Shoalhaven Solar Owners’ Water Restrictions Reprieve

Solar panels and bushfire ash

Image: Fuzz

While water restrictions are in place in NSW’s Shoalhaven Council region, residential solar system owners have been granted an exemption to wash bushfire ash off their solar panels.

The Shoalhaven local government area spans 160 kilometres of coast between Berry in the north to Durras Lake in the south and extends 30 – 75km inland to the ranges. Its major population centres are Nowra and Ulladulla.

In addition to the havoc caused by bushfires occurring in the region and beyond, Level 1 Water Restrictions kicked in early this month after Bamarang Dam was drawn down to 60% capacity. Under Level 1 restrictions, washing down of hard surfaces is banned. This includes solar panels.

Under normal conditions, solar panels installed at an angle should be self-cleaning. But very little rain combined with the ash from bushfires is apparently heavily impacting output of some PV systems in the region.

“We’ve had reports of solar panels not working due to the caking of ash over them, particularly in areas that have received light rainfall,” said Acting Director of Shoalhaven Water Robert Horner. “Solar panels are usually considered a hard surface, however, due to the current situation we are experiencing we have decided to allow residents to clean their solar panels, using a pressure washer for the time being.”

Just a little rain on a heavy coating of dust or ash on a solar panel can be worse than none at all; particularly if it’s immediately followed by more deposits.

There hasn’t been any follow up announcing an end to the exemption from Shoalhaven Water, so it’s probably safe to assume it still applies.

Should You Clean Solar Panels Regularly?

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good and no doubt professional solar panel cleaning services in the Shoalhaven region will be quite busy.

It’s a head-shaker of a situation – solar power reduces emissions that drive climate change. Climate change is extending the bushfire season that make fires worse and creating conditions for more dust storms. Those dust storms and fires are dumping detritus on solar panels and impacting on output ..and far, far worse consequences of course.

It’s just a crazy, crazy state of affairs.

But the situation in Shoalhaven and other areas severely impacted by ash and dust aside – and assuming panels haven’t been installed horizontally – regular solar panel cleaning may be a waste of time and money. It can also be a risky activity from a safety perspective if you have to get up on a roof to do it and use a pressure washer.

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