The Most Common Problems with Solar Panels

solar panel problem

Solar panels are a great way to reduce your energy bill and increase your energy independence. Coupled with a solar battery, panels can help you get off the grid and provide electricity for all your needs. However, there are a number of issues that can happen with solar panels that you should be aware of. These issues do not happen often, but when they do, they can compromise solar panel efficiency and can even cause issues in the entire solar system. 

To prevent these, you should first be aware of what they are and what measures you can take to ensure that your panels stay protected and at their top efficiency levels. A solar array is not cheap, and losing even a single entire panel can significantly reduce the power output, increasing your carbon footprint by reducing how much clean energy your system can produce. Tiny cracks, snail trails, and weathering issues may not seem like much, but they can cause havoc on a system that is supposed to last for 20-25 years at least

Problems with Solar Panels

If any of these issues appear, your panels may not be able to reach their full potential and may degrade even faster than they normally would. Problems with solar panels do not happen often, but when they do, and are left untreated, they can compromise the entire panel. As these possible problems are many, we should cover them all in more detail. They are usually very easy to resolve and may not even take much of your time away. Here are the top 14 issues with solar panels: 

  1. Cost, 
  2. Panels can be visually unappealing
  3. Panels can be inconsistent or unreliable at times, 
  4. Nature has its impact on solar panels, 
  5. PV cells may develop micro-cracks due to a variety of factors, 
  6. Delamination of a panel and internal corrosion may take place, 
  7. Snail trail is a known issue that is NOT actually caused by snails, 
  8. Poor installation can lead both to panel and roof damage, 
  9. Hot spots on the panels can be caused by a number of issues and can cause several issues themselves, 
  10. The PID effect can take place, 
  11. Roof issues can occur if the installation was not done properly, 
  12. Inverter problems can reduce the efficiency of the entire system, 
  13. Debris build-up can significantly reduce the panel efficiency, and 
  14. The recyclability of solar panels is a big issue that is yet to be resolved. 

1. Cost

The cost of your solar panel array is the biggest issue that many face when trying to switch to solar energy. The solar panels themselves are not so costly, but all other components of the system and the installation itself can be. Namely, solar panels only make up a smaller percentage of a solar panel system cost. Besides them, you still need to pay: 

  • The wiring, 
  • The solar inverter
  • Solar charge controller, 
  • Solar battery (optional), 
  • Solar panel transportation and handling, 
  • Solar panel installation, 
  • Roof inspection (optional), 
  • Busses and railings that the solar panels will be installed on, 
  • A solar tracking system for higher efficiency (optional). 

Here, a solar battery can easily double the cost of the entire system but is often not a necessary part of the system. If you live on a grid, you may not need a solar battery. However, if you live off the grid, or would like to have electricity even during blackouts, then you will need a solar battery. However, in many US states, there are net-metering policies that can easily take over the function of the battery and help you save money in the long run while effectively halving the cost of your solar system. 

The type of solar panel you choose can also increase or decrease the cost of your solar array. Namely, there are three basic kinds of solar panels: monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline panels, and thin-film solar panels – and each of these kinds comes with its own pros and cons. Monocrystalline panels are very efficient, usually around 20%, so you will need fewer panels for your energy needs, but they will cost more per panel. Polycrystalline panels, on the other hand, are less efficient, but cost less as well. You will need more of them, though, for your energy needs, whatever they may be. Thin-film solar panels have low-efficiency levels but cost the least as well. 

Solar Panel TypeEfficiency CostPossible Application
Polycrystalline15-20%HighResidential Homes, Commercial Properties
Monocrystalline13-16%Mid-RangeResidential Homes, Commercial Properties, Solar Farms
Thin-Film7-18%Low Specific Applications, Usually on Uneven Surfaces, such as RVs and Boats

2. Visually Unappealing

Many solar homeowners state that their solar panels are visually unappealing. This is true to some extent, although there are ways to work around this. Namely, by choosing the right type of solar panels, you can help overcome some of these issues. Monocrystalline solar panels are black in color, while polycrystalline panels are bluish in color, which already gives you two different colors to choose from. 

In addition to this, there are solar skins, a special film applied to solar panels of any kind that can change their appearance, while at the same time preserving their efficiency. Likewise, opting for solar roof tiles can also help preserve the look of your home. A solar roof is also a possibility. 

3. Inconsistent/Unreliable

Solar power production is not always as consistent and as reliable as we would like it to be. Bad weather, dirty panels, and a wide array of other problems can all reduce how much power your solar panels installed can produce. This is a known issue, but there are some things you can do to reduce the unreliability of your panels

Choosing more efficient panels will improve their energy generation rate. Monocrystalline panels are known to be more efficient, to produce more power even under snow, and to be less prone to generation capacity losses in very high or very low temperatures. In addition to this, making sure that panels are not shaded during the day can also be helpful. Panels placed on solar tracking systems will also be more efficient than fixed panels. 

