Do you have to clean solar panels?

Years ago, shortly after putting solar panels on my house, I ran some tests to see if cleaning my panels of pollen made a difference. At the time, I found minimal difference in the output of my entire system so I concluded that I didn’t really have to worry about keeping the panels clean. Plus, most of the on-line info I found supported this, stating that rain naturally washes away most of the debris that settles on the panels.

However, this past year, I upgraded my system with solar optimizers. Due to tree growth, my array was having more problems from shading, causing the entire system performance to degrade. Optimizers allow each panel to operate more independently, reducing the negative effect of shading on one panel. In addition, the optimizers were connected to the internet, allowing me to monitor the output of each individual panel. Most modern systems provide this capability. It’s an extremely powerful troubleshooting tool.

As an energy geek, I wanted to see how my panels were performing after installing the optimizers, since I paid a good chunk of change for the upgrade. Sadly, when I compared my system output to past years, I didn’t really see much, if any improvement! Why would this be?

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First year real-world solar power performance review

The first thing that people ask when I tell them that we installed a solar array on our house is: “how much did it reduce your electric bills?” Now that I’ve had a full year of utility bills, I’m going to lay out how much we’re paying now versus our historical electric bills.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of different factors at play, but there’s no doubting that the savings are substantial in spite of different weather, usage and billing rates. So let’s get to the numbers!

From August 2012 through July 2013 (my billing cycle runs from the 20th of the month), my total electric bill was $1614. Keep in mind that our house runs mostly on heat pumps, so that also includes much of my heating bill. We also have a pool, hot tub, second fridge, and freezer – we’re not living a super low-impact lifestyle, as much as I’d like to. But what we do have is all very efficient at what it does.

How do past years compare? Continue reading

The Energy Geek Video: Sun Tubes and Skylights

My first Energy Geek video! This is the companion video for the recent article on Sun tubes.

Don’t expect much production quality. These videos will be like this blog – unedited, not politically correct, lots of opinions. So if you’re expecting “This Old House” you better look elsewhere!

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FAQ for Solatubes