Wednesday June 13 2018

Doing right with your solar panels

Doing right with solar panels

Most panels are installed on roofs because it is more convenient. Photo by David S. Mukooza 

By Regina Nalujja

With the increase in the number of companies that deal in solar equipment, many homeowners have opted for solar energy, which proves to be a smart and clean energy choice as it is said to bring down power bills thus saving money. Also, the cost of installing solar panels has decreased greatly.
The following are some of what one needs to do to comfortably use solar energy.

Proper planning
If you plan to install solar panels later in life, the roof system should be designed with the future installation in mind. Design considerations such as slope or placement of drains and scuppers should be done to allow maximum solar coverage. The roof system should also be chosen to support solar. The roof life should match the solar installation’s life. Ian Musinguzi, an expert in roofings at Friends Construction Company, notes that solar goes hand in hand with the roof system.
“It would be appropriate for the solar company to merge with roofing because, the above go hand in hand,” Musinguzi says.

Invest in quality panels
The quality of solar panels you choose affects the output. Work with the best solar installation companies to get good results. Once you install the panel, there will be no need for uninstallation caused by damage of the panel or poor installation which may require one to re-install, a process that can negatively affect your roof.

Some people decide to install the panels themselves, which has greatly worked for them. However, this is done on small panels which are easy to install. Although installing a solar panel may seem easy, if not properly done, can lead to great damage on the roof.
Joyce Nakakawa, who installed a solar panel on her roof, says hers failed to work, and she had to remove and put it back several times, a thing that critically damaged the roof. On returning the panel to the company, she was told it had mechanical issues and a replacement was done.

“I will never forgive that solar company for the infectious damage on my roof,” she says.
Maria Marsha, who works in the customer service department at Fenix International, a solar importing company, says, it is important to use solar panels from companies that are known for serving multiple roofing systems using a variety of technologies.

Choosing the right installer
Most solar installers take the roofing piece for granted while others do not have the experience with rooftop installations to understand the challenges of each roof. That is why choosing an installer who is familiar with roofing is crucial. The property owner should insist on a solar installer with genuine roofing experience.

The installer should be able to discuss rooftop conditions, know how the roof drains, be familiar with wire management plans, provide roof replacement and repairs, take down and re-install a system during roof replacement and repair. They can provide follow up maintenance services.
Marsha advises that solar panels should always be mounted on the roof to avoid damages and also reduce on theft of panels.

Solar on a tiled roof
With a tiled roof, it becomes a bit risky, so the installer needs to be more careful. Using a drill creates too much vibration, you can easily create cracks that are costly to fix and compromise the integrity of your roof.
Musinguzi says tiles should first be removed from where the solar panel is to be placed. After proper installation, they should be put back.

Ground solar panels
Though roof mounted solar panels are the commonest in Ugandan homes, you can as well consider using ground-mounted solar panels.
In Uganda, these are common on roads but rare at home. They are effective at collecting energy from the sun because they are well placed with no obstacles. However they have a lot of shortcomings compared to roof panels and that is why they are not preferred by homeowners. First, they require a considerable amount of ground space, which means you might have to sacrifice other home features to install such a panel. Also, ground-mounted panels take more time to install than rooftop installation because they require underground wiring and digging to stabilise panels. This can increase the overall installation cost.

Design a strong roof top
One should choose the right roofing materials and design a strong roof system to guarantee the best performance from any solar installation.
Dragging panels or racking across the membrane will damage even the hardest roof. Dropping tools can penetrate roof membranes while installing the solar panel hence a new roof can be made appear 10 years old.
To avoid this, Musinguzi advises that if possible, installers can use a ladder to support their excess weight and only climb up the roof for critical examination and fixing of the panel because it is inevitable. However, they should be fast and accurate, and not waste time fidgeting with the panel and the roof if they are to leave the roof in order.

Consider the flow of water
It is important to place your panel in a position that will not tamper with water flow on your roof. A good roof system should drain water away from the rooftop and shed it away from the building. Racking and wire harnesses can disrupt water flow, preventing water from draining faster. Worse still, water may be forced in the wrong direction, causing a leak.

Maintenance plan
The need for maintenance is heightened when a solar panel is installed on the roof. Make sure you fix small problems before they become big issues.
Jolly Kakooza, who has used solar energy for the past 15 years, says timely maintenance is important for the optimal functioning of your solar. “I have seen some solar installations with plants growing around panels while others end up in the water when a drain clogs.”

However, this does not call for climbing up the roof quite often in the name of cleaning the panel because some panels are self-cleaning in that rains can wash away most dirt from their surface. He adds that accumulated dust, bird droppings and leaves affect efficiency of solar panels by clouding the surface and blocking sunlight. He monitors the output of his solar panels and if he notices significant drop in efficiency, he automatically knows it is time for cleaning them and this does not happen quite often.

It is important to note that with solar energy, one has to buy gadgets designed for solar use or have their power switched to match solar energy.

How to clean solar panels
“Cleaning solar panels is not really that much different from cleaning a typical window. It is not very time-consuming either, especially if during installation you followed all the criteria” says Jolly Kakooza, a who has used solar for 15 years.

If a lot of dust and dirt has accumulated you might need to clean more thoroughly.
Maria Marsha of Fenix International, a solar equipment importing company, says solar panels should be cleaned and dust wiped off once a month especially during dusty seasons for easy charging. Often solar panel manufacturers put some recommendations for cleaning their product and it is important to follow the cleaning instructions.

Clean the surface of the solar panel with a soft cloth or sponge dumped in soapy water. You do not have to clean the wiring underneath. Either clean your solar panels in the morning or afternoon, or pick a relatively cool day because they tend to be so hot on a sunny day.