Category - Solar
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Will Scholfield, Engineer

16 Feb : Updated 26 Mar ● 7 min read

Why are my solar panels not working?

It goes without saying that most technology we encounter can have its off days, and solar panels are no exception. Whilst they are a robust and reliable alternative to traditional energy sources, they are not without their faults and, as such, can degrade over time.  

If you have woken up to an unresponsive heating system or your smart meter shows an ungodly spike in your energy costs, your solar panels might be having some technical difficulties.  

In this guide, we share some of the most common reasons why your solar panels aren’t working correctly.

9 reasons your solar panels aren’t working properly

If your solar panel system is unresponsive, then nine times out of ten, there is usually a solution. In the first instance, it is worth taking a look at the panels themselves - if they’re in an accessible and safe place - to gauge what the issue could be. 

If you can’t see any issues on the surface, you might need help from a professional to diagnose the problem. Your solar panels not working could be from several different issues, including:

1. Lack of sunlight

If your solar panels are shaded or concealed by trees, buildings, or debris, they may not receive enough sunlight to perform correctly.

So, when installing solar panels, it’s best to have them in a suitable location to avoid this issue. Of course, debris and rubbish can collect on the panels over time. Still, regular maintenance will keep this at bay and see your solar panels perform at their optimum efficiency.

2. Faulty wiring

Over time, loose or damaged connections may disrupt the flow of energy, causing panels to malfunction. Check the wiring and connectors that join the solar panels, inverters, and electrical system. 

Faulty wiring often contributes to problems with solar panel connections. The most frequent issue is a poor connection between the wires and the terminals on the inverter or the solar panels. Corrosion or damage could be responsible for this. 

That’s why it’s essential to check your solar panel connections regularly; if you suspect a problem, contact a professional, as they’ll be able to check the system safely and test whether it is functioning correctly overall.

3. Inverter issues

Probably the most common issue found on faulty solar panel systems isn’t actually the panels themselves - it’s all down to the inverter. The inverter converts the direct current (DC) generated by the panels into alternating current (AC), which powers the electrical components around your home.

Whilst solar panels have a lifespan of between 20 - 25 years, an inverter’s lifespan is much less. And, with a broken or faulty inverter, you’d be hard-pushed to get any electricity from your panels. 

Luckily, you can easily check this on the inverter, as they display helpful error messages. If you have lost electricity, ensure your consumer unit’s solar PV breaker is turned on or up. If it trips to the off position, call a professional; if it stays on, check the inverter for error messages.

4. Dust or dirt on the panels

When you invest in solar panels, you can expect to see an ROI (Return on Investment) within 10 - 15 years, and whilst they will deplete in performance over time, like all technology, solar panels continue to operate at a high level. However, significant yearly performance dips are not common; if this happens with your installation, then a likely suspect is dirt and debris accumulating on the panels. 

Over time, as dust and debris build up, they block out sunshine, negatively impacting the solar electricity output. As mentioned earlier, you can keep on top of this solar panel fault by regularly cleaning your panels using purified water.  

5. Micro-cracks

Micro-fractures, also known as micro-cracks, are a kind of deterioration in solar cells. The silicon in solar cells is extremely thin and stretches and shrinks due to temperature cycling. The increasing temperatures during the day cause the solar panels to expand then decreasing temperatures at night cause them to contract. This process is known as thermal stress.

If you suspect the problem, it’s best to catch it early, as minor flaws in the silicon cell might result in larger micro-cracks. The length of micro-cracks can vary; some span the entire cell, while others exist in only small areas. 

Unfortunately, if your solar panels look like they have any fractures or cracks, their time might be up - whilst they will still work to a certain degree, the overall efficiency will only continue to decrease.

6. Snail trails

“Snail trails” is the term for a brown colouration or contamination visible on the surface of solar panels. It is caused by faulty silver paste being used during the panels manufacturing process and can be a common issue. 

Because of the moisture that gets into some solar panels (usually cheaper models), oxidation occurs between the encapsulating material and the silver paste. This oxidation also causes the front solar panel to break down, resulting in noticeable colouration. 

This colouration degrades the performance of the solar panels, producing problems throughout the system and ultimately reducing the energy supply.

7. PID effect

A potential-induced degradation (PID) can not only affect the performance of your solar panels, but it will decrease the lifespan. But now you’re probably wondering, what is the PID effect? A PID effect is when there is a potential-induced performance reduction in solar panels caused by stray currents, which may result in a power loss of up to 30%.

In short, it occurs when there is an unwanted electrical current leakage (or voltage discharge) between the photovoltaic (PV) cells and the grounded components of the solar panel system, such as the frame or mounting structure. 

Factors that contribute to PID include:

  • High system voltage
  • Increased humidity
  • High temperatures

It’s worth mentioning that advances in solar panel technology and improved production procedures have lowered modern solar panels’ vulnerability to PID.

8. Malfunctioning breaker switches 

Your solar panels’ breaker switch (also known as a circuit switch) is the heart of and an essential part of any solar system. It is a barrier between the two electrical currents: DC (direct current) and AC (alternating current). When it comes to installation and routine maintenance, a barrier between the panels and the alternating current is required.

Breaker switches are installed to protect the solar panels and associated electrical components. They are intended to stop the flow of an electrical current if there is a problem, such as a high current or a failure in the system - thus helping to keep the solar panels, wiring, and other equipment in good condition.

If you suspect that your breaker switch is malfunctioning, then unless you are qualified to do so, it’s best to speak to a professional electrician to take a look at the problem.

9. Poor installation

If your solar panel system is not properly installed, it may cause problems in the future. For example, the system may not be operating correctly, meaning it won’t produce as much energy as it should. Also, it may be more susceptible to power fluctuations, such as during a power outage which can degrade its efficiency and diminish its lifespan over time.

Keep in mind that poorly installed or maintained solar panel systems are also likely to put yourself and others at risk; that’s why it's essential to always use a qualified installer when investing in solar energy systems. 

At BOXT, our solar installation service is unrivalled.

  • Only 25% upfront payment
  • 12-year product warranty on all our solar panels
  • Prices start from as little as £4,871

Simply enter your postcode to get started. 

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