With bushfires currently spreading over much of Australia, many homeowners are finding themselves with questions that they’ve never encountered before. Some of these questions have to do with the maintenance of solar panels. During bushfires, will your solar panels still perform well? Do they have the same output, and do they need additional maintenance? Here’s what you need to know.
Smoke Can Hamper the Productivity of Your Solar Panels
While solar panels can function during bad weather, smoke can actually reduce solar output — and ash is even worse. You can expect that your solar energy output could be reduced if there is ash accumulating on your solar panels, or if the smoke has filled the air. During this time, you may need additional energy from the grid. There is little that can be done about smoke in the air, besides waiting until the smoke has reduced.
Presently, it’s believed that ash and smoke from bushfires is reducing solar system output by about 30%. This can be a problem for those who rely almost completely on their solar power, but there are things that you can do to mitigate some of the efficiency loss.
Having Solar Panels Cleaned
Dirt normally accounts for about a 5% reduction in solar energy output, but ash can change the situation considerably. As ash builds up on your solar panels, the efficiency will decrease accordingly.
After a bushfire, solar panels can be cleaned to improve efficiency. Usually rain and other weather conditions will clean solar panels for a homeowner or business owner, but because of the out-of-the-ordinary levels of dust and ash, this isn’t happening with the usual regularity.
You shouldn’t try to clean panels yourself. You should contact an expert, such as your installer. Cleaning panels yourself could cause damage to them, and you may not notice damage that has to be repaired. You can inspect your solar panels to see if there has been considerable dust and ash build up on them.
Conserving Solar Energy
If your solar panel productivity is currently volatile, getting a battery installed could help. A battery will store electricity when your system produces too much, to tide you over during times of poor production. But this is usually a solution for those who have good production days and bad production days: If you’re in an area with consistent fire and smoke, a battery will be of limited usefulness.
It’s more useful for homeowners with solar panels to reduce their energy usage during times of low efficiency. Those who are in areas with high smoke and ash production can limit the amount of electricity they use by turning off lights, switching to energy-efficient appliances, and limiting the use of entertainment devices. While inconvenient, it’s unfortunately a situation of national emergency — and something that the solar panels themselves cannot counter.
Getting Solar Panels Installed
With all that in mind, is this still a good time to get solar panels installed? A push towards solar is incredibly important, especially as Australia continues to move away from unsustainable energy sources. While solar panels may experience reduced efficiency during the bushfires, it’s a temporary situation that occurs only when smoke and ash fill the air.
If you have solar panels that need to be cleaned, it’s time to call your installer. Ash build up on your solar panels will reduce efficiency. Unfortunately, as far as the smoke in the air, there is little that can be done except to wait until it clears. Once the air has cleared and the bushfires have died out, solar panel systems should resume their previous levels of production.