Common Causes for reduced production
Solar panels are one of the lowest maintenance investments on the market. They require very little upkeep and maintenance while generating vast amounts of value for their owners for up to 25 years. However, like all technologies, they are not perfect, with some common issues and defects that can cause a loss of production and potentially cause permanent damage if ignored. Many of these problems arise more commonly in lower quality solar panels that have cut corners to reach the low price point that allows them to compete with the superior but more expensive panels that dominate the international market. However, this does not mean that high-quality solar panels are immune to these issues occasionally. Some of these common issues are:
Hot spots are areas on solar panels that experience higher temperatures than the rest of the solar panel. These zones generate a lower power rate and degrade at a higher rate, resulting in brown spots on the panel. The main reasons that these spots occur are either manufacturing and installation errors or sub-optimal operating conditions.
The manufacturing errors that cause these hotspots are usually related to the low quality of material used, specifically silicon. Low-quality silicon is much less efficient than the pure silicon used by companies such as REC, and these polycrystalline panels combine a variety of silicon shards that we’re able to be purchased at a low price, meaning that some cells within the panel will be performing at a higher level, potentially leading to hotspots. Many of these companies are also infamous for shipping errors and quality control that may damage the panels, leading to hotspots forming.
Less reputable solar installers may damage panels during installation or provide solar systems with mismatched solar panels, leading to a production imbalance, a definitive cause of hotspots. In a perfect world, such systems would never be installed. However, the Australian market, unfortunately, is home to several unreliable solar installers, meaning that it is crucially important to check the credibility of any installers you come into contact with.
The sub-optimal operating conditions are much more controllable from the customer’s standpoint and can be easily prevented. The most common things that contribute to hotspots from an operational point are shading and dusting. If trees consistently shade your optimal roof surface for solar, it is possible for this shading to lead to hotspots on the parts of the panel that are still producing. Dust can also have the same negative effect on panels. However, solving this issue is much easier, with regular cleaning preventing a buildup that can damage your panels.
One of the most common reasons for a panel performing below its microcracks within the silicon cells. As the name suggests, these are microscopic cracks within the cells that are usually invisible to the human eye but lessen the flow of electrons through the cell, hurting the overall production. The most common causes of this issue are the poor handling of these cells during assembly, transportation-related incidents and rough treatment during installation, such as stepping on pannels.
Usually, these defective panels are caught during production and never make it out of the factory. However, if you suspect that this has occurred on your roof, an infrared camera can isolate hotspots on your panels which are often the result of microcracks.
Snail trails are a discolouration effect that occurs on the surface of solar panels. This contamination occurs as a result of moisture within the solar panels, which causes oxidisation. The chemical reason for this problem occurring is the formation of Silver Acetate, which then settles on the surface of the EVA film on the panel, resulting in the brown lines pictured above. This usually happens because of an error during production, causing improper sealing within the panel's back sheet.
Snail trails were initially suspected to be purely cosmetic. However, studies found that these contaminants result in a reduction of output over time, finding that, on average, these panels produced 9.1% less than the rest of the array.
Birds have two main ways in which they commonly damage solar panels. The first is fallout which covers the panel, preventing cells from producing electricity and possibly causing further damage if left unwashed for an extended period. The issue with removing this fallout is that it can often not be removed with just a hose and will require a professional to climb onto your roof and remove it by hand. The second issue is that birds often choose to nest underneath panels, interfering with the electronics and preventing your array from functioning correctly. If either of these issues occurs frequently, it is likely worth investing in bird proofing to avoid these issues from happening.
All of the issues listed above can heavily affect the solar production of your solar system and potentially expedite the degradation of your solar panels. The most effective way to avoid most of these issues is to invest in a quality solar system made to a higher standard with better quality materials. Aside from this, a reputable solar installer will avoid these issues where possible and provide solutions if any should arise. If you have any more questions about these issues or would like to receive a quote on a quality solar system, feel free to get in touch with one of our experienced solar designers below!