Monday, 1 February 2010

Solar Panel Cleaning: Add-On For Window Cleaners

Solar-panel cleaning a gleam in eyes of window cleaners: Erin Alpers, co-owner of Fish Window Cleaning of Reno with her husband, Alan, says she currently doesn’t include solar panel cleaning as part of her business model — yet. “I would love to get into it,” Alpers says. “It would foster some growth.” As solar arrays become more common throughout the United States, window- washing companies are expected to increasingly include solar panel cleaning to boost revenues, say executives who were in Reno last week for the International Window Cleaning Association’s annual convention.
Several companies at the window-cleaning convention displayed window-washing equipment and chemicals specifically adapted to clean solar panels. Maureen Newman, vice president of diversified markets for Mr. LongArm, a maker of high-reach poles for painting and window cleaning, says a solar manufacturer looking for a product designed to clean panels approached her company last May. In November Mr. LongArm adapted its poles, which extend to 24 feet, to clean solar panels with water using a microfiber sleeve and squeegee system.
Newman says Mr. LongArm has seen an uptick in telephone inquiries about its products as the result of a YouTube video that demonstrates solar panel cleaning. California, the Northeastern seaboard and international markets are the company’s biggest markets to date. “There are very few companies that actively seek to clean solar panels,” Newman says, “and of those companies, window washers are the most prevalent.”
In addition to window washers expanding their reach, new businesses catering to cleaning solar arrays are expected to crop up as well. One, the Solar Maid Company, licenses solar panel cleaning franchises and offers two franchises in Reno. Jason Vestal, owner of Five-Star Window Washing of Reno, says he’s looked into cleaning solar arrays to increase revenues but currently doesn’t offer the service. Vestal says one of the challenges in branching into solar panel cleaning is convincing customers that the loss of power generation from a dirty solar array outweighs the cost of cleaning. “If they lost $1 per month, and it costs $30 to clean, then it’s not worth it to them,” Vestal says. “But if you can convince them you can save them money by cleaning then sure, why not?”
But dirty solar panels can be quite costly for companies that sell power to local utilities, says Steve Blyth, vice president for window cleaning supplier J. Racenstein Co., another company demonstrating solar cleaning products at an exhibit booth at the window cleaning convention. There are two main reasons to keep solar panels clean, Blyth says. First, panel manufacturers often require some sort of cleaning to keep warranties valid. Second, power efficiencies drop off up to 40 percent with dust, grime or bird droppings on the glass.
“We have people who get rebates from Southern California Edison for systems on the roof of their manufacturing facility, and all of a sudden the rebate stopped entirely because they didn’t hit the minimum threshold for power output,” he says. “This was probably a $3,000-a-month rebate, so cleaning is a nominal cost when you lose that kind of rebate.” As the industry grows, need for solar panel cleaners will increase as well, Blyth says. Inception of a baseline pricing structure for services is another challenge for window washers. Solar panels don’t need to be cleaned with the same attention to detail as the windows in a retail store, Blyth says, but there are different ways to tackle dirty panels:

• Cleaning manually with a pole are and squeegee — the most labor intensive.
• Using a water-fed pole to scrub the glass with no rinsing, a “spot-free” cleaning.
• Spraying on a chemical that degrades the dirt and then is hosed off, a process similar to that used at a touch-free car wash.

“Window cleaners have had trouble trying to figure out how to bid the work competitively,” Blyth says. “But as the number of square feet of solar panel arrays are established in and amongst existing infrastructure, the need for established cleaners will increase. “In the next 10 years we are going to see those four houses in your neighborhood with solar turn into 40 or 50, and then the local window cleaner is going to be doing that cleaning. He has all the tools.”


Do not attempt to clean a panel with a broken glass cover or a perforated backsheet.
Such a panel can present a serious shock hazard.

1. Use caution when cleaning PV panels, as the combination of water and electricity may present a shock hazard. To prevent the possibility of severe personal injury or equipment damage due to electrical shock:
1A) Check the glass surface on the panels for exposed wires or cracks and the backing for tears, perforations or other damage before you begin washing. If there are any, do not continue and call a technician.
1B) Wear rubber gloves whenever cleaning the panel.

2. The surface you stand on may become slippery when wet, so use extreme caution.

3. If working on a roof or other areas above ground level, exercise extreme caution and use proper safety fall protection equipment.

4. Sharp edges may exist on the components. Protective gloves should be worn while cleaning the solar array system.

5. To prevent scratching and damaging the solar panel glass:
5A) Angle the metal squeegee properly so only the rubber squeegee blade touches the glass surface.
5B) Do not drop anything heavy or metal on the panel surface.
5C) Avoid cleaning in direct sunlight - electrical current and power increase with light intensity. The best time is early in the AM or late in the PM.
5D) Do not use harsh chemicals that may damage the glass surface or leave a residue, do not touch or walk on the surface, etc.
5E) Do not use hard or abrasive methods such as scouring powder, steel wool, scrapers, blades or other sharp instruments.
5F) Avoid using power washers; instead, normal pressure from a standard residential hose and faucet is recommended.

See more Mr. Longarm Info here.

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