Solar power offers so much in the way of clean energy production. Once a solar installation is up and running, there are no moving parts and maintenance is relatively simple and while the sun shines, you have “free” electricity. As technology has improved, the cost and efficiency has fallen making it available for use in many more situations.
However, there can be problems with solar panels and the equipment required to control their power output into your home or wherever it is being used. Commercially available solar panels, normally Photovoltaic (PV) systems, are relatively free of problems and come with a guarantee not only for their construction, but also their power output up to a certain number of years. You are likely aware, that even solar cells loose their efficiency over their usable lifetime, often in excess of 20 years. Commercial panels are much more suited to very large installations that can supply power to a home or business.
While the technology is well established, like any “machine”, problems will develop over time as components fail or are damaged. However, smaller systems and DIY constructions can often run into more problems if the unit is not carefully constructed.
Most if not all problems stem from electrical faults either in the panel or along the supply chain of controllers. While unusual, fires have been caused by a solar panel, likely through a short circuit.
Moisture inside a working panel is its worst enemy. Moisture will not only “fog” the inside surface of the panel obstructing light, it also slowly causes corrosion to electrical contacts. This corrosion has two effects. It firstly increases resistance at the solar cell and reduces current flow. This resistance also causes heating which further reduces the solar cells efficiency. This has a knock-on effect that nearby cells also are affected by the heating and current flow. If the panel has a highly rated power output and resistance is great enough, there is a real potential for shorting and serious damage to the panel.
While problems in a solar systems controller and inverter do occur and animals can damage wiring, if you observe an unexplained slow deterioration in power output, trace back to your solar array and check each panels output. It is very likely that one panel or a cells wiring within the panel is faulty. If you intend to build a DIY solar panel, you need to construct a container that is watertight and secure. A sealed aluminum casing and silicon sealing is advised. The use of a packet of silica gel attached inside the panel may assist in absorbing the small amount of residual moisture in the panels internal air. You are well advised to use a comprehensive guide if you are considering building a solar panel to ensure it is properly constructed and safe.