We know the differences between polycrystalline solar panels, thin-film, and monocrystalline solar panels as far as efficiency but what about the longevity from structural damage from snow, ice, and hail. How about any weight that the surface may encounter over the years after they are installed from someone standing and cleaning or repairing a Solar Panel. Can You walk on Solar Panels?
No-Even the strongest framed polycrystalline/monocrystalline Ridgid Solar Panels or Thin-Film Solar sheets that are able to flex aren’t able to take the stress which causes micro-cracks on the thin layer of glass covering the Panel or break the Finger/Busbar wires that connect the Cells together.
How often do you need to replace a Solar Panel is a question you may ask when purchasing a system, or even after several years of ownership. Most of the Rigid type Solar Panels used in residential and Off-Grid cabins or RV Campers have up to 25 years of performance guarantee, and a life expectancy of up to 40 years is possible.
What are Solar Panels Made Out Of
Most solar panels are made of silicon, which is the main component in natural beach sand. The silicon is collected, usually in the form of solid rocks. Hundreds of these rocks are being melted together at very high temperatures in order to form ingots in the shape of a cylinder. The silicon ingot is sliced into thin disks, also called wafers. A wire saw is used for precision cutting. The wafer is as thin as a piece of paper.
Each of the wafers is treated and metal conductors are added on each surface. The conductors give the wafer a grid-like matrix on the surface. This will ensure the conversion of solar energy into electricity. The coating will facilitate the absorption of sunlight, rather than reflecting it. The solar cells are soldered together, using metal connectors to link the cells. Solar panels are made of solar cells integrated together in a matrix-like structure. The current standard offering in the market are:
After the cells are put together, a thin layer of glass is added on the front side, facing the sun. The backboard is made from highly durable, polymer-based material. This will prevent water, soil, and other materials from entering the panel from the back. Subsequently, the junction box is added, in order to enable connections inside the module then a junction box is added that connects the cells together.
The Panel is framed. It’s the frame that will provide protection against impact and weather. Using a frame will also allow the mounting of the panel in a variety of ways, for example with mounting clamps. EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) is the glue that binds everything together and adds more strength to the Solar Panel. It is very important that the quality of the encapsulant is high so it doesn’t damage the cells under harsh weather conditions.
The weight of their standard 60-cell residential solar panels made in the States. While there is some variation from brand to brand, most panels weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 pounds. In Canada is 50 pounds.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, they recommend Don’t walk on your solar panels! This NREL research video shows that silicon solar cells crack when you walk or kneel on them. Solar cells are easy to break. But when they’re packaged in the module, it can be impossible to see this damage.
After a cell is cracked, the effect on the solar panel’s power output becomes worse over time. Temperature changes associated with day and night cause thermal expansions and contractions that help pull apart the materials around the crack. The video was made using an infrared camera by running current backward through the solar panel, so that the solar cells illuminate, much like an LED.
Damaged Solar Panels
Solar Panels are dependent on the small wires on the Panel for the circuits to work properly. The small wires which are called Fingers running through a solar cell inside the Solar Panel move energy from the larger ones at the top of the Solar Panels called Busbars makeup the highway of current harvest energy from the sun and deliver it to the batteries in your system.
Walking on the Solar Panels can cause Cracking or Micro-cracking will block the currents that are traveling through the Panel creating a less efficient Solar Panel. The more cells and wire, the more efficient and durable the Solar Panel was. Earlier Consumer-grade cells only contained 2 Busbar wires. Todays contain 3-4 & 5 Busbars.
So if you are looking for a Solar Panel always count the number of Busbars in the Solar Panel. Any amount less than 4 you will be able to tell how old or outdated the Panel is.
Even though some manufacturers make claims that their Solar Panels are strong enough to stand and walk on you still shouldn’t do it. Even if the glass doesn’t break, you still can damage the cells inside the panel and render the efficiency of the Solar power’s output cracking a small opening which starts the overall destruction of the panel. This includes the best Ridge-type panels.
