So you live in a state that boasts of endless sunshine with days few and far between where a cloud will dance lazily across the sky. However, on those off days where it does become stormy, the chances of hailstones the size of golf balls are high and you are worried that if you invest in solar panels, you’ll only have to spend more money to repair the damage caused by hail. You shouldn’t be too worried, however.
While energy outputs may decrease during a storm, solar panels are built to withstand inclement weather. In a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, between 2009 and 2013, only 0.1% of solar energy systems in the US were affected by damage or underperformance.
You may still be a bit skeptical that solar panels are as strong as the NREL say they are, or maybe you just want to know how to keep your solar panels working at 100%. There are plenty of examples of how solar panels have performed under pressure – both literally and figuratively.
Solar Panels in the Real World
While numbers are all fine and dandy, sometimes they just don’t paint a picture of what they look like in the real world. Sometimes we just need a real-world example to show us what the numbers mean.
The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) can boast of 3,168 solar panels on their Golden, Colorado campus. In May 2017, a severe hail storm rained tennis ball-sized hailstones upon the Denver area, including the NREL campus.
This storm was so destructive that it smashed holes into cars and home windows and damaged the Colorado Mills Mall so badly it had to shut down for almost an entire year to repair the damage. The hailstones were falling so hard and quickly that when falling into the waters of outdoor water enclosures at the Denver Zoo, the hailstones went several feet into the water before floating back to the surface.
Only two miles away from the mall, the NREL only found one of their over 3000 panels to be damaged in the same storm. That single panel appeared to have been hit simultaneously by several hailstorms in one targeted location, which in and of itself would be a very rare and circumstantial event. After the storm had passed, the NREL found that energy production was at the same levels they were at before the storm had hit. If that doesn’t show the strength and resilience of solar panels, I don’t know if anything ever will!
If you are thinking, “great, solar panels can withstand hail storms. I live in Florida and am more worried about how they will hold up in a hurricane”, you’re in luck! Not only can solar panels survive a massive hail storm, but they can also withstand a hurricane. Most solar panels can withstand up to 140mph winds, which is sturdy enough to withstand a Category 4 hurricane. If you are from the midwest, this is also strong enough to hold up to most if not all tornados as well.
During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New Jersey, who had just installed over a hundred megawatts of solar panel capacity, was hit particularly hard. After the storm was over, only a few metal casings covering wires were damaged, and one large system had only two panels come loose.
While they can stand the wind, if the solar panels are ground-mounted, they may not fare as well as higher mounted panels due to flying debris. To keep the debris hitting your panels to a minimum, mount them as high as possible.
The good news is that even in the off chance that your solar panels do get damaged by natural disasters, most home insurances should cover the cost to repair or replace any solar panels you install, if the warranty doesn’t cover it in the first place.
How to Maintain Your Solar Panels
Fortunately, solar panel systems are built to last for many years with minimal maintenance. However, it would not be amiss to perform regular check-ups on your panels to make sure they are in tip-top shape.
If you have your panels on a tilt, rainfall will usually clear away; and dirt or other debris that might accumulate on them. However, sometimes the rain doesn’t get everything, or perhaps it’s been a very dry summer and there hasn’t been any rain to wash away said dirt. Especially if you notice a poorer performance than before, you should take some time to clean off the panels. You can do this using a hose or a leaf blower to remove dust and debris. Avoid using a pressure washer to clean the panels, as this may create scratches on the surface, which will ultimately cause your panels to underperform permanently.
If you are unable to hose them down, or if the hose was unable to get all the muck off of the solar panels, you can take a soft brush and squeegee and a bucket of water and a mild soap and scrub them down, rinsing them down when you are done. You can even find speciallty solar panel cleaners online. Because solar panels can get hot in the middle of the day, try to do this earlier in the morning or in the evening when the panels are cooler.
If you would rather not clean them yourself, you can even call for professional cleaners to do the job for you. First try going throught the company that installed the panels, and then reach out from there.
During the winter months, usually snow will melt off the panels more quickly than the rest of your roof. However, if the snow continues to hinder your solar panels’ ability to produce energy, you may need to remove the snow yourself. This can be done using a squeegee or soft broom. You can also use lukewarm (never hot!) water to melt away the snow. Using hot water may cause the panels to crack due to extreme temperature differences.