Solar panels are meant to be durable and must withstand constant exposure to the elements while soaking up the sun’s powerful rays. While they may be tough, they aren’t unbreakable. Your PV system is still vulnerable to extreme weather events like hailstorms. While hail isn’t a common phenomenon across the globe, regions like the American Midwest do have frequent hailstorms. If hail is a major concern, then you need to assess the possibility of your solar panels being damaged during extreme weather events.
The ability of your solar panels to withstand hail depends on the durability of the panels and the size of the hail. Most hail tends to be on the smaller side, and higher quality solar panels can stand up to most hailstorms. But a large enough hailstone will damage even the strongest panels. Hail damage can range from small dents and dings to shattered glass and broken solar cells.
What is Hail?
Hail consists of lumps of ice that fall from the sky. It’s a solid form of precipitation that forms under very specific conditions, usually in extreme thunderstorms. During a hailstorm, these chunks of ice will rain down and damage everything in their path. The hazard from hail comes down to the size of the hailstones and how long the storm lasts. They usually measure between a quarter-inch to a few inches in thickness. Most of the time, hail tends to be on the smaller side, but there have been multiple reports of extremely large hailstones, ranging from the size of a golf ball to an orange.
Hail forms in strong thunderstorms and require similar conditions that encourage the formation of tornadoes. This means that hail is often accompanied by extreme weather. If you ever open a hailstone, you’ll notice that it has several layers. This is a result of its formation, where the hail is blown up into the cloud multiple times by strong updrafts. It condenses and refreezes several times before falling, creating the layers. Hailstones get larger as they spend more time in the cloud, where they grow by accruing water droplets or colliding with smaller hailstones.
What Happens When Hail Strikes Your Solar Panels?
Your solar panels are built to withstand the outdoors. They’re made to last over 20 years while being exposed to constant sunlight, heavy rains, and strong winds. But hail is an exceptional case. While solar panels can take light impacts, stronger impacts can cause damage. Your solar panels should be able to withstand hailstorms if the hailstones are small, and if the hailstorm is short-lived.
Larger hail will absolutely damage your panels, and the chance for serious damage increases with the length of the hailstorm and the size of the hail. Large hailstones are like rocks, and the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Strong impacts from large hail will shatter the glass and acrylic covering and damage the individual solar cells in the panel.
But all hope isn’t lost. Hailstorms are a relatively rare phenomenon, and you’re likely to go most of your life without ever experiencing one. Hail is most common in the interiors of continents and along the frontier of tall mountain ranges, far from populated areas. But there are a few regions in particular where hailstorms are common. In the US, hailstorms often occur in the Great Plains, and the area where Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska meet is known as “Hail Alley.” In Europe, hailstorms are most common in the center of the continent, mostly across parts of Germany, France, and Belgium.
Solar Panel Durability
Solar panels have become much more durable over the past decade, and they’re more likely to survive a hailstorm. This can be partially attributed to the Sunshot Initiative, where the NREL and Department of Energy teamed up to research ways to lower the cost of solar energy. Part of this research focused on making solar panels more durable and included shooting chunks of ice at PV modules at 70 miles per hour to simulate the effects of a hailstorm.
In practice, the durability of your solar panels comes down to the brand and model. All solar panels are meant to withstand some form of extreme weather, though some manufacturers will have more rigorous standards than others. When shopping around for solar panels, check the specifications for the snow load and wind load. The snow load is a measure of the strength of the front side of the panel, as it has to withstand the weight of snow. The wind load measures the strength of the rear, as the backside must withstand the force of strong winds in order to stay attached. For both values, the higher the number, the better.
For hailstorms, the snow load is the relevant measure for assessing strength against hailstorms, but since hail is accompanied by other forms of extreme weather, you want solar panels with both a high snow load and wind load. Panels built to the IEC 61215:2005 standards have a snow load rating of at least 5,400 Pa and a wind load rating of at least 2,400 Pa. If you live in an area known for extreme weather events, you should find products that exceed these standards.
