The national average cost for routine solar panel maintenance is between $140 and $180, but warranties cover the expense of many services. The service you're most likely to need is an annual inspection, which costs $150 on average across the nation. The second maintenance service you're likely to need is solar panel cleaning. Warranties typically don't cover this, and you'll pay $12-20 per panel, on average. The typical home has 15 - 35 panels, depending on how much annual electricity usage (kWH) you need to power your home.
Regardless of if you end up paying out of pocket or not to have a professional cover routine tasks for maintaining your solar panels, the total cost can go up or down depending on several factors:
- The brand
- The number of solar panels
- Whether you have flat or tilted panels
- The climate and surrounding environment
- The height of your building, if they're on a roof
- The type of inverter you have
- Whether you need any repairs or modifications
While it may feel like a hassle, keeping your solar panels in good shape is important. Good upkeep can extend the lifespan of your solar panels and increase the amount of energy they generate. Especially if you live in an area where you get less sunlight for part of the year, or rely on a mix of solar and other energy sources -- renewable or otherwise -- that extra bit of efficiency can make a huge impact on the amount of solar power you generate, and how much you can rely on off-grid energy.
Before you hire a professional to help get your panels running in tip-top shape, this guide will break down common costs, maintenance services and what you can expect from your warranties.
What's in this cost guide?
- What kind of maintenance does my solar panel need?
- What's covered in your warranty?
- How much does it cost to clean your solar panels?
- What affects the cost of maintaining solar panels, outside your warranty?
- How can you save money on solar panel maintenance?
To keep your investment in solar operating at peak performance, most solar panel companies recommend you schedule an annual inspection and twice-yearly panel cleanings. Depending on the state of your panels, you may need additional repairs, which an inspection can flag.
While this is potentially an additional cost, they can save you money in the long run, since you'll be able to get more energy from your panels afterwards by replacing or repairing an old component, or cleaning off your panel to access as much solar energy as possible.
Overall, solar panels need relatively little regular cleaning, since they are washed off naturally by rain or snow. Over time, however, dust and other substances, like leaves and bird droppings, can accumulate on the panels' tempered glass. If you live near or downwind from an airport, highway or factories, your system might also develop a grimy film.
No matter what substances have built up on your panels, you'll want to get rid of them. Even a light layer of dirt and debris can affect the amount of solar energy generated by your system. Customers report a 10 to 30 percent improvement in efficiency after having their solar panels cleaned.
Before you reach for your credit card to pay for your maintenance, check to see what services your solar panel warranty covers. Manufacturer warranties on solar systems range from 10 to 25 years of coverage, and are provided to you with your lease or purchase agreement. What your specific warranty covers depends on your manufacturer, but there are some common services most take care of.
Also be sure to check whether your warranty has restrictions on who can service your solar system. Your warranty may be voided if you allow someone other than the manufacturer or certified installer to install, remove or repair your solar panel system while under warranty.
In general, if you lease your solar panel system, the company from which you leased them is responsible for any maintenance and repairs -- the one exception being cleaning.
For example, most manufacturers guarantee the solar panels will perform at or above a specified efficiency level for every year of the warranty's duration. Solar panel systems often come with monitoring to track how much kWh it's generating, and ensure your system meets its efficiency criteria. Most installation companies also offer labor warranties that cover installation errors and maintenance costs for up to 10 years. Need for repairs will be flagged during an annual inspection.
Under warranty, service on problems directly related to the panel would be provided by the manufacturer. Problems with wiring, monitoring and connection would be handled by the installation company. Some people will have a warranty bundle, meaning both are covered under the same agreement. Cleaning costs are typically not included in warranty agreements.
Most installation companies provide remote performance monitoring of your panels as part of your contract. Generally, they'll charge either an annual or one-time fee when installing the solar panels. It is not part of the installation cost.
To monitor the health of your panels, your installation company will receive regular reports on your power collection and energy usage through an online system. It will tell you the kilowatt hours of electricity your solar panels are producing. Monitoring is also helpful if you want to estimate how much solar energy you will generate in a given month.
Major dips in solar power output could be a software glitch. But it could also mean a there's a problem with your system, such as a faulty panel, loose connections or an issue with the inverter that's in need of attention. Your labor or manufacturer warranty covers the cost to fix these problems.
