Sunday, January 9, 2011

Solar Panel Maintenance

Contrary to popular belief, even solar panels require maintenance.  At this point, there is no such thing as "plug and play" for an off-grid lifestyle!

Sir Knight built the frame for our solar array.  He put a huge lift cylinder (from a forklift) in the center, with the idea of being able to raise the array to an almost vertical position for the winter and an almost horizontal position for the summer (to maximize the solar gain when the sun was high or low in the sky).  Unfortunately, we have never found the right motor to make the lift cylinder work correctly, so our solar array is stationary - at the perfect angle for summer solar.  Our winter solar gain is rather lacking.  Our panels only produce a fraction of what they are capable of, due to their angle in relation to the sun's position on the winter horizon.  Another irritating aspect of our not being able to re-position our solar panels, is that they gather snow in the winter.  Our already poorly producing panels are further hampered by the fact that, at any given time, they can be covered with six inches of snow and ice.

To improve our chances of charging our batteries with the sun versus the generator, Sir Knight climbs up a ladder and takes a shop broom that we have taped to a large piece of PVC pipe and clears off as much snow as he can.  Once we get down to the ice, we have to let the sun do it's job, which it usually does pretty quickly.

Even solar panels need maintenance.  In the summer, you have to wash the dust and grime off of them and in the winter, it is the snow and ice.  It is all part of the off-grid dream!

Sir Knight has most of the right side cleared off

Miss Calamity keeping an eye on things


  1. I am always amazed the winter photo's up in that part of the country. It was about 70 degrees down here in South Texas on Sunday. The sun coming in the windows my house can heat up to 78 degrees. I have hurricane shutters that I use in the Spring, Summer and Fall to keep the sun from overheating my house.

  2. I guess I'm kind of glad we didn't put them "up" on something. We put ours on heavy iron "poles". We can reach ours with a regular push broom to get all that pesky snow off :-)

    Sure hope you get a motor figured out sooner rather than later *smile* No fun living off grid with no power!

  3. Whenever I see or read about a job like this one, I am immediately thinking about ways to make life easier. (Chalk it up to my basic tendency to be lazy.)

    I see an opportunity to invent something that would remove the snow without climbing on a ladder or using a broom. Perhaps something like giant windshield wipers that can clear the panels of powery snow? Or maybe a series of heaters like those used on water pipes (so the pipes don't freeze up)? Using a small amount of solar power to keep the panels clear seems like a good trade-off to me.

    Then again, maybe I'm just too lazy. Perhaps this task is no big deal. But anytime you can stay off a ladder in the cold weather, I'm all for that.

    NoCal Gal

  4. This makes me glad to live in OK. We just got our first snow of the year, about 3 inches. We love it but it only happens a few times so we only have to clean off the panels a few times.

  5. Would you be able to us a manual pump from something like a log splitter or floor jack to operate the lift cylinder? Maybe a simple 1/2 or 1 ton bottle jack or converted floor jack would work? I'm thinking of installing a system and i like the idea of being able to adjust it (though here in the south we don't need to change the angle much).

  6. How about using an awning from an RV to cover the panels before a forecast snowstorm? It would have it's own mechanism to deploy and retract it. Even if you didn't catch every snowfall, it would still be a big time saver.

    On the floor jack idea, you could copy the mechanism used to convert a regular pickup bed into a dump bed. Adjust the dimensions to fit the travel of your cylinder.

  7. Would the panels still work normally with a clear sheet of plastic? That way, when ice or snow forms you can remove it with a roller as well. A roller, similar to that of a pool cover roller.

  8. Thank you for this very timely post! I'm in process of having solar panels installed and one set was to go on top of my greenhouse! Not now though. I'll have the guys build a leaning rack for the array instead of the roof. No way I can see any of us climbing up there to clear them of snow. And since we live up in the mountains, we get a lot of snow! Thanks again. I'm really enjoying this site.

  9. For maintenance it's best to have the panels on ground-mounted poles, but many people do have to put them up high (often on the roof).

    Could you use a regular snow rake on the panels from the ground instead of having to get up on a ladder?

  10. Take a look at Websites like Super Surplus in Nebraska (I think). Assorted Hydraulics, motors, Jacks and Screw Jacks. A Trailer tongue Jack might work depending on the amount of movement required.

    Some years back MEN had an article where a man made his PU Bed into a dump using a cylinder, an old power steering pump and ran it from his PU of course. Finding a DC motor from a Surplus Supply or WW Grainger might adapt to this. Could you run the PS pump with a Bicycle power setup prehaps. A Porta Power type pump from Northern Supply(?) would operate a cylinder such as you need easily. Seems a 10 Ton Pump was $39. Ed H in Ark & Ok