The 12 Steps of Solar Panel Cleaning

The 12 steps of solar panel cleaning have been created to help cleaners compartmentalize the solar panel cleaning process. Using this foundation in your day-to-day decision-making process facilitates operations and helps to ensure quality. The 12 steps in solar panel cleaning also facilitate training and service quality.

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Time and Circumstance

Understand the process, make better decisions, and grow your business. 

  1. Safety – Before we get started, how can we ensure operator and bystander safety? Let’s be “safe-centric”. 
  2. PV Site Damage Control – Before we get started, how can we ensure that we will not damage the PV site? Thermal shock ..etc
  3. Arrival / Setup – Once we arrive at the job site with our equipment, how do we get set up? What resources do we need to get to work? How does the machinery we have performed in this stage? 
  4. Transportation – How do we move the equipment from the company warehouse or home base to the job site and vice versa?
  5. Water Treatment – How do we treat our water? Do we do this at the job site or do we do it at a company warehouse and then transport the treated water?
  6. Water Management – How do we get the water from the source to the machinery and solar panels? How do we handle the long hoses and what tools can we use to make this handling easier and more efficient? Do we need to refill the source?
  7. Array (Row) Cleaning – Once we get the equipment setup and the machinery is on the array, how well do we perform the cleaning? 
    1. How many trips to clean the array?
    2. Water consumption per trip?
  8. Gap Management – It is common that solar installations to have gaps within the array or row. How does the solar panel cleaning equipment cross that gap and will it be a problem? Gaps can be problematic and there are workarounds. 
  9. Row to Row (Moving from one array to another) – How do we move the machinery from one row to the next? Rows/arrays are constant in every solar panel cleaning job and each installation requires that you solve the problem in a tailored way.
  10. Equipment Power Management – How is our equipment powered and how can we ensure constant and efficient power so we do not have to stop working?
  11. Departure (Basically the same as Arrival / Setup) but not always the same.
  12. Transportation – Time to go home or to the next job site!
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Safety

A big component of being a successful solar panel cleaning company is accomplishing operator and bystander safety. We define this stage as defining all safety measures, processes, and resources that need to be implemented to guarantee that the operator and the people in the area are guaranteed safety.

Operator Safety includes

Keeping the operator safe when he/she works.

Keeping the operator safe from physical injuries due to manipulating heavy machinery. 

Keeping the operator safe from contact with environments where there is electricity

Compliance with US Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines

Bystander Safety

Operators always work when other people are around and we have to guarantee their safety. We need to keep bystanders safe from “Falling equipment” or other situations that might come up.

Operator Checklist
  • Safety training
  • Aerial lifts
  • Roofing Safety
  • Define protocols
  • Equipment training
  • How to manipulate the equipment safely?
  • Equipment weight limits and OSHA – Occupational Safety Health Administration Guidelines – The United States Department of Labor (OSHA) states “Lifting loads heavier than about 50 pounds will increase the risk of injury”.  USA – Men and Women Lifting Limits – 22.68 kg / 50 lbs.
  • Roofing Safety protocols
  • Battery run-out sensors
  • Electrical Training
  • How do identify loose wiring and unsafe installations?
  • How to fix loose wiring and ensure safety to start cleaning?
  • Gear
  • What kind of clothes should be worn to avoid being electrocuted?
  • How can I signal the aerial lift equipment to avoid an accident?
  • What extra measures should I take when cleaning at night?
  • Extensive Safety Training
  • Roofing Safety
  • Aerial Lift Safety
  • Machine manipulation safety
  • First Aid Kit
  • Safety Glasses
  • Study the installation via Google Earth prior to cleaning
  • Preparation for each specific cleaning job
  • Electrical tester
  • Electrical Tape, Flame Retardant Indoor Outdoor High-Temperature Resistance Electric Tape, Premium Black Waterproof Tape
  • Operator uniform designed for electrical safety
  • Articulated Aerial lift
  • Roofing Fall Protection kit (harness etc)
  • Reflective Orange cones
  • Hydraulic Scissor lift
  • Communication between operators
  • Sunscreen
  • Food, Bathroom, Shade break
  • Night Cleaning
  • Light  for cleaners
  • Light for working area

Don’t ever do this.

