10 Problems Facing Aging Solar Systems (and how YOU can address them)
This article explores 10 common solar problems that can surface, what you, the homeowner can do about them, and how solar inspections can reduce the cost and frequency of repairs.
The residential solar industry is rapidly growing. In fact, there are over 3 million homes with solar in the United States, and most of these systems were installed over 4 years ago. Many people think (and are told by solar professionals) solar is maintenance free. But as with any human enterprise, solar repair does become necessary as the system ages. The residential solar industry advises solar systems be inspected by a solar professional every 1 to 3 years.
Additionally, your system should be inspected after certain events, which are discussed in more detail below. A professional solar inspection should include testing for all electrical connections and wiring, inverter condition, solar panels, roof attachments, system monitoring, and overall performance. AUSSI’s proprietary inspection protocol covers each of these areas in detail. We ensure your system is generating power (putting money in your pocket) and is safely installed.
Solar panels typically have a useful life between 25 and 40 years. Useful life means the time period in which equipment safely performs its originally designed function. Over time, solar panels degrade through natural internal processes as well as external factors. Below are some scenarios which negatively affect solar panels or cause them to fail altogether.
- Low Production of Solar Panels: Solar panel age and degradation affect power production, as well as system maintenance. A solar panel’s power output typically degrades 0.5%/year for 25-30 years, due to weathering and other factors. You can track your system’s production through your monitoring platform and will notice this gradual degradation. If your system’s output is uncharacteristically low or your utility bill is higher than expected, contact AUSSI to discuss and investigtae possible causes. AUSSI highly recommends solar system owners have monitoring included. AUSSI can quickly install monitoring for any solar technology. Monitoring allows detection of problems in their infancy before they mutate into an expensive repair.
- Hail Storm Effects: If solar panels are subject to a hail storm, they can be mechanically and subsequently, electrically, damaged. The mechanical damage can manifest through micro-cracking, bent frames, or visibly damaged solar cells. These mechanical issues can cause electrical issues down the road, if the panel is not replaced. Even though solar panels go through rigorous hail testing and can withstand a moderate impact, a heavy hail storm or perfectly placed hailstone can put your panel out of commission. We recommend you have AUSSI or another solar professional inspect your solar system after a hail storm to assess any potential damage.
- Lightning Strike Effects: If your solar production drops right after a thunderstorm, your panels may have been affected by over-voltage from a lightning strike. Overexposure to voltage can cause irreversible damage to your panels. After a thunderstorm if your system isn’t producing, you can attempt a reboot (similar to unplugging and plugging in your computer). Be sure to follow your inverter’s operating manual to do this. If issues persist, contact AUSSI or another solar professional to run electrical tests. We will identify and possibly replace any affected equipment.
Solar inverters, the brains of the system, typically have a useful life between 10 and 25 years. As with most electrical devices, there are failure modes and subtle signs to watch out for before complete failure occurs. Below are issues many inverters face. Like other issues described in this article, problems are more likely to occur and/or made worse with age.
- Inverter Issues from Improper Installation: Improperly installed equipment can cause inverters to malfunction or fail. For example, if your system shuts down after a particularly cold and sunny day, the modules may have produced a higher voltage than the inverter could handle. If wiring was improperly installed or not terminated correctly, the inverter may not turn on. If you see an error code appear on your inverter’s faceplate or system, you can perform an internet search to determine the cause. A good first step for any inverter issue is to call the manufacturer. Often they can fix the issue remotely. If it is an electrical issue or something that cannot be fixed remotely by the inverter manufacturer, call AUSSI or another professional for solar repairs.
- Inverter Issues from Harsh Climates: Inverters installed outside in direct sunlight or in extreme cold climates can fail earlier than those installed in mild climates. Extended exposure to heat and cold can damage the sensitive internal components of your inverter. If your inverter is installed in a direct water path like a gutter, water can accumulate inside the equipment. If you notice any performance issues with your system like: errors present in your monitoring portal, low energy readings, etc., contact AUSSI or another qualified solar professional.
- Network Connectivity Problems: If your inverter has a weak internet signal, your inverter will not communicate properly and may fail at some point. If your inverter frequently goes offline or suddenly shuts down with no apparent cause, it may be a network connectivity or firmware upload issue. You can call the inverter manufacturer to test its internet connectivity strength, and they may be able to fix the issue. If issues persist, get in touch with AUSSI or another solar professional.
- Improper Grounding Issues: An improperly grounded inverter can experience issues with performance and may even damage itself through electrical surges during storms. Grounding issues can be the most dangerous, as the equipment enclosure could shock you. A good installer will ground the system per National Electrical Code (NEC) standards. Check your monitoring portal or the inverter’s faceplate to visually inspect your inverter’s LED lights. A blinking red or orange light may indicate a problem exists. You can check the operational manual for your particular inverter or search online to identify error codes associated with improper grounding. If a grounding issue is present, do not touch your solar equipment, as it may pose a shocking hazard. Immediately contact AUSSI or another solar professional to diagnose and repair the grounding issue.
The direct current and alternating current wires are the power-carrying pathways of your solar system. These wires are affected by age just like every other system component. Repeated exposure to heat, cold, and moisture can degrade the insulation around wires. Wires can be difficult to install over long distances and often issues that manifest later in a system’s lifetime are the effects of initial installation. Lastly, if wiring is installed in the wrong location or exposed to unplanned conditions, it can degrade and become a safety risk very quickly.
- Finding and Repairing Unsafe Wiring: Locating and diagnosing wiring problems can be a difficult task. There is specialized equipment AUSSI uses to identify wiring issues. However, a homeowner with no special equipment can check their inverter or system monitoring for specific error codes related to wire damage or poor installation. Some common items related to wire damage which can be identified from your inverter or monitoring include ground faults, isolation faults, and short circuits. Improperly installed wiring may cause inverter errors like reverse DC polarity. If you see these issues present, do not attempt to repair yourself. Instead, have AUSSI or another qualified technician repair for you.
The solar racking provides structural support for the solar panels and rooftop electrical equipment. The racking typically has a useful life equal to or greater than the solar panels. However, some causes of failure include: incompatible equipment, age of racking and solar panel installation, and high winds and other severe weather. Damaged racking can cause severe problems for your home and the solar system if not quickly addressed.
- Severe Weather Issues: After severe weather, go outside and visually inspect the system. You should not attempt to get on the roof unless comfortable doing so. You may see bent solar panel frames, racking rails, critter guard, and other signs of damage. Additionally, you may hear unusual noises or clanging during high wind events, which indicate loose or damaged equipment. Low or no production is another sign of damage. If any of these signs of racking damage are present, you should not attempt to repair yourself. Contact AUSSI or another solar professional to get on the roof, check for damage, and make any necessary solar repairs.
- Leaking Roof Attachments: Improperly installed or damaged roof attachments (the component that attaches the solar racking to your roof) can be a source of leaks. Once a year and particularly after severe weather, perform a spot check in your attic for signs of water damage beneath the array. If you notice water damage, have AUSSI or another solar professional come out to seal any leaks. Depending on the original installer and the cause of the leak, the solar roof attachments may still be under warranty.
As always, if you suspect your personal power plant (your solar system) is not producing as much power as it should be or is creating an unsafe condition for your home and family, reach out to AUSSI for solar repairs. And as a general rule, have your solar panel system inspected every 1-3 years to ensure you’re getting the most out of your valuable investment and not leaving money on the table. We want your solar system to be a safe and profitable investment for you and your family!