By Scott Laskey
Home solar systems are unique, and so are the challenges that come with owning them. Keep in mind that solar systems are relatively maintenance free and most issues, if not all, can be alleviated if you use an experienced installer. However, it is always wise to familiarize yourself with some of the most common solar panel problems. Use these tips on troubleshooting solar panels for your confidence and peace of mind.
If in the rare case you are having an issue, diagnosing solar panel problems can seem challenging. For instance, you may notice that your system isn’t producing its original power, but you might not know why. Extreme variances in performance are usually due to one of several issues.
Loose wiring can cause unexpected electrical issues. Remember that your solar panel system includes a specific network of wiring, linking individual PV cells to each other, to home solar batteries and to inverters. Because of this, there are many places where connections might fail.
To correct wiring faults, you should talk to an expert. Installers with electrical experience use meters and other tools to pinpoint problems. They can also disconnect faulty parts to keep them from damaging other sections of your system. If you have used an experienced installer they most likely installed monitoring. Monitoring allows them and you to see the performance of your system on your smartphone, often on a panel by panel basis. This makes the troubleshooting of your system fairly simple.
One simple way to tell if your panels have temperature problems is to check for heat fade. This occurs when excessively high temperatures (exceeding upper 90s) cause your panels to underperform. This is common and not necessarily an indication of faulty panels. If heat fade is the underlying issue, you may notice that you receive less power during the hottest times of the day.
Often, instead of the whole system getting too warm, high temperatures could just affect certain sections of your panel installation. These areas might wear down faster than others.
There are also certain panel manufacturers that perform better in high heat than others. The Panasonic HIT panel is an example of one. These panels have thin layers of material that sandwich the monocrystalline layer, making them more efficient in higher temperatures. Keep this in mind when selecting your panels.
The most common performance issue is caused by something as simple as dirt. From dust and pollen to leaves and other debris, Mother Nature has a knack for reducing panel efficiency. These environmental problems may seem minor, but they can stop your system from generating as much power as it should.
Cleaning is an easy fix, and is best done on a regular basis. Since shade from soiling can lower your output by about 5 percent each year, it pays to hose off your panels two or three times a year. This is usually sufficient, unless you live in a particular dusty area. If certain sections of dirt have hardened, use a soft push broom to remove it – or simply hire a cleaning crew. Working with experts also lowers your chances of injuring yourself on a ladder or wet roof.
What about cracked PV cells and other physical damage? It is possible for a panel to sustain a small crack and still function normally. The glass is laminated and stronger than you may think. However, in most cases, that crack will grow larger over time, causing the performance to drop. When this occurs, you would need to have an installer replace the broken panel.
What should you do if you’ve checked everything else but still experience solar panel issues? Low current or voltage can have different causes, and since each system is designed differently, it’s best to hire an expert who knows how to perform the correct diagnostic steps.
Unless you’re experienced, you shouldn’t try to troubleshoot electrical problems by yourself. Working with direct current (DC) electricity is significantly more dangerous than the AC power in your home. Still, it’s helpful to record information such as:
Giving this information to your maintenance crew can make it much easier to identify the proper fix. It also ensures you don’t lose your warranty protection.
Solar system problems may have complex causes, but solving them is usually routine. It just takes experience to get started off on the right foot. Keeping track of your system’s performance is an easy, effective troubleshooting solution. So is staying in touch with a specialist.
Sandbar Solar has more than 13 years of experience with solar panel installations for homes. As well-known troubleshooting experts, we’re proud to make solar technology more convenient for homeowners. We work hard to help ordinary Californians keep their solar systems running flawlessly and enjoy the benefits of clean power.
Do you know someone who’s experiencing issues with their solar system? Why not lend them a hand? Share this article with them, and stay tuned for more tips.
Scott is the founder of Sandbar Solar & Electric. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from UC San Diego, Scott has an NABCEP certification, and has lectured on and taught many high-tech construction practices and solar PV technical concepts to education institutions, including Stanford University and state-recognized electrician apprenticeship programs. Scott enjoys sharing his knowledge of the evolving renewable energy space and making a difference in his community.
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