Solar Panels and the Weather – How do They Hold Up?
Spring is here and soon to come are its ferocious storms. If you have solar panels on your roof or are considering installing some, you’d be forgiven for worrying a little about how they are going to hold up against powerful storms. In this article we investigate how solar panels hold up against what Mother Nature has to throw at them – whether it’s a hurricane, a snowstorm, a nor’easter or severe thunderstorm.
Hurricanes and Nor’Easters
High winds may be the biggest concern when you have anything attached to your roof. Florida is an obvious place to look – where regular hurricanes cause damage and often leave people without power for days or weeks. After Hurricane Irma, not only did most people’s solar panels survive, but those people that also had batteries were able to keep the lights on while everyone around them was dark. Coral Springs even used solar-powered traffic lights on major intersections to help prevent traffic snarls. As long as you buy quality solar panels and have them installed by a qualified contractor, your solar panels will go nowhere unless you get really unlucky…and lose your entire roof. Solar on the ground is also designed to withstand hurricane force winds and shouldn’t be affected unless struck by large flying debris or falling trees. The good news for the mtvSolar service area is that hurricane-force wind events are pretty rare.
Hail is unpleasant and can even be dangerous to go out in – but can it damage your solar panels? The answer – probably not. Quality brands such as SolarWorld and SilFab are designed to take the impact. Hail testing is mandatory under international standards for solar panels – most panels are made of tempered glass that is not easily damaged by hail. Furthermore, panels are generally installed on the south side of your roof and hail more often hits from the north in the northern hemisphere. If you are extremely worried about hail, then you can talk to your installer about options – material and positioning – that can add extra protection. It’s worth noting that the same design that make panels durable against hail can also protect them against flying debris during a windstorm, stray balls or rocks, etc. The tempered glass panels are covered with is extremely tough – and even if it is damaged it will crack rather than shattering and the panel may continue to function for some time until it can be replaced.
Yes, solar panels will get soiled – but because they are installed at an angle, most of the dirt or pollen will wash off next time there is a heavy rain. As a matter of fact, production estimates take into account some amount of soiling. Although you can hire a contractor to wash your panels, the cost of doing so is generally more than the lost energy from a bit of dirt that has built up during the dry season. The only time you should clean your panels is if they are heavily soiled by bird droppings or covered with a large amount of diesel soot, both of which tend to stick around. In most cases, though, dirt and pollen will just wash off your panels without causing any problems. It takes a lot of dirt to cause major loss of efficiency – regular cleaning is really an unnecessary expense unless your panels are installed at a five degree or less angle or are in an area prone to certain types of soiling.
Snow and Ice
We all know what our roofs look like when it snows – so, what about your panels? One might imagine that even if the snow does not damage them, it will block the sun, resulting in major loss of production. In fact, solar panels can bear a lot more weight than typical snowfall, even in places that get a lot of snow. As panels are installed at an angle, snow will tend to slide off (and take dirt along for the ride). Also, solar panels tend to warm up easily, so if snow and ice coverage is not total, the snow will melt off of them rather quickly – just as snow melts faster from asphalt than from grass. If you have persistent snow on your panels, you can buy a special long-handled rake that’s designed for sweeping snow off solar panels, but this is generally only necessary for panels that are at a lower tilt. In fact, solar panels produce more energy on sunny days in the winter than at any other time of year, as the cells are more efficient when they are cold. Snow cover on the ground can also reflect more light upwards, some of which will hit your panels. A long duration winter event with both snow and ice, however, can build up excessively. If a large mass of ice begins to hang off the lower edge of the array, it is best to remove it.
The idea that solar panels are useless in places which get a lot of cloud cover is rather old fashioned. Cloud cover will reduce the efficiency of solar panels significantly, but not to zero. Even foggy San Francisco has an abundance of solar installations – while the efficiency is not as high, the cost of electricity is, making solar a good investment in that area. Some cloud conditions will also intensify the light for short periods, actually making panels produce more than their rated amount of power. Typical cloud cover is something a competent installer will take into account when advising on the size of panels you need to power your home. Solar production estimates also take average weather patterns into account, so the numbers provided by your contractor will be realistic for your area.
The Bottom Line
The take home is that for almost everyone there is no reason to worry about weather conditions and how they might affect your panels. If you have specific concerns, you should talk to your installer so they can advise on how best to design the system for your local climate and weather. Most panels do not require any maintenance once installed, and will last through their 25 year warrantied lifetime without any weather-related problems, even through extreme weather events. Quality solar modules will continue to produce usable energy after 40 years. Lastly, solar installations are generally covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy. Just like a ferocious storm can break a window, a broken solar panel would also be replaced under your policy.
If you are looking into solar panels in West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland or Pennsylvania, then Mountain View Solar has you covered. Contact us to find out about our residential and commercial solar installations and to discuss the best location for your home and energy needs. We have years of experience designing custom solar systems that work with your building to provide you with the best return on investment possible.