We're often asked how to care for RV solar panels and what we have to do to keep them working.
The answer is… hardly anything.
They really take care of themselves, pretty much.
I'm not the sort that likes to do unnecessary maintenance. So when it comes to solar, all I do is clean them once or twice a year.
What to do about dirty solar panels?
Most times, nothing.
Don't stay up at night worrying about dirt on your panels cutting down on the amount of electricity.
It's not a problem, Trust me on this.
No matter what kind of solar panels you have – glass panels mounted in frames or flexible panels affixed directly to the roof surface – experts say you don't need to get do much to keep them clean.
In fact, the available research on static panels in heavily urbanized areas indicates that dirt only cuts down on yield about 3-5%, and that study was done in rain-deprived southern California where they go months with no cleansing showers.
Solar panels get cleaned by the rain
Driving helps keep the panels clean, especially driving in the rain, and a decent deluge will REALLY clean them off well – even getting the bug splatter off the front edge of framed solar panels.
I would estimate that the amount of dirt on my panels when they come due for their semi-annual cleaning isn't enough to knock off a percent or two from the energy yield they produce.
They just don't get that dirty. I checked last fall as the camping season ended and when I took a garden hose with me up the ladder and sprayed off the roof, the water that drained off was a lot cleaner than the water that comes from the side of the RV when I wash it.
Then after the winter broke and it was time to hit the road for extended travel again this spring, my return trip up the ladder revealed no real accumulation of dirt, though there were a few leaves and pine needles that needed to be sprayed off.
Does snow cut down on the yield from solar panels?
The short answer is, yes, if there's enough snow up there. By enough, I mean that anything over two inches will block the sunlight from hitting those solar panel cells and thereby affect the yield.
A dusting of snow is no problem. It will usually blow off as soon as you start driving.
Deep, wet snow will completely stop the panels from producing electricity.
But since it's wintertime, what's the problem with that? Few RVers in northern climates are out camping in the snow.
Now Jennifer and I do camp in the winter. But because the sun is its furthest distance from the earth away and not straight overhead even on a good winter's day, solar power in the winter is limited by nature, When we do winter camp, even in the snow, we almost always find a campground with hookups.
If we are boondocking in the winter, be it overnight at a Cracker Barrel or Walmart, solar power is not a key need. Our batteries are topped off by driving during the day.
Most of the winter when we are at our Michigan home, our RV sits in the driveway. Snow-covered.
Over the years, when a really heavy, wet 12-16 inch snowstorm has hit and covered my panels, I have gone up top and used a long-handled push brook to cut down on the weight of the snow. I probably didn't have to. But it just seems to make sense.
One benefit of snow on the panels: When it melts, it rinses off the solar panels!
Enemies of your solar panels: Leaves, Pollen and Bird Droppings
As I said, there are one or two times a year I do clean my solar panels.
As I write this, I am in Florida, and it's springtime. Pollen hangs heavy in the air. There's a yellow tint like a haze that you can see, Sometimes, depending on what's blooming, it's more of green color.
I clean the pollen off the surface of the RV. So I clean it off the solar panels. That's because pollen, left to sit there, can damage paint – and solar panels. Rain will clean some off, but pollen doesn't run off as easily as dirt.
In the fall, it's falling leaves that can accumulate and stick up there.
Another reason to clean your panels: Bird droppings.
Bird droppings can be like a splotch of paint. They do damage the surfaces they attach to, and they are also hard to get off.
How to clean your RV solar panels
If you do need to clean your panels, make sure you have the proper equipment to get up there and move around without endangering yourself. or the panels.
On our last two Class C RVs, I had an optional rear ladder installed. But that's only used in a pinch if I am in the middle of nowhere and I need to get up on the roof and I don't have a ladder around
Most often, I use an eight-foot step ladder. I can reach half the roof and by moving the ladder around the whole RV, I can easily clean the entire roof…including my panels.
As far as cleaning equipment, all you need is a soft cloth or a squeegee sponge with a long extension handle. Do not use a brush.
Some solar panels are made of tempered glass, which you want to go to great lengths not to scratch.
Nor do you want to scratch the flexible panels, which are made of silicon wafers
That means no bristle brushes, no abrasives, nothing like that.
Tempered glass gets its strength from the tension created by cooling the outside surface while the inside is still molten, creating hundreds of pounds of pressure. Any scratch weakens the surface, which is under very strong tension.
It's much stronger than regular glass, but once it goes, it shatters into pebbles. The side windows of your car and the glass tops on your sink and cooktop are also tempered glass.
Flexible panels are thinner and therefore easier to damage with a lot of downward pressure with your cleaning material,
You really don't even need to use soap. Because your panels are so high uo, they don't pick up oily road grime,. Anything you use in addition to clear water might leave a film, so the minimum necessary to loosen the dirt and float it off with a stream of water is desirable.
I usually just use a sponge on a long handle and a hose. First I rince off the panels. Then I lightly use the sponge to push across them. Then I spray them off once more.
Be safe up there cleaning your solar panels
I personally prefer using a step ladder than actually getting up on the roof.
I've heard of too many RVers who slipped up there. A ten-foot fall can do a lot of damage to a body!
And don't overreach as you clean. Moving the ladder frequently is a lot easier than recovering from a broken hip or head injury. Keep your center of gravity inside the ladder footprint.
Pretty easy, huh?
Twice a year is all you normally have to get up there with that hose. Maybe three times if the pollen is bad.
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