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Bystander Safety
  • How can my equipment hurt someone?
  • Rooftop Cleaning
  • Edge Detection technology / Fall protection technology.
  • What happens if my operator gets distracted
  • Bystander Safety training
  • Aerial lifts
  • Fall Protection Gear
  • Equipment training
  • Define protocols
  • How can I avoid accidents – having my equipment run into someone or falling on someone?
  • How can I signal long hoses and other equipment so bystanders can them?
  • Edge Detection / Fall protection technology in the case you are cleaning with solar panel cleaning robots
  • “Transportation hook / Ramp in the case you are cleaning with solar panel cleaning robots
  • Getting the robot from the lift to the rooftop”
  • Reflective Orange cones
  • Whistle or a microphone to call attention to bystanders who may be at risk of danger

Edge Detection Technology

Lifting and Discrimination

“The perception that men are stronger than women is a broad generalization with many exceptions in real life. However, the World Health Organization, in a paper on gender and health at work, notes that the lifting strength of the average woman is approximately 50 percent that of the average man. However, the American Bar Association, in a paper on workplace law, points out that a company seeking to hire only strong young men for a heavy-lifting job would be committing illegal discrimination. It is legal to specify that a job requires employees to regularly lift a particular amount of weight, but it is not legal to assume that only men would be capable of doing so.”

Source: https://work.chron.com/laws-gender-differences-lifting-workplace-28301.html

Roofing Safety – Opinions in the industry

Rooftop safety is extremely important and not easy to accomplish. OSHA 30 is a good start but so much of the important information is not published. We recommend taking multiple safety courses. The information below is just a small sample of the things you need to know. 

  • OSHA 30
  • https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/OSHA3755.pdf
  • CE523: Residential/Commercial Roof-Mounted PV Installation Safety
  • Roofing Industry Fall Protection From A to Z
  • Grant number – H-23536-12-60-F-17 OSHA
  • Roofing Construction Course
  • https://www.oshaeducationcenter.com/osha-30-hour-training/
  • Employers must certify that workers have been trained by documenting it in accord with 29 CFR 1926.503(b) – Certification of Training
  • Information that is not in these courses can be found on the Solar Panel Cleaning Friends Facebook group
  • Experienced solar panel cleaning companies share their knowledge with the group
  • The mount is perfectly ok to tie off too (this is coming from personal use, and my background, nothing official)That’s what I use all the time. People need to remember that we are using a fall arrest system, we are not repelling. The biggest safety thing is you have to make sure to chase your line and not to have too much excess rope out.
  • How do you tie off on a Spanish tile roof? 
  • it really depends on how the roof is built. A lot of the time you can remove a tile and anchor off the trust.
  • If you service the site multiple times a year install one of these. ⇒
  • How does drilling into customers’ roofs affect your license status and/or insurance? Please know that nothing beats safety BUT once you start putting holes in people’s roofs A LOT of changes. Any advice when it comes to that?
  • Our insurance covers roof penetrations, but we do not provide a water-tight warranty and never had any issues with insurance. Not sure how or why it would affect our GC license if we do everything up to code.
  • I would assume any company who writes your insurance would understand you need to follow federal law and adequately tie off when working on the roof.
  • We show the customer what we install and why we install it and have it as a line item on the invoice. Never had one customer even question it.
  • If installed right, you should never have a problem with leaks.
  • Also, most of the time you nail and not drill into the roof.
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Rooftop Solar Panel Cleaning Safety Course

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PV Site Damage Control
  • How can our operator and equipment damage our client’s solar panels?
  • What can we do to avoid this?
  • How can we avoid accidents at the site?
  • How can we ensure keeping our client’s PV site intact?
  • Does cleaning at night increment the probability of PV asset damage?
  • Thermal shock several damages the panels. Should I clean with heated water if I am cleaning when it is hot?

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Transportation
  • How can we move the equipment from the home base to the job site and back again? 
  • In what condition are the roads and can our vehicle make it to the job site with ease?
  • What kind of skilled labor do I need to move the equipment?
  • What kind of driver’s license does the person need to have?
  • How difficult is it to get these kinds of drivers?
  • What should be my source for this kind of personnel?
  • What are the hourly wages?
  • Are unions an issue?
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Source: https://www.facebook.com/solarfarmcleaning

Source: https://hycleaner.eu/en/

Arrival / Setup
  • What are my options for getting the equipment from the van, truck, or flatbed to the solar panels?
  • What kind of equipment do I need to move the equipment?
  • How many people do I need to get get the setup completed?
  • Do I need an aerial lift?
  • Does the aerial equipment reach all the solar panels?
  • Is the road wide enough if I am using a tractor brush system?
  • Is the road wide enough for an aerial lift?
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Source: Grynwork.com

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Water Treatment

Water is rarely available on-site and solar panel cleaning should be done with deionized water or osmotic water. Bringing this treated water to the site is an expensive process and water should not be wasted. 