There are new improvements to Solar Panels especially in the RV and Camping sector every year. The material and construction get stronger using harder thicker glass cover alloyed frames that offer more strength and durability.
Portable Solar Blankets and Solar Panels used in Camping and outdoor activities are the alternative new wave of Solar Panels to the Ridgid Solar Panels, which the companies have been using on the rooftops of homes.
When a panel is significantly damaged, it can’t generate as much power, but as long as the cell is not more than 20 percent damaged, it should be able to produce most of its rated voltage. Conventional solar panels break and degrade in efficiency and power output after micro-cracks occur. This is due to the way they are designed; power is moved through thin conductors on the front of each cell.
If these connections are broken due to cracks, the power is unable to be moved throughout the solar panel affecting the total amount of watts produced. Some Solar Panels are covered for cracking or micro-cracking caused by natural factors in the warranty, not damaged by someone walking on the roof. Because Solar Panels are still fragile when any weight is applied to them and because they can be stepped on and the damage although minimal at first thought those cracks will get worse over the course of time.
All the Silicon Cells are connected within the solar cell. While the framed ridged panels themselves are very durable, the silicon solar cells are made of very thin wafers, usually around 0.20mm thick. Some have the ability to flex, but they can still suffer from pressure-stress-induced cracks that are so small they are impossible to see with the naked eye.
These are known as microcracks and are one of the main sources of malfunctioning or even dead cells. Microcracks are nearly impossible to avoid and how your panels react to these cracks is very important. If they are on top of your Camping Vehicle or RV you would never see them.
You would have to test the Solar Panels to find one that is not putting out the manufacturer’s required amount of watts. I wrote an article here on SolarPowerCampingGear.com explaining a simple way of testing an individual Solar Panel with a Volt-Meter against the Panel’s Manufacturer’s Label called How To Test a Solar Panel
Micro-cracks can be triggered by stress to the panel from mechanical, chemical, and natural factors such as:
- – Hail
- – Snow
- – Sun
- – Wind
- – Severe cold
- The guy you hired to clean out your rain gutters
How to Clean Solar Panels From The Ground
Now that we have established that walking on Solar Panels on your roof is not such a good idea. How will you be able to clean them? Keeping the Panels clean is recommended to be a necessary part of a maintenance program to keep them running efficiently. Put getting up on the roof of an off-grid cabin or RV and getting to them could end up costly and even dangerous to your health. There are options. With the right equipment, you can keep your feet on the ground and keep your Solar collectors clean as a whistle.
How often you should clean your panels depends on where you live and what your panels are exposed to. It’s a good idea to check them periodically, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve cleaned them.
At the very least you should do an annual cleaning of your panels. You can include solar panel cleaning as part of your outside spring cleaning routine. If you are living in the Southwest part of the Country then because of less rainfall it should be done more. Living next to an airport or factories emitting smoke than that will affect the efficiency of your Solar Panels
Most manufacturers recommend cleaning at least twice a year. This tends to result in a 3 to 5% increase in efficiency.
Maintaining a clean surface on your solar panels is essential for optimum energy efficiency. Depending upon the local climate and other conditions solar panels can lose as much as 30 percent energy efficiency when they are not clean. Mr. LongArm 1009 Pro Curve Solar Panel Cleaning System Kit
- For pressure washers, Hose sprayers, etc., dilute 1:25
- Specially formulated for cleaning all types of solar panels. SolarWorld, CanadianSolar, Noark, Sixvan, and JA Solar approved solar panel wash
- Cleans without oxidizing or abrading aluminum rails and mounting apparatus
- Rinses clean, No hard water spotting & di water NOT required
- Biodegradable, No VOCs, chlorine, and phosphate-free
Use this specially formulated wash designed for cleaning Solar Panel to get the most efficient cleaner without leaving residue left behind for a clean rinse.
I don’t know about you but I heard some Crackin How Bout You? Clearly, any amount of sizable weight, especially a grown man wearing work boots walking around on a roof that is covered with Solar Panels won’t work no matter what this guy says! Next!