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What about wear and tear, how long does it last?

A solar power system like ours, that uses photovoltaic panels mounted in a fixed position on your roof, requires basically no maintenance. Plus, the power output of the panels is generally guaranteed for at least 20 years, depending on the manufacturer.

So there’s really not much to worry about in terms of wear and tear and maintenance. The panels themselves are designed to operate year round, and their surface is made from tempered glass that can withstand moderate impacts from hail and other debris.

If the panels are mounted on an angle, then rain will do an adequate job cleaning them.

If you have moving parts in your system, such as a tracker that moves your panels to face the sun, then you may face additional maintenance issues.

The inverters are not usually guaranteed for as long as the solar panels themselves, so if there is a major part that may need replacing during the normal service life of the system, it is likely the inverter. However, at current prices, the inverter represents between 5% and 10% of the entire cost of the solar power system, so even if it is replaced once during the life of the system, that is still a very low maintenance cost overall.

All that being said…it turns out we did have a problem with our array about three and a half years after it was turned on. On November 29, 2013, the system turned off. The inverter went offline, and there was no power being produced. I called Solsmart Energy Solutions Inc. to come and take a look at the system. Their technician, Chris, was very courteous and knowledgeable and suspected that the inverter was the problem, having seen issues with Xantrex GT inverters in the past. (Great!)

However, Chris was able to very quickly identify the real culprit as a blown fuse in a switch in the basement that lets you turn off the power coming from the roof, before it reaches the inverter. It turns out that Sun Volts, the company that originally installed the array, used AC fuses with a high rating in that switch, and not DC fuses. This is significant because the array generates DC power, not AC power.

Apparently, DC equipment was not common in Ontario in 2009 when the array was installed, since that was before the microFIT program was even started. So it was not unusual to do swaps like this and usually it worked out. But in this case, it didn’t. Solsmart was able to track down the right DC fuses for that switch, and a little over a month later, Chris returned to install them, and the array was back online.

So it seems this was a side effect of being such an early adopter, and hopefully the “not much to worry about” prescription is back in effect for many more years!