When your power goes it, it can be frustrating, but the power usually isn’t down for very long. This is because the utility operators have workers that will resolve the issue as quickly as possible. But if you are on solar power, however, none of that applies to you. When you create your own power, it’s up to you to keep it running.
There are a number of reasons you might find your solar panels not working. It could be something is serious as a damaged panel, or something as simple as dirt and debris. Also, any power drop you may notice could be unrelated to the panels themselves. Auxiliary components (anything hooked up to your power system) that are malfunctioning and causing a significant voltage drop.
In this article, we will go over the most common reasons why solar panels stop working. We will also give you tips on how to resolve each of these common problems.
Solar Panels Not Working
Most PV (Photovoltaic) systems are tied into the grid. So, if your solar panels aren’t working, your system simply switches to grid power. You won’t know something is wrong unless you have either an expensive power management system or an expensive power bill.
Regularly checking your solar meter will indicate that there may be a problem. Most lower cost systems don’t give you any kind of notification, but all control panels will tell you what voltage they are receiving from the solar panels.
Remember, you don’t have utility technicians that are going to help you get your system back up and running. You are the owner of the solar installation, so it’s your responsibility to resolve any problems.
Unless you know what you are doing, it can be very difficult to troubleshoot a solar installation.
1: Faulty Solar Meter
A bad solar meter is one of the most common causes of PV system malfunctions. In this scenario, the solar panels themselves work fine, but the meter is unable to read (and therefore use) solar energy production.
Some solar meters rely on your home internet connection. This can become disconnected due to a variety of reasons. Sometimes its something as simple as glitchy software or cheap hardware that needs to be fixed.
The solution in this case is to get a new solar meter. While you’re at it, makes sure that its one that uses the most up-to-date cellular protocols.
2: Check Breaker Switches
The safety devices that control electrical flow in your home can sometimes get triggered. This is pretty easy to determine. All you have to do is open up your control panel and see if any of the breakers have been tripped to the off position.
3: Shift in Seasons
Many PV systems are set up with a focus on the short-term electrical savings. So, if you set up a system in the summer, and you monitor your system heavily, you may notice a large performance drop over time. This is normal, however, as the amount of energy received by the sun is less during the winter.
If this is the case for you, there is really no quick solution. You simply have to wait and collect more data. As spring comes around and subsequently gives way to summer, you should notice your solar power output increase back to where it was when you first installed it.
4: Dirt, Dust, And Debris
All solar panels, no matter what makes them, loses about 1% to 2% of its efficiency each year. This is a linear degradation that is built-into the panel’s warranty coverage
However, if you are seeing major performance drops year-to-year, that is not normal. If this is happening to you, then more than likely it’s just dirt and debris that collect on your solar panels. Over time, this build-up will block sunshine. This, of course, will negatively impact solar electricity output.
So, in order to protect the investment you put into your solar panels, you should regularly clean them. This is a simply process that can be carried out with one person and a garden hose.
- Use purified water to eliminate streaking
- Rinse your solar panels during cooler hours to prevent splotching
5: Miscellaneous Things
There are so many miscellaneous reasons why your solar panels might stop working. We can’t cover absolutely everything, but here is a list of the most common small things to look out for:
- Low-Quality installation workmanship
- Overloaded or poor-quality wiring
- Weather-induced component corrosion
- Micro-inverter failure
- Component damage
- Physical damage to panels
Over the course of several decades, you expect your panels to work consistently, considering the fact that they have no moving parts. Unfortunately, issues like these can happen a lot more often than you may realize. In a lot of instances, issues like these can lead to a total system failure.
Yes, solar panels are solid-state devices with no moving parts, but they can still wear out due to weather and age. And of-course, any mishap that is made can physically damage your solar panels.
The silicon semiconductors that generate power inside a solar panel degrade over time. After a few decades, they aren’t going to be able to produce their rated voltage and current. You can notice this performance drop if you monitor your system’s electrical output.
How Solar Panels Work
A solar panel is composed of several dozen individual cells low-voltage cells. These cells are connected in series, so their electrical outputs add up. Due to the photo-voltaic effect, electrons inside the cells move in the silicon material in response to light.
This, in turn, produces an electric current. Wires embedded within the solar cells carry the electrical current to the panel’s output connection. Then, it can flow through cables to connect the panel to a charging system.
Voltage and Current Output
The solar panel’s output can be measured and compared with the panel’s specifications and nominal ratings. When doing this, to make sure to get an optimal reading, measure the output when the sun is highest in the sky on a sunny day.
You can use a simple multi-meter to measure your system’s output if your charge controller does not have a voltage display.
Solar panels are essential made of glass. Just like any other surface, your solar panels can physically wear out from weather and impacts such as tree limbs and windblown objects. Also, because they are always outdoors, solar panels will naturally expand and contract with changes in temperature.
So, when temperature differences are extreme this can lead to cracks in the enclosure or even directly within the solar cell material. Also, damage from hail can cause the premature failure of a solar panel. So. it’s good to perform a careful physical inspection of your panels to reveal any problems that they may have with with physical deterioration.
Generally, the useful lifetime solar panel is somewhere between 20 and 30 years. By then, the panels will still be producing electricity, but their output will be significantly decreased.
Changes in the photovoltaic silicon material that occur slowly over time work to reduce a given panel’s efficiency. This means it will produce less watts per square foot of solar energy. If your panels are more than 20 years old, its more than likely time to replace them.
Your solar panels reduced output may be total unrelated to the panels themselves. Any auxiliary components that are connected to the panel could be malfunctioning and causing a significant voltage drop. In fact, a failing power converter could completely stop a panel from producing electricity, and even damage it.
For example, if your solar panels are connected to an inverter and battery system to produce 120 volts AC, a problem with the inverter could reduce your solar electricity output.
Also, solar panel wiring is subject to weathering and corrosion. The wires are obviously extremely important, considering the fact that they provide the crucial connection between the panels and other components. Make sure to inspect your cabling every few years.
It can be extremely frustrating when your solar power system goes out. There are no utility operators to get your system up and running, so it’s all up to you to get your power restored.
While there are several reasons you might find your solar panels not working, we hope it was something simple like dirt and debris on your solar panels and not something serious like a physically damaged panel.
Either way, we hope that in reading this article you were able to determain the source of your problem and the reason why your solar panels are not working.