal for farmers, builders and for use in workshops or demonstrations in the field. The potential uses are vast.
If you use a sealed battery, like AGM, then battery maintenance is nearly non-existent. I would recommend that a quick monthly check to ensure that battery terminals are clean and dust free. Also, check that the solar charge controller is functioning and that it indicates that the batteries are in good health.
Most controllers will indicate any issue if a fault should occur. Refer to your charge controller manual if necessary to determine any error codes/conditions.
Also check that all wiring is intact and in good condition and that connections are still tight and clean.
Regularly inspect the solar modules for dust and grime. Cleaning the modules can be achieved quickly with a window squeegee and some warm soapy water. A thin layer of dust can inhibit the solar module’s output by at least 5%.
The MC4 connectors on all fly leads should be inspected for a tight fit and any degradation. If any component looks to be damaged you should test that part of the circuit with a multimeter and change components where necessary.
Flooded Cell Lead acid batteries have to be inspected regularly for electrolyte levels and topped up with distilled water where required.
This is not possible with AGM or gel cell batteries, which are sealed units, which is another reason to choose AGM. You should also keep all of the components out of the weather and definitely away from direct rainfall, apart from the solar modules of course, which need a bit of rain to keep them clean, if you should choose not to clean them yourself. You could, of course, make your battery box waterproof.
Waterproofing the battery box and all components will increase your system’s cost. An easier solution would be to make or buy a cover, similar to one used for a BBQ.
This would allow you to use the system in inclement weather. More so, move the battery box under cover as soon as possible to avoid damage.
Solar Energy Equipment Summary
With care and minimal regular maintenance, your small solar power supply will provide you with many years of reliable service. Best of all, after capital costs, electricity is free forever! This is why your solar energy equipment needs to be cared for.
In recent times, large-scale grid failures have become commonplace, especially after extreme weather events like super storms, bushfires, floods, and heatwaves. Many neighborhoods have gone without electricity for weeks before the grid restoration.
In addition, some countries have an unreliable grid system at the best of times and can expect intermittent power supplies during the day and night.
People adapt to these outages, however, you now know how to build a system that will assist you should the emergency arise.
Imagine if you did not have a small solar power supply during such an emergency, and having to deal with the cost of the spoiled food that you would have to replace in your fridge and freezer. It could amount to hundreds if not thousands of dollars of damage and waste.
That disaster alone would probably cost more than the capital required to build this project and would be cost effective insurance in itself. How many times have you read about house fires, or carbon monoxide poisoning, that often occurs during a blackout due to candles or lamps?
Imagine having safe and pollution free lighting in the evening when all those homes around you are in darkness.
Small systems like this are used throughout the world, in out of the way places, on off-grid properties, and small towns and villages.
Sometimes this is their only source of electricity. With a bit of ingenuity, this system can also be made from very low cost second hand materials. Second hand batteries can be given a new lease of life, however you have to be confident of their history or be able to test them before use.
Old wire can be reused, as long as it is the correct gauge. Even old Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) used as backups for computers have been up-cycled and turned into a trustworthy mains inverter.
Many of these components are lying around in electronic junk piles or car wreckers just waiting to be repurposed for a minimal cost.
By building a small solar power supply, you will have prepared yourself and your family for most emergencies in the event of power grid loss, or supplement an already inconsistent and unreliable electricity supply.
Maintenance For Solar Panels Summary
Yes you need to look after your system. All components need to be checked and in workable order. This applies to the panels and also the batteries, as well as wiring and all other parts of the system.