Photovoltaic cells can sustain different types of damage, losing efficiency or being rendered useless altogether. Luckily, in some cases, even damaged solar panels can continue serving their purpose well.
Read on to learn about common types of solar panel damage and how to bring a broken solar panel back to life.
Typical Solar Panel Damage Types and How to Avoid Them
Serving as a protective barrier against precipitation, hail, dust, tree branches, and objects that could hit the panel, a solar module’s front glass panel must be sturdy enough to endure pressure while allowing enough sunshine. Broken glass can expose solar cells to weather damage, reducing the light the solar module can absorb.
Modern cells are thin, quite fragile, and prone to microcracks resulting from improper handling, transportation, or installation.
A hot spot is an overheating of a single solar cell, a group of cells, or sometimes a whole solar panel compared to the surrounding cells. Hot-spotted cells cannot produce electricity but remain overheated, hindering the solar panel’s performance.
How to Tell If a Solar Panel is Bad
Solar panel degradation is not always visible just by looking at it – the panel might not have any exterior problems but be suffering from plummeting energy output. Here is what you need to know to recognize the need for a solar panel replacement:
- Low voltage. Weather conditions like overcast or fog may impact the normal open circuit voltage, making it reasonable to conduct measurements on sunny, dry days. However, if your system consistently fails to provide the nominal voltage under normal conditions, it probably has to be repaired.
- Operational interruptions. Wiring issues, poor installation, manufacturing flaws, or solar panel damage may lead to operational interruptions or even a shutdown, requiring a panel replacement.
- Visual indicators. The good news is that many problems – burn marks, hot spots, color changes, surface cracks, etc. – can be identified visually. For example:
- Burn marks are a common type of silicon solar panel failure, caused by reverse current flow, ribbon breakage, and solder bond failure.
- Cracked solar panels are mostly caused by extreme temperature changes, easily spotted when a considerable surface area is affected.
But then again, some problems with solar panels require specific testing. For example, to spot smaller defects leading to microcracks, electroluminescence or electroluminescence crack detection must be performed by the solar panel manufacturer.
Can a Cracked Solar Panel Still Produce Energy?
Modern solar panels are usually constructed with covers protecting the parts essential for electricity generation. Minor cracks might not even be noticeable and be purely surface-level, not impacting the cell’s efficiency. On the other hand, significant cracks could lower the entire panel’s output.
Noticing a crack on your photovoltaic cell doesn’t mean you can’t use it anymore. In fact, resorting to a panel replacement is uncommon: a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study revealed that only around 5 out of every 10,000 solar panels need a replacement.
You don’t necessarily have to replace a cracked solar panel, especially if it generates enough electricity for your needs, albeit with limited power output. According to Nature science journal, cracks that span less than 8% of the panel area cause minor power output losses, with the performance decreasing as the crack size increases.
Ways to Check a Panel’s Power Output
To assess the loss of efficiency in a cracked solar panel, you can measure its power output with a voltmeter or multimeter, switching it to DC. With your solar panel positioned towards the Sun, connect the voltmeter’s probes to the appropriate connectors of the panel. The measured voltage should not differ significantly from the voltage specified on the back of the photovoltaic cell. If it does, this may indicate a problem.
What to Do About Broken Solar Panels
If you have an irreparable solar panel on your hands, it’s important to make sure it’s removed and handled properly. Considering solar panels often contain lead, arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, and other toxic materials, broken panels must be dealt with carefully and only be removed by professionals.
Are Solar Panels Toxic?
Solar panels operate without releasing any pollutants, but as they approach the end of their lifecycle, they must be appropriately recycled or disposed of due to their harmful metal content. You can turn to solar panel recycling companies in your area to safely dispose of the panels’ waste and reuse the valuable materials they’re made of.
Can a Broken Solar Panel be Fixed?
Whether a broken solar panel can be fixed depends on the severity and type of damage.
At the same time, the most efficient way to keep solar panels functioning at their best is to maintain them properly.
Many parts of solar panels – for example, inverters, the most common parts to fail – may be repaired without a replacement. Likewise, many cracked solar panels can be fixed by replacing the glass, which is likely covered by your warranty.
Should You Repair a Damaged Solar Panel?
If you have a broken solar panel, you should find a trustworthy company to assess the damage and estimate repair costs. They can also give you insight into whether it is worthwhile to repair or replace a solar panel.
If the solar panel is still under warranty, you may be able to get it fixed or replaced for free.
How to Check Solar Panel Quality
Put your panels to the test and evaluate whether their quality is up to the standard using the following criteria:
Efficiency. Most solar panels transform around 18% of the absorbed light into electricity. For shady areas, a high-efficiency solar panel system (20%-22%) is a better choice. At the same time, keep in mind that solar panel efficiency degrades over time, with an average lifespan of 25 years.
- Temperature coefficient. The amount of power a panel can generate drops over time, measured by the temperature coefficient. The higher the coefficient (the normal one is 0.5% or less), the less energy the panel generates at a given temperature.
- Production quality. The battery panel’s tempered glass surface has to be flat and clear of manufacturing defects to produce energy effectively. A cheap or broken backing may cause the panel’s efficiency to degrade. Check whether the silicone is uniformly spread across the back and whether it completely fills the space between the backplane and the frame. Keep a close eye on the battery cell string welding to prevent leaks.
How to Increase the Lifespan of Your Solar Panels
Today’s solar panels are designed to withstand severe weather conditions. However, there are still ways to increase the performance and longevity of your panels:
- Follow the weather forecast. Follow the weather forecast to prepare your solar panels from rain, sleet, hail, snow, and other unfavorable weather conditions.
- Use superhydrophobic anti-reflective coatings. Dust accumulation on solar PV panel surfaces can lower system output by 16–40%. Bacteria and moisture affect the solar panels in the same way. Superhydrophobic anti-reflective coatings can make your solar panel top glass self-cleaning, dust-free, durable against precipitation, and with better radiation absorption, increasing the efficiency of solar panels by up to 40%.
- Undergo regular inspections. A simple maintenance checkup can prevent a minor issue from growing into a pricey repair or replacement need. Apart from annual inspections, ensure your panels are cleaned twice a year.
- Invest in solar battery storage. Solar battery storage can save the energy generated during the daytime, giving you uninterrupted, round-the-clock, and controllable access to electricity.
What Factors Contribute to Solar Panel Degradation?
The key stress variables influencing module deterioration are irradiance, temperature, moisture, mechanical stress, soiling, and chemicals.
To illustrate the effects of temperature on solar panel efficiency and its contribution to shortening operational life, let’s take an average temperature coefficient of -0.4% efficiency loss to use in our example. For every 1°C over 25°C we will see a decrease in efficiency of -0.4%. This correlation allows for a visual representation of the trend for higher temperatures:
|Temperature, °C||Efficiency loss, %|
Significant efficiency losses arise. To combat this, cooling mechanisms are being developed for photovoltaic cells.