  • Do I treat onsite?
  • Do I treat offsite and transport the treated water?
  • What water treatment is ideal?
  • What water treatment equipment do I need?
  • How long does it take to treat the water?
  • How expensive is the treated water?
  • Did I include this cost in my bidding?
  • Should I test my water with a TDS monitor?
3.2.2.6 Water Management

How do we get the water from the source to the machinery and solar panels?

  • Hoses, pumps
  • Water container attached to our tractor brush SPC system
  • How can we manage the long hoses? 
  • Hose management is also a significant difficulty in the process. The hoses are very long and they are heavy and they generally need management by a person or tool so that the operator driving the machinery / robot can focus on doing their job correctly.

Person vs Tool 

Hose Management Guy

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Hose Management done with equipment

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Tractor Brush SPC System

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Source: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephen-anderson-001220194/

Array Cleaning
  • How many trips does the solar panel cleaning robot or machinery have to make to clean the row?
  • What is my brush width to panel width ratio?
  • Do I need to do 1 or more trips due to high soiling levels?
  • How much water do I use per trip?
  • How much does my treated water cost?
  • What is my brush width to array width? 1V, 2V, 3H configurations are common
  • What is my water consumption per trip?
  • Can 1 operator clean 2 arrays (rows) at the same time and if so how?
  • What resources do I need to clean multiple arrays?
  • Do I need to move the aerial lift to clean the entire array?
  • It road wide enough if I am using a tractor brush system?
  • Is the road wide enough for an aerial lift
  • Is the road safe enough to drive on with a tractor?

Most Common C&I Solar Panel Dimensions

1840mm x 1030 mm x 31mm including frame

Most Common Utility-Scale Solar Panel Dimensions

2261mm x 1134mm x 35 mm

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Can a tractor drive over this road?

Gap Management

How can we get the machinery across these gaps?

It is common that solar installations to have gaps within the array or row. How does the solar panel cleaning machinery/robot cross that gap and will it be a problem? 

  • How can the equipment pass the gap?
  • What do I do if my equipment cannot pass the gap?
  • Am I reliant on an aerial lift to get the equipment over the gap?
  • If the solar panels are located in a place where my aerial lift cannot reach, how do I get the machinery over the gap?
  • Can I add a board to help my equipment over the gap?
  • What is the maximum gap on inclined rooftops?
  • What is the maximum gap on flat surfaces?
  • Please note that the max gap on flat surfaces is not the same as on inclined surfaces for solar panel cleaning robotic systems.
  • How does gap management vary between machinery types?
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Source: https://www.maxproductionsolarpanelcleaning.com/

Row to Row
  • Moving solar panel cleaning robotics
  • Operator vs Hydraulic Lift
  • How do we move the machinery from one row to the next? Rows or arrays are constant in every solar panel cleaning job and each installation requires that you solve the problem in a tailored way. 
  • Do you need special equipment or can an operator get the job done without the special equipment?
  • Are we dependent on a hydraulic lift to move the equipment?
  • Is my machinery light enough to move the equipment without a hydraulic lift?
  • If I am using a tractor brush system, is the road wide enough for my tractor?

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Excavator Brush Solar Panel Cleaning Systems

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Source: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephen-anderson-001220194/

Equipment Power Management
  • Battery Powered – If my machinery is battery powered, it is very important that the equipment comes with a battery runout sensor so that the equipment can be moved to a safe location for battery replacement
  • Does my equipment have a battery runout sensor?
  • What happens if my machine runs out of batteries in a place where my aerial lift cannot reach it?
  • Gas – Most tractor brush solar panel cleaning systems are dependent on gas. How do I get gas onsite to be able to work continuously?
  • Power Lines – Some solar panel cleaning equipment is powered by electrical lines. This is common with Lift and Shift SPC systems. How do I get electrical power to my machines and do I need a generator? 
  • Solar Power – Solar power is used in Fixed Slider with Docking Station Systems – 100% Dry cleaning. Will my Fixed slider system work if the solar panels on the machine are very dirty?
Departure

This stage is similar to arrival but now always the same

Transportation
  • How can we move the equipment from job site home again or to the next job site? 
  • In what condition are the roads and can our vehicle make it back to home base with ease?
  • What kind of skilled labor do I need to move the equipment?
  • What kind of driver’s license does the person need to have?
  • How difficult it to get this kind of driver?
  • What should be my source for this kind of personnel?
  • What are the hourly wages?
  • Are unions an issue?