Seeing the Light

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As solar farms pop up across the country, and more homeowners install them as a source of energy, the need for pest control around solar panels continues to increase. Are you ready to take advantage of this growing opportunity?

October 5, 2020

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A s solar panels increase in popularity across the nation, a number of PMPs are taking advantage of the opportunity to provide pest control services to these structures and surrounding land. George Williams, A.C.E., technical sales specialist at Veseris, assists companies with solar panel pest control projects and says there is a great opportunity for PMPs to offer their services to the solar industry and to residential accounts with solar panels.

One company that he has worked with is New England-based Pest End Exterminators, with whom he helped develop exclusion practices for deer mice (Peromyscus), white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) and house mice (Mus musculus).

“A lot of these farms were built literally right on top of where the mice lived,” Williams told PCT. “So, their habitat was there before the solar farm, and then you put a solar farm right on top of it and guess what? You’ve got deer mice.”

PEST ISSUES. At solar farms, the most common pest issues involve mice, stinging insects and birds. According to Williams, mice access junction boxes and equipment panels and chew on wires, which to mice look like blades of grass in the wild. This can cause fires or outages. Pest End Exterminators provides exclusion services, such as installing hardware cloth, cement, spray foam and traps to kill the rodents before they enter the electrical equipment, said Adam Carace, CEO of Pest End.

In addition to mice and other rodents, birds often view solar farms as the perfect nesting place, leading to an additional fire risk. To prevent birds from nesting on the panels, Pest End uses a disc-shaped bird deterrent product called SpectrumV Holographic Bird Gel that they place on and around the solar panels that affects birds’ sight, sense and smell. Since birds see UV light in a different light spectrum than humans, the discs emit what appears to birds as heat rays.

Additionally, stinging insects are a problem at solar farms because they can attack individuals who provide service or maintenance to the solar panels, which leads to the risk of stings, or in severe cases, anaphylactic shock for those who are allergic. To treat for wasps, Pest End uses aerosols and dusts, and removes nests when necessary.

Bill Horgan, owner of Debug Pest Control, Chepachet, R.I., which also performs solar farm pest control work, offers exclusion services to fill any gaps or voids that stinging insects could enter.

Pests and wildlife are naturally attracted to the solar panels because of their warmth, Williams, Carace and Horgan explained.

“Pests naturally are looking for food, water, shelter just like humans are,” Williams said. “So, they’re building these structures, again in rural areas, and they attract a lot of warmth and then there are plenty of voids, so the pests exploit the voids.”

THE RESIDENTIAL SIDE. In addition to work with solar farms, PMPs also can perform solar panel pest control at residential properties. Such accounts oftentimes bring unique pest problems. When working with residential properties, wildlife pests — specifically squirrels — are the most common problem that Pest End finds, Carace said. The animals will work their way under the panels and use them as an entry point into the home.

In certain cases, such as squirrels chewing holes in the roof under the panels, the company will install one-way doors on the opening, allowing squirrels or other wildlife to exit the house but not re-enter. Once the animals are out of the house, they repair the hole with hardware cloth, mesh, wood or other materials. After the hole is fixed and the solar panel company re-installs the panels, Pest End installs netted guards around the panels to prevent any future pests from gaining access.

Different than Pest End, Sam Tutton, co-owner of California-based Ecoskan Pest Solutions, which specializes in providing solar panel pest control services to residential properties, said 95 percent of the company’s work deals with pigeons. The birds will nest and roost along and underneath the panels and leave behind a variety of debris.

When unqualified individuals improperly install exclusion materials, Ecoskan Pest Solutions is faced with removing pounds of fecal matter, nesting and dead birds from underneath panels.

The bulk of Ecoskan’s solar panel pest control work consists of cleaning below, on top of and around solar panels, and then installing a mesh barrier around the panels so that birds can no longer nest and roost there. The organic exclusion technique fits in perfectly to Ecoskan’s mission, Tutton said.

“Why we opened our company originally was to focus on botanical, non- synthetic-type solutions for customers: exclusion, mechanical alterations,” Tutton said. “We just saw that as an opportunity and something we wanted to pursue. So, the bird work fits in perfectly with what we do.”

IPM also is essential for pest control at solar farms, Veseris’ Williams said. “In a remote rural area you really don’t want to use a rodenticide due to the risk of secondary poisoning with non-target organisms,” Williams said.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION. Tutton, Carace and Horgan all said most of their work is reactive and in their experience, not many customers think about addressing exclusion before an issue arises. Horgan said lots of time and energy would be saved if pest management companies were included in the construction process. At that time, they could provide tips on where to prevent/fill voids and how to avoid building such pest-attractive structures.

“Pest control is like out of sight, out of mind,” Horgan said. “I think, like any other customer we work for, if we could kind of get out in front of things it would be in everybody’s interest.”

Williams agreed. “My advice is that these solar companies should really be working more closely with pest control as soon as these places are built, and then paying a pest control company to go and do a walk-through,” he said. He also said that those building large solar farms are often “penny wise, pound foolish” when it comes to pest control. He said, compared to the large sum spent on solar farm construction, proactive pest control is a good return on investment and will save money in the long run.

The majority of Horgan’s solar panel pest control work at Debug Pest Control comes in the form of routine inspections. One of the major differences with pest control at commercial solar accounts is that they lack staff who could potentially notice pest issues before they turn into bigger problems. They’re simply not present on a daily basis, Horgan said, like staff at a food-processing account, for example. Therefore, inspections become essential.

Ecoskan Pest Solutions installs a mesh barrier around panels for pest exclusion.

Tutton said that less than 10 percent of his firm’s work is proactive services that people want done before a problem occurs. However, as more problems arise, he sees some other service providers, such as window and solar panel washers, getting involved. That being said, since such workers are not licensed to perform pest control, they often do not decontaminate all the bird debris and, as a result, have created a hazardous waste issue, Tutton said.

Tutton said he called the California Structural Pest Control Board about the issue and says there is an opportunity for such providers to get more involved in solar panel pest control work.

“I think it’s going to be a real opportunity for structural pest control providers to get into it,” Tutton said. “I think in some states, government agencies will start stepping in and intervening and quit having people that are unlicensed address the issue.”

Ecoskan began specializing in solar panel pest control two years ago and, from the first to second year, saw a 220 percent increase in revenues. As of June, they have had an additional 100 percent growth in revenues this year, Tutton said.

As pest control companies find continued growth and success in solar panel pest control, there is room for more companies to take advantage of the opportunity, experts say. “Being out in communities all over Southern California every single day, there is absolutely no way we can handle all the work,” Tutton said. “And we rarely, rarely see other people performing these services.”

The author is an Ohio-based writer.