4. Impacts of Nature

Nature itself has a big say in how efficient your panels will be. In fact, nature is what gives us energy in the first place, and it is what can cause most of the issues with solar energy production. Weather, birds, soil and dust, insects, and salt water can all cause problems with solar power production, but there are ways to mend this. 

Weather

The local weather can have a big say in how efficient and durable your panels are. Snow, rain, wind, lightning strikes, and many more factors can all have a say in how long your solar panel will last. Let’s dive right in. 

Snow

Snow can cause a significant decrease in how much power solar cells can produce. As snow shades them, they lose their efficiency and generation potential. As any solar professional will tell you, some problems with solar panels, such as performance when there is no direct sunlight, can be mitigated by opting for monocrystalline panels. They are known to also perform better in conditions of partial shading (such as from snow), and can be even more efficient in low-light conditions if they have been produced by means of half-cut solar cells. 

Lightning

Lightning strikes, on the other hand, cause very direct damage to your solar power system. A system like this has to be grounded, to avoid damaging other appliances in your home. A good solar power system will always be grounded, and do not let installers tell you otherwise. Solar systems are expensive, and risking lightning damage is simply not worth you saving a hundred bucks. 

Birds

Birds, on the other hand, are a known issue with solar panels. If you live in an area where bird droppings are a normal occurrence, you may want to wash your panels with water and a soft brush periodically. Bird droppings can be very corrosive, and although they can drop on the glass, where no damage besides spot shading can be done, they can also drop on the metal casing and cause corrosion. This, in turn, can cause water penetration and significant damage to the panel itself. 

Birds can also nest under the panels and cause damage there. Nesting material, such as branches can prevent air from circulating to the full and can cause panels to overheat. They can use their beaks to damage the back panel or the wiring coming out of the panel and can overall cause damage that will cause the efficiency to drop. Protective netting, bird spikes, and other solutions can be installed to prevent this type of damage. 

Soil

Soil is an obvious problem. If you live in an area that is prone to winds and dust, you may want to periodically remove some of the dust from the panels, either with a soft brush, a leaf blower or a water hose. This way, your panels will stay at their peak efficiency. The problem with dust is that it covers the panels in a thin layer of dust that prevents sunlight from reaching them and reduces their efficiency, too. If you live in an area with predictable weather conditions and a lot of precipitation, dust, which is one of the most common problems, will not be an issue, as just a bit of rain is enough to clear panels of dust. 

Insects

Insects are another common issue. Although they cannot exactly soil the panels themselves, their own nest can cause some of the common problems – overheating and less-than-ideal air circulation. Hornet and wasp nests can be very problematic, but if you happen to spot them, do not take action yourself – call an exterminator or a professional that can relocate these nests. 

Salt Water

Saltwater is not on the list of common problems that can happen with panels. However, if you live on the seaside, you should know that salt can cause problems with solar panels in two ways: first of all, it can corrode the metal casing of the panel, causing water and humidity to enter and reducing the overall power generated. On the other hand, salt spray can form a thin fi on top of your solar panels, causing even more problems than dust could – since salt is white, it reflects more sunlight back away from the solar panels. 

5. PV Cells Microcracks

PV cells microcracks can affect how much solar energy can be generated and are one of the most common problems you could face. These micro-cracks can cause a whole array of different problems with this sophisticated technology, and can even knock some of the solar cells out of the system. Being aware of the environment and knowing how it can cause these issues is the best way to prevent it. 

Common Causes of Microcracks

Unlike popular opinion, micro-cracks are not caused by hail or other impacts. Quite on the contrary, microcracks are most commonly formed when there are sudden and big changes in the ambient temperature. As the temperature rises, solar cells expand, only to contract back once the temperatures become lower. This is a known issue and a lot has been done to prevent it. However, there are still several factors that can cause micro-cracks: 

  • Humidity
  • Freezing, 
  • Heavy snowfall, 
  • Hail, 
  • Poor Handling, 
  • Poor Installation, 
  • Thermal Cycling, 
  • Fast Changes in Temperatures during Winter, and 
  • Transportation Damage. 

Impacts of Microcracks

Microscopic cracks are a serious problem that can significantly reduce solar panel efficiency. They can also prevent the system from functioning at its peak performance. If several solar cells are damaged, the entire solar panels can drop out of the system, causing less energy to be produced than would normally be. Micro cracks can cause other electrical issues, including fire. 

6. Delamination & Internal Corrosion

Every solar panel is protected by a laminating film. Delamination can happen when this film is damaged so it starts peeling back, or when there are issues in the production process itself. This kind of problem can grow into an even bigger one, as it can cause corrosion of the protective layer on the solar panel, and, if water and moisture get in, they can cause internal corrosion as well. 

Considering that electrons cannot travel through corroded metals, it is clear that all the solar cells impacted will have issues delivering electricity to the wiring and to your home. After all, only clean, uncorroded metals have low resistance, which is crucial in increasing the efficiency of your panels. These issues occur most often because of a low-quality production line or outside factors, such as hail and other forms of damage. 

