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At first it might seem odd, why would you need solar panel covers? Aren’t panels suppose to get as much sunlight as possible to generate electricity? That’s true of course, but what if there’s a hail storm or intense heat? Wouldn’t solar panels benefit from a cover?
Solar panels do not require a cover because it already has a glass or plastic sheet that serves as protection. A solar panel cover however, may prove useful in case there is excessive dust, rain or snow.
When to Use Solar Panel Covers
Let us take a look at some cases when solar panel covers may be useful. We’ll also examine situations where it may not be needed at all. Finally we are going to show you other ways to protect your solar system from damage.
The fact that solar panel covers are becoming more popular means many solar owners are using them. Let’s go over some scenarios where these covers might be needed.
If you know how to install solar wires, cables and connectors, overloading will not be an issue. But if you’re new to solar power and living in a hot climate, putting on a cover can give you peace of mind. All good solar power systems have safety mechanisms, but it won’t hurt to put covers on to prevent overloading.
A well made cover should provide protection for the PV cells for different types of weather conditions. if you think there is a chance the panel will overheat, put a cover on to cool it down so the temperature drops.
Extreme Heat or Cold
Solar panels subjected to extreme heat and cold could benefit from a cover. Some solar panel owners believe that putting a cover will extend the panel’s lifespan. Sometimes the heat can be such that the panel is hot to the touch, and what if there is a hurricane or heavy snow? You won’t be getting any production from the solar panels, so might as well cover them up.
If you live a mild climate location, there won’t be an issue. But if there are heavy storms or hail in your area, a cover might do some good. If it’s too hot outside and you’re not using the system, you can unplug it and put the cover on.
For Solar Panels on Vehicles
Solar panels mounted on RVs, campers, vans and other vehicles are subject to more airborne particles than residential solar systems. Driving through the city exposes the panels to smog, haze and pollution. Go through natural sceneries and foliage, branches, insects and bird droppings could litter the solar panels.
If you’re not using the solar panels while driving, why not cover them up? It’s going to spare you a long, probably messy cleanup job on your next stop. A flat mounted solar panel will quickly accumulate dirt on an RV or a boat, so slipping on a cover is a quick and easy way to prevent this.
When Not to Use Solar Panel Covers
All right, we have seen the reasons for using solar panel covers. Now let us take a look at the reasons why these covers are not required.
Solar panels are meant to be exposed to the environment. Each piece has been built to withstand heat, dirt, rain, wind and other elements. Solar panels need minimal cleaning (though it certainly helps) and little maintenance.
Rain won’t damage solar panels. A good drenching will actually remove dirt buildup and improve performance. Dust and dirt won’t have much of an effect unless it’s a really large buildup and the panels are neglected.
Snow should not be a problem either. Most rooftop solar panels are slanted so snow should fall off naturally. The same can be said for leaves and other debris. It’s another story if your solar panels are mounted flat like on an RV. In that case you’ll need to do some cleaning. But it is unlikely that snow will cause physical damage to the PV modules.
What about Overheating?
It is true that excess heat can damage solar panels. Contrary to popular belief, solar panels do not require a lot of heat. In fact too much of it will reduce output. The ideal scenario is an unobstructed view of the sun at a moderate temperature.
But while overheating is possible, there are ways to prevent it without using covers. The easiest way is to use a charge controller, a device that regulates the flow of current into the battery. Directly connecting batteries to solar panels is dangerous, but with a charge controller that won’t be a problem. These controllers offer protection against overheating so the panels and battery operate within safe levels.
There’s another way to protect solar panels from overheating, and that’s not to use them beyond the recommended temperature range. Renogy 100W monocrystalline solar panels for instance, have a temperature range of -40F to 194F (-40C to 90C). Given that range though, you should be able to use the panels without fear of overheating.
The main argument against covers is solar panels already have protection against the elements. There is glass casing and a backsheet on the rear to protect the PV cells. Manufacturers use different techniques to create solar panels, but all have some sort of rear and front protection.
Solar panels are built to last. If you check solar panel warranties; most are guaranteed to last 10-25 years. These panels can handle different kinds of weather without resulting in performance deterioration.
Alternatives to Solar Panel Covers
So far we have looked at the pros and cons of using solar panel covers. But there are other ways you can protect your PV modules without using covers. Let us look at some of these options and which you may use.
Solar Panel Insurance
Most insurance companies include solar panels, so no need to buy a new policy. Note that we say “most”, not all. Talk to your insurance company to be sure. There might be an added cost, or maybe not, it depends. Solar panel insurance usually applies to rooftop panels only. Portable solar panels for RVs are not included. For that you need to buy a separate policy. Again insurance companies have different policies so you’ll need to do some research.
Have the Panels Inspected Once a Year
Solar panels need little maintenance, but it’s good practice to have it inspected by a technician once a year. Of course you should have it inspected immediately if there was a hurricane, hail, heavy snow, etc. You can probably do the inspection yourself on RVs, but you have to know the signs of solar panel problems, otherwise you won’t know what to look for.
For rooftop solar panels it’s best left to the professional. Going up the roof is dangerous, especially if you think there’s already damage to the panels. If there is damage, the technician will let you know if it can be repaired or if a replacement is needed.
Install a Monitoring System
A monitoring device goes far in providing protection for solar panels. You’ll know right away if performance is dipping or if there is something wrong with the panels, inverter, controller or battery. While solar panels are often warranted to last 25 years, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your part.
With a monitoring device you won’t be caught by surprise in case something goes wrong. The good news is many solar panel kits include a monitor to keep track of system performance.
Buy a High Quality Solar Panel
Sounds obvious, but it makes all the difference in the world. The top solar panel manufacturers make sure their systems can handle the elements, including hail. A study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) revealed that less than 0.1% of solar panels they examined suffer damage from extreme weather.
Most solar panels can deal with hail., and even as large as an inch won’t pose a problem. You can always contact the manufacturer if you’re not sure. But for the most part, solar power systems should be able to handle hail well.
Install the Solar Panels on a Slant
Configuring solar panels on an angle offers two benefits. One, the panels receive more sunlight, and two, debris, snow, leaves, and even hail will slide off the surface. Same goes with water. You can do this on RVs too with tilted mounts.
Use portable or flexible solar panels. This is applicable for vehicle mounted solar panels only, since large panels are needed for homes. But for RVs, campers, vans and boats, portable solar panels are ideal. You can fold them like a suitcase when not in use. Same with flexible solar panels, so no need for covers. Just detach the panel from the roof and fold it.
Check the weather. Again it sounds obvious but it’s important. If you’re in a RV and the weather is about to turn cloudy, you can drive off to a warmer location. For homeowners, being updated on the weather gives you an opportunity to fortify the solar panels or cover them if you wish.
Whether you use solar covers or not is up to you. In many cases a cover is not necessary, but it won’t hurt to put one on either. The key point to remember is you should take steps to protect your solar panels. it’s better to be proactive than reactive, especially with solar energy.