The Effects Of Bird Droppings Solar Panels – The Harsh Reality

by | Aug 29, 2016 | Bird Issues, Floating Solar Panels, Thermal Imaging

What Is The Effect Of Bird Droppings On Solar Panels?

The true impact of bird droppings on solar panels, whilst not the most romantic subject, needs to be discussed. Are bird droppings really that much of a problem for solar panels? The solar industry in the UK has been maturing for over 5 years now and some harsh lessons been learned. The early days were consumed with feed-in tariffs and installing bigger, better and more challenging solar arrays. Watching all of this from above, have been the birds and they have been loving it, as you can see!

The fact is that solar panels have become a modern haven for small families of pigeons living under residential arrays. But roofs and water are attractive to huge colonies of seagulls and migratory birds who find warmth, shelter and ideal nesting areas. Nesting areas mean massive bird dropping problems where solar panels are present. It is not an issue that we can not goosestep around.

Bird droppings on solar panels are an all too often an underestimated and overlooked problem. That is, until it’s too late. As Clean Solar Solutions have been swanning around on our solar panel cleaning trips, we have been shocked by what we have seen as bird droppings blight solar panels, in some cases to the point of rendering a whole solar array virtually useless. As well as this, removing hard, baked-on bird droppings effectively has become an extreme task, providing a steep learning curve even for solar panel cleaning specialists.

Below are some examples of what CSS have encountered on our travels in across the UK in regard to bird droppings on solar panels and how this has affected the solar panels for the short and long term.

Bird Droppings On Ground Mounted Solar Panels

Ground mounted solar panels make up the bulk of the solar panels in the UK.  Thankfully though, unless ground mounted solar farms are located close to the coast, they do not suffer as badly from bird droppings as do roof mounted or floating solar panels.  Like any outdoor surface though, solar panel are prone to bird droppings like the picture shown below. 

As well as birds dropping during flight as shown in the above picture, it is very common on solar farms for the birds also perch on the top frame of the panels and drop. This has similar results as shown in this picture.  Some solar farms are plagued with this particular issue.

If the bird droppings are frequently seen on the top edge of the solar panels, it may be that a professional team of solar panel cleaners needs to go in and spot-clean the solar panels periodically, removing the bird droppings. As seen on the above picture though, there is a green algae running along the bottom edge of the panel. If this is the case across the whole site, a full clean is recommended.

VIDEO:  See Our Bird Deterrents In Action

Bird Droppings On Roof Mounted Solar Panels

Roof mounted solar arrays have become havens for bird populations. Where birds may have previously just rested on a roof, the newly installed solar panels now provide shelter from the wind and rain. As a result, there are now many residential solar arrays that have birds nesting under them. Information from clients of Clean Solar Solutions shows that these birds are causing damage to the wiring under the solar panels and causing system failures.  An example of the mess birds can create under solar panels is shown below.

There are some very frustrating problems for homeowners with birds nesting under their solar panels. Of a particular nuisance is the noise that the birds create early in the morning. Residents regularly report to us their being disturbed at 4:30am, but along with this is the inevitable mess that the birds create on the roof, which then rolls down into the house gutters and creates blockages.

However, solar panels mounted on commercial rooftops appear to be the suffering the most problems as a result of bird droppings. We are coming across more and more arrays that have bird populations nearby.  The droppings create hotspots and subsequent failures of cells within panels.

We do not need to guess that there are a number of problems that will arise from these kind of levels of bird droppings on the solar panels. Loss of output will be considerable and hotspotting will also be present. We also feel quite sure that no investor or asset owner would like their array to look like this from an aesthetic point of view.

Bird Droppings on Floating Solar Panels

Floating solar arrays are a more recent installation type in the UK and again, these are not immune from solar panels being soiled from bird droppings. Floating solar arrays are often being sited on reservoirs because they are sheer water and are therefore, obvious havens for colonies of migratory and resident birds.

Nesting birds prefer sheltered areas and minimal disturbance from humans. Solar panels and the floats between rows of panels provide just such a place. Birds can rest and nest without disturbance. The result is heavy soiling from bird droppings, virtually from day one. It seems that more so than anywhere else, floating solar panels attract birds and their droppings.

‘Stone the crows!’ you may think. But despite the frustration of system owners, this is not an option, a more humane approach to this situation is needed. Due to their unique location, floating solar panels present different challenges for cleaning and the tricky process can be time-consuming.

When I started cleaning solar panels in 2011, I had over 15 years of external cleaning experience and I knew the problems that arose from bird droppings on outdoor surfaces particularly. As we found from car paintwork particularly, bird droppings etch into a surface and when the bird dropping is removed, the surface is left etched with the outline of the bird dropping. This has proved true in the case of solar panels also, as the above photo shows.

There is another long term effect of all of these bird droppings, as can be seen below.

Etching On Solar Panels

On first impressions, it appears that this panel has not been cleaned properly. However, this panel has been cleaned repeatedly and the etching is still present. What negative effect that this will have on the panel, only time will tell. Etching can be greatly reduced, however, if not eliminated, if the bird droppings are removed from the surface within a short period of time.

On some sites, we and the asset owners know there are bird issues at certain times of year. We are therefore scheduled ahead of time and called in swiftly before the droppings have time to get baked on in the sun and etch the glass on the solar panel. Depending on the geographical location of the solar panels, we can have cleaners on site within 24 hours of the problem being reported to us. Sites do vary in the frequency of cleans needed, but acting quickly gets the best results. Once etching takes place on a solar panel, it is very difficult to rectify.

Bird Droppings & Solar Panels – Conclusion

In the early days of solar, when I used to speak of solar panel cleaning at trade shows and the like, folks thought I was cuckoo. People would turn around and say that there would never be a market for solar panel cleaning, due to them being ‘self-cleaning’. From experience, I knew that this would not be true. Hence, the reason that Clean Solar Solutions was set up.

From our early days of solar panel cleaning, we very quickly identified that there would be a need for effective bird deterrents and both services would need to be built in to both build costs and the ensuing O&M budget. If you did even a little stint with our company, you would see this to be true. In many cases, the obsession with the short term view of purely installing has led to the problems that system owners are now experiencing. The issues that now exist for homeowners, commercial rooftop owners and asset owners need to be overcome. This is resulting in great frustration and unexpected increases for O&M budgets, costs that may be hard to swallow.

We know that shading is the great enemy of solar panels. Shading equals increase in heat and stress upon components and a drop in output. The message then is clear, bird dropping issues need to be discussed and anticipated in the planning phase of projects. With the burgeoning commercial rooftop market here in the UK, now is time to discuss these issues in planning phase and build into O&M budgets funds for bird deterrents and for removing the bird droppings by way of regular cleaning.

The solar panels being installed in an area are new, but the birds have been around for a long, long time. Changing bird behaviour when they are settled in an area is not an easy task, but deterring them from visiting a site and cleaning up after them can be with the correct planning.

Burying our head in the sand like an ostrich, hoping the birds will go away or that the panels will clean themselves is not the answer. The birds will want to nest in habitats that we are creating under and around solar panels. We can’t duck the issue. Our plan to tackle the problems that birds to solar panels needs to be swift and precise.

Clean Solar Solutions provide help and advice and solutions on both existing and new solar projects where birds present problems.  If you have any questions about issues with your solar panels from bird droppings, please feel free to contact us.