7. Snail Trail

The so-called snail trails are not caused by snails or slugs of any kind. They resemble snail trails in their shape and color but this is actually a moisture issue – this issue usually happens along microcracks or even where there is a crack in the protective glass itself. Many solar panels will see this damage at one point in their life. If it happens early enough and if there are issues in the first few years since the solar installation, you should probably check to see if your solar panel warranty covers this damage or not. 

Snail trails, also known as brown lines, can negatively impact solar panels by reducing the amount of sunlight they receive. This reduction in sunlight will decrease the amount of electricity produced by the panel. If left untreated, snail trails can also cause physical damage to the panel by building up over time and damaging the silver paste within the panel.

To avoid issues with snail trails, it is crucial to maintain a clear area around your solar panels. Regularly inspecting your panels for signs of damage is also recommended to catch any issues early on. By doing so, you can prevent or minimize the effects of snail trails and extend the lifespan of your solar panels.

Snail trails on solar panels can also happen when there is a defective silver paste used to make them. This paste can be bad and cause moisture to get in the panel. This moisture can make a chemical reaction with the silver paste and the plastic layer called EVA.

8. Poor/Bad Installation

Poor installation is a common issue that can cause damage to both the panels and the roof. If they are not installed properly, solar panels may vibrate during wind and cause damage to both themselves and the supporting structures underneath. These panels can then damage other panels or become unusable. High vibrations combined with screws sticking out can damage the encapsulation material and cause damage to the system. 

9. Hot Spots

One of the most common solar panel problems that can occur is hot spots. Hot spots are areas on the panel where there is an electrical problem, such as badly soldered connections, and they can cause the panel to fail prematurely. This issue can arise from poor installation or damaged wiring.

An example of a hot spot could be a shaded area on the panel, which can cause overheating and lead to a loss of power or even a fire. To prevent hot spots, regular inspection of your system is essential. Checking for loose or damaged connections and keeping an eye on the panel’s display panel for any error messages that may indicate a problem can help prevent hot spots from occurring.

10. PID Effect

Potential-induced degradation (PID) is a common issue that can happen to solar panels. It occurs when there is a build-up of electric charge on the surface of the panel, which can slowly degrade the panel’s performance over time. PID can happen due to various factors, including improper installation or exposure to extreme temperatures.

To prevent PID, it is crucial to have your solar panel system installed by a professional who knows how to properly manage direct current. Moreover, it’s important to ensure that the panels are well-protected from extreme temperatures and that you schedule regular system inspections to identify any signs of degradation. This way, you can keep your solar panels working efficiently and extend their lifespan.

11. Roof Issues

the problem with solar energy

Roof issues can also happen during the installation. This is why it is so crucial to inspect the state of the roof before installing solar panels. Most of the issues pertain to water damage and compromised structural integrity. These issues can be difficult to resolve, so careful installation is the key to prevent them from ever happening. 

12. Inverter Problems

Inverter problems can also cause issues with the entire solar array. Among the most common issues are inverters that have simply reached the end of their life. As they are designed to last some 10-15 years, you will probably need to go through two inverters at least during the lifetime of your solar panels. 

13. Debris Build Up

Debris build-up is another common problem. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but dust, soil particles, and leaf debris in the fall are among the most common causes of this problem. Most debris is easily taken care of, and you should keep your panels efficient by clearing the debris as soon as it forms. 

14. Recyclability

Although not an issue that is easy to resolve, recyclability is going to be a bigger problem than ever once the currently installed solar panels reach the end of their useful life. The issue is that recycling solar panels costs a lot of money and is very unlikely to provide any profit. In fact, it takes $15 to recycle enough solar panels to recuperate $1 of materials. Government subsidies can help a lot, but they are not a magical solution. 

FAQs

Do Solar Panels Work in Rain?

Yes, solar panels can still generate electricity during rainy days. However, the energy production may be lower compared to sunny days because less sunlight reaches the panels.

Is it Better to Have more Solar Panels or More Batteries?

It depends on your energy needs and usage. More solar panels mean more electricity generation, while more batteries mean more energy storage. If you want to maximize your energy self-sufficiency, it is recommended to have both.

Can Solar Panels Damage your Roof?

If installed properly, solar panels will not damage your roof. In fact, they can provide protection against weather elements such as rain, hail, and wind.

Are Solar Panels a Good Idea?

Yes, solar panels are a good idea if you want to save money on your electricity bills, reduce your carbon footprint, and increase your home’s value. Plus, you may be eligible for tax credits and other incentives that can lower the cost of installation.

Conclusion

Although there are many common issues that can happen with solar panels, it is clear that they can still be used and be a great solution for any homeowner. Most of the issues outlined above can be solved by means of prevention, while at the same time, simple cleaning and regular maintenance can resolve all other issues. In any case, solar panels are a great solution and should be installed wherever possible, to both reduce your energy bills and help mitigate climate change. 

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