Replacing or fixing inverters
Inverters transform the direct current (DC) power collected by your solar panel into the alternating current (AC) used by your home or office. They are generally covered for the length of your warranty. If at any point they stop working or have issues, you should not have to pay out of pocket to repair or replace them.
There are three different types of inverters your solar panels could have: String inverters (also known as centralized), micro inverters and power optimizers. Micro inverters and power optimizers are collectively known as Module-Level Power Electronics (MLPEs).
A string inverter, also known as a centralized inverter, is a single unit, installed on the side of your home, in your basement or in your garage, connected with wiring to all of the solar panels on your roof. Most small-scale solar pane systems use a string inverter.
However, micro inverters and power optimizers (MLPEs) have been growing in use and newer and larger panels are likely to have one of these. MLPEs are multiple units, connected to and installed on the roof near each solar panel. Because they can track the performance of each individual panel, micro inverters make it easier to identify and target a problem panel.
If string inverter or micro inverter fails outside of your warranty period, here are some examples of replacement costs.
|Type of inverter||Cost of parts||Labor costs||Total replacement cost|
|New string inverter||$1,200 - $2,500||$500||$1,700 - $3,000|
|New micro inverter||$100 - $250||$250||$350 - $500|
Even if you have a warranty, you will likely have to pay out of pocket for your twice-yearly solar panel cleaning. You can DIY your solar cleaning, but if you have a lot of panels or they are in a hard to reach spot, like a tilted roof, it could be safer to call in a solar panel cleaning pro.
Most professionals who offer solar panel cleaning charge either an hourly rate or per-panel cleaning rate. Typical hourly rates range from $100 - $150 per hour.
Per-panel cleaning charges depend on whether the panels are flat, which means they are closer to ground installation and more easily accessible, or tilted, which means they're on a rooftop and require extra safety measures. Typical per-panel cleaning rates range from $12 - 20. For 32 solar panels, a per-panel cleaning could cost from $384 - $640 in total.
Some companies charge a flat rate for flat solar panels. Expect to pay $130 - $150 to clean up to 32 flat solar panels.
If you own your solar energy system and your warranty has expired, any inspection, maintenance or repair work will fall on you. Solar systems need very little maintenance, and you're most likely to just need a solar panel cleaning, which costs around $130 - $150 nationally. You might also require maintenance if your system isn't generating as much kWh as it used to, or after a particularly heavy snowfall that may have damaged them.
Additionally, you'll require is annual rooftop inspection, which typically runs around $300.
Where you land within the average price range for any of these services will depend on a couple of factors:
- Where the panels are located. Are they on a roof? Or on the ground?
- The number of panels. Especially for cleaning, more panels means higher price.
- The height of the building. If your panels are on a roof, the height of the building can impact your costs. Accessing panels on higher buildings will require additional safety mechanisms and time to set them up.
- Whether you need any special tools to clean and service your panels. This should be specified by the manufacturer, and you should know upfront on installation whether your panels require any special tools.
If you have a warranty, you've already made a great step towards cost effective upkeep of your solar panels. There are a few other tips and tricks you can employ to keep costs down:
- Bundle your manufacture and installer warranty. It can be cheaper if you bundle an agreement with the manufacturer or installer to cover maintenance and repair. Before agreeing to a warranty, inquire about this option.
- Look for discounts on cleaning. Some solar panel cleaning company will offer discounts for multiyear contracts. Ask about a long-term contract before deciding on a contractor.
In essence, maintaining your solar panels is a cost-saving task. If you sell energy back to your local utility companies, making sure your system works at top output can help you earn more, or receive a higher rebate or subsidy.
At the same time, keeping your panels in good shape will also keep down how often you need, and need to pay, for your maintenance. Below are a couple of steps you can take to prevent damage and need less maintenance.
- Cut back trees blocking your solar panel system. Trees that were small when you initially installed the solar panels may have grown to now obstruct your panel's ability to absorb sunlight. Trim the trees, or hire someone to help trim them, to give your panels more access to sunlight and improve their output.
- Prevent birds from nesting. If bird droppings are a problem, birds may be nesting under your panels. Ask whether your solar panel professional can install bird mesh or other bird proofing to keep birds from nesting, and pooping, on your panels.