There are several reports of solar panels both surviving and being damaged by hailstorms. In 2017, the Denver area was hit with a barrage of golfball-sized hail. Cars were dented, roofs were damaged, and windows were shattered. Interestingly enough, the NREL headquarters in Golden, Colorado, reported that out of its 3,000 solar panels, just one sustained damage. On the other end of the spectrum, the Midway Solar Project in West Texas was right in the path of an intense hailstorm in 2019. The storm destroyed over 400,000 solar panels, or 60% of the solar farm.
Hail is an extreme weather event that is often accompanied by other severe phenomena. If the hail doesn’t damage your solar panels, something else might. Lightning striking the roof of your home can cause damage to your PV system, and strong winds can blow debris toward the roof of your home, also causing damage. As we said earlier, the conditions that create hailstorms are similar to those that spawn tornados. In that case, damage to your solar panels are the least of your worries.
If you find your solar panels have been damaged by hail, it’s best to replace them as soon as possible. Broken solar panels can be dangerous. They may still generate electricity, as some of the solar cells still work. This presents an electrical hazard if the solar cells and circuitry are exposed. Solar panels also contain hazardous chemicals that can leak out into the environment if the panels are broken.
Luckily, the warranty on most brand-name solar panels covers damage from extreme weather. You should contact the manufacturer of your solar panels, the solar company that installed them, and your home insurance company to get a full range of options and formulate a plan to replace or repair your system.
Protecting Your PV System
If you find that hailstorms are a serious concern for you and your PV system, there are some steps you can take to minimize the risk of damage to your panels.
It’s good to stay informed about local weather patterns and the possibility of strong hailstorms in the future. Weather patterns are constantly changing, especially considering the effects of climate change. Be aware if you live in an area prone to frequent hailstorms.
Invest in Durable Solar Panels
If hailstorms are common where you live, then it would be wise to invest in durable, high-quality solar panels. While it may cost more at the beginning, it’ll be worth it in the long term. Choose panels with a high snow and wind load to ensure that your panels can weather the storm.
Regular maintenance and inspections help keep your PV system in good working shape. Inspections will also ensure that you catch any damage or wear before an intense storm. Panels that are already defective or showing signs of wear are more likely to be damaged during instances of extreme weather.
Get a Cover for Your Solar Panels
If you feel that damage from a hailstorm is a real possibility, you can invest in a cover for your solar panels. There are cloth covers that can fit around individual solar panels, while more drastic measures involve installing a plexiglass shield over the entire array. The downsides of doing this are a reduced power output from diffused sunlight and difficulties installing and removing the covers.
Make Sure You’re Insured
Check with your insurance company and solar panel manufacturer to make sure your solar panels are covered in the event of a hailstorm. Most home insurance policies cover extreme weather, and many policies even consider your panels as part of the roof, though policies do differ. You should also check the manufacturer warranty on your panels to see if they offer replacements and repairs for broken panels.
For most of the world, hail is an unusual and very rare weather phenomenon. But some regions are prone to destructive hailstorms, especially if severe weather is already the norm. While solar panels are meant to withstand harsh weather, hail can cause heavy damage. Some solar panels can take the beating, while others don’t stand a chance. It all depends on the brand and model of your solar panels. During most hailstorms, the hail will be pretty small, but even the strongest solar panels won’t be able to hold up to larger hailstones. Regular maintenance checkups, staying privy to local weather reports, and knowing the details on your insurance policies and warranties can help keep your PV system safe and insured in the case of extreme weather.
Frequently Asked Questions
The ability of your solar panels to withstand hail comes down to the durability of the solar panel and the size of the hail. Most solar panels can withstand being pelted by small hailstones, and are durable panels are likely to hold up to more intense storms. But large enough hailstones will damage any solar panel.
Most of the world will rarely, if ever, see hail. The American Great Plains are known for hail, and other extreme weather events like tornadoes. Some parts of Central Europe are also prone to frequent hailstorms.
Check the specs of your solar panels for the snow load and wind load, which rate the strength of the front and backsides of your panels, respectively. A higher number means more strength. Ideally, you want solar panels with a snow load that exceeds 5,400 Pa and a wind load greater than 2,400 Pa.
You may not always be able to completely protect your PV system from hail, but you can prevent and mitigate the effects of the damage and have a plan in place. Keep an eye on severe weather events, keep a regular maintenance schedule, and know the details of your insurance policy. You can also invest in stronger solar panels or even install protective covering.
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