In the past, solar panels were delicate, get easily damaged by water, or get dislodged by high wind speed. Today, solar panels sit on rooftops where they are exposed to extreme weather including rain, snow, and so on without losing their efficiency. Most of them can withstand a wind of up to 140 miles per hour (MPH). They can last up to 30 years if properly protected. Waterproofing solar panels are arguably the best way you can protect them from these elements. The first thing you should know is that all home solar panels are waterproof—except for a few exceptions. 

It is also important to mention that solar panels can hold a significant weight of snow without collapsing. They keep producing electricity even in a cloudy environment. In rare cases where they lack this feature, you will get a manufacturer warranty as alternative protection. However, it is pertinent to understand why waterproofing is important for solar panels. 

Can water damage solar panels?

In most solar homes, the panels are installed on rooftops which means flood water will rarely get there. Therefore, even when flood knocks down poles and causes disruption of power over long periods in cities, you will continue to enjoy electricity as long as your wiring is intact. If they are that strong, how can water damage solar panels?

Within solar panels, there are solar cells that have wirings that capture electricity. Water can get into these wirings and damage the solar panels. Although in most cases, solar panels are covered with a thin layer of glass sheet on the front and a durable polymer-based material on the back. These materials pair with a metal frame and special sealant glue to make the solar panels waterproof. 

However, there are rare cases where the solar panels are defective right from the construction. In some cases, the defects may make them not to be totally waterproof. These problems may miss the eyes of quality control personnel. Consequently, when exposed to elements that waterproof solar panels will endure, they fail after short use. 

Waterproof solar panels for wearable

Photo credit: RIKEN

In 2017, a group of Japanese researchers at the University of Tokyo and RIKEN research institution developed waterproof solar panels. The photovoltaic cells are ultrathin and coated on both sides using acrylic-based elastomer waterproof film. The cells can compress, stretch, or washed without losing their function. Interestingly, the coating prevents water from reaching the cells but is light enough to allow light to reach the cells. 

After creating these innovative waterproof solar cells, the scientists decided to put them to a test beginning with soaking them in water for 2 hours. The efficiency declined from 7.9 percent to 5.4 percent. Regardless of the decline, it was an impressive finding that can impact future waterproofing solar panel technologies. The greatest challenges with past photovoltaic integrated into textiles are lack of energy efficiency, prone to deformation, or unstable over long-term in air or water. The possibilities of the new photovoltaic cells are enormous including using them to power sensors that record heartbeats and body temperature. 

Are portable solar panels waterproof?

Components of a solar panel (Source – IRENA Report)

Portable solar panels are mostly designed for campers. With these, you don’t have to struggle with charging your phones and other light appliances while nestling in the wild. Although most quality portable solar panels are waterproof, it will be a good idea to check with your supplier. Check with your supplier to know if the panels are safe to keep in the rain. Peradventure they cannot withstand rain, check with your supplier to know if they have warranties. 

Types of solar panel warranties

Most solar panel manufacturers usually offer two types of warranties namely production warranty and equipment warranty. These warranties protect different parts of the solar panel as follows;

  • Equipment warranty: this protects against manufacturing defects, premature wear and tear as well as environmental issues. If your solar panel is not waterproof and gets damaged by water, the manufacturer will not only send a replacement but pay for shipment and installation. This is only possible if they are covered by equipment warranty. This type of warranty usually lasts between 10 and 12 years.
  • Production warranty: this type of warranty covers the performance aspect of solar panels. Every electronic degrade with use and solar panel is not an exception. Production warranty usually guarantees that the solar panel will work optimally at 10 years and about 80% in 25 years. If your solar panel is not waterproof, water may break the individual cells causing it to produce less power. In such an instance, the manufacturer will replace the panel. 

What can damage a solar panel?

The moving parts of a solar system are few which means less mechanical wear. Nevertheless, several things can still go wrong that will cause damage to your panels. Three main elements can lead to the damage of solar panels. 

Firstly, twigs, dirt, and leaves can scratch the surface of the solar panels and lower the amount of energy they produce. For maximum efficiency, clean the surface of your panel by spraying water through a garden hose on it (under low pressure). Alternatively, you can clean the surface with a soft cloth if mounted on the floor. Do this at least once a year.

Secondly, hail storms that damage roofs can also damage your panels. If you live in an environment with extreme weather, your solar technician should be able to guide you through the right solar setup for such weather. Lastly, water can damage your solar panels too. Just like windows, solar panels have seals. Check the seals to make sure they are water-tight. 

Do solar panels work if cracked?

Broken panel (Photo credit: Hovall)

When solar panels crack, they don’t become useless. However, they will stop performing optimally. In cases where the damage on the cells is less than 20%, the solar panel should be able to produce most of its voltage rating. However, in case of extreme cracks, the waterproofing may be damaged, exposing the cells to damage by rain. 

Sadly, once a solar panel is compromised, it cannot be fixed. To prevent cracks make sure that objects like tree branches close to the solar panels are trimmed so they don’t crash on the panels during adverse weather. Also, always rinse the panel with warm water. Warm panels can crack when they come in contact with cold water. 

Waterproofing solar panel system

During the installation of solar panels, the solar technician will need to drill some holes through the roofing materials. Most homeowners who are worried about waterproofing solar panels often pay less attention to the waterproofing of their roofs. Without a proper waterproof regiment, the roof can suffer from water intrusion. This can happen without the knowledge of the homeowner. If these leaks go undetected for a long period, they can lead to the growth of molds. Therefore, waterproofing solar panels and roof is a crucial part of the installation process. 

Steps to waterproofing your roof during solar system installation

The steps to waterproofing solar panel systems are few but critical. The integrity of the entire installation will depend largely on the integrity of the installation surface. Below are some of the steps to installing a solar panel system. 

Inspection

Having adequate knowledge of waterproofing solar panels and roof is critical for solar panel technicians. Qualified installers will usually begin with inspecting the roof. It is not advisable to install solar panels on old roofs. A roof that is less than 10 years is a good candidate for solar system installation. However, instead of re-roofing the entire building, you can simply reroof the section for the installation. 

Sealants vs flashing

Broken seal of the mounting system (Source – Elemental Energy)

In the past, the only way to waterproof the roof is to use sealants. Inasmuch as they were efficient, they were not 100% effective. Sealants tend to breakdown over time due to expansion and contraction in reaction to temperature changes as well as oxidative breakdown. Eventually, cracks will begin to show up exposing your roof and panels to damage. 

The standard practice today is the use of the right flashing method depending on the type of roof. Firstly, the only way you can guarantee that this method will last over 10 years is through the use of the right materials. Also, when using the flashing method, it is important to make sure minimal damage is done to the roof. Another way of going around this is by elevating the waterproofing seal. This lowers the risk of water damage. 

Conclusion

One of the reasons why people switch to solar power is to save money on energy bills. However, all that savings can be canceled out if there is damage to your roof and property due to a lack of proper waterproofing. Mounting a new roof can cost from $500 to $1,000. Also, remounting a 2kW panel at 50 c/watt can cost up to $1,000. This is the more reason why you should never allow deterioration of your roof to happen in the first place. Obviously, waterproofing solar panel system goes beyond the panels alone to include your roof. 

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