Expert tips to protect your solar system against winter weather hazards

Severe weather such as sudden cold snaps and the recent unexpected bout of snow in many parts of South Africa have sparked some discussion around whether home solar systems are at risk. 

Extreme weather can both permanently damages solar systems and substantially lower power generation capabilities. However, the extent of winter weather damage is determined in part by the quality of the solar installation and the severity of the weather conditions, notes Rein Snoeck Henkemans, Managing Director of Alumo Energy.

“Homeowners who have appointed a trusted solar provider and installer who use quality parts from reputable brands, and have the necessary solar expertise have less to fear during the winter months than someone who unknowingly hired a member of the so-called bakkie brigade to mount their roof solar panels,” he cautions.

“That said, bad weather may still have a substantial impact on your system’s solar production if care is not taken. Panels can be damaged under certain circumstances, which is why it’s important to turn to the professionals for guidance and assistance during these cold winter months,” he says.

Protecting against various winter phenomena

There’s a wide range of winter weather conditions that may hamper or degrade solar production and solar systems in various ways. For example, excessive rainfall can potentially cause water leaks or flooding, which can damage the electrical components of an improperly installed solar system. However, proper waterproofing measures and installation techniques can mitigate this risk, notes Snoeck Henkemans.

Likewise, hailstorms, which South Africa is often prone to, can be particularly damaging to the surface area of solar panels. Large hailstones can cause physical damage to the panels, leading to cracks or shattered glass.

Cold temperatures alone do not typically pose a significant risk to panels. But extremely low temperatures can affect battery performance, reduce overall efficiency of the system, and cause frost buildup on a panels surface, lowering its efficiency.

Finally, snowfall, although rare in sunny South Africa, can occur – as the country learned recently. Snow accumulation on solar panels can greatly reduce their efficiency by obscuring sunlight, and the weight of heavy snow buildup can strain the mounting system or even cause it to collapse. Additionally, the removal or cleaning of snow buildup, if done incorrectly, can damage panels as well.

Five ways to protect your system from damage

Snoeck Henkemans offers five tips to protect a home solar system against damage and deficient production in suboptimal weather:

1.         Regularly clear any snow buildup from your solar panels using a soft-bristle brush, foam squeegee, or plastic snow rake. Be careful not to damage the panels while clearing the snow. Unsuitable tools or coarse material can scratch or crack the surface. Avoid using sharp objects, metal tools, or abrasive materials.

2.         Do not apply excessive pressure on the panels. Gently remove the snow without pressing too hard on the panels and use a sweeping or pushing motion rather than scraping forcefully alternatively pour water on the panels.

3.         Be cognisant of falling hazards. Clearing snow from rooftop panels may require climbing on a ladder or accessing the roof in another manner and work may be conducted at a sloped angle. Take appropriate safety precautions to prevent falls or accidents.

4.         Remember that a solar system is still an electrical system, and there might be some concern for electrical injury with improperly installed systems. Before attempting to clear the snow, turn off the system.

5.         Finally, if possible, it is best to contact a professional installer and request that they send an expert to clean the panels and conduct general system maintenance.

“At Alumo, for example, regular maintenance forms part of the majority of our packages. We also have experienced cleaners who can be hired at any time to ensure that panels are kept in tip-top condition. This not only ensures that the work is done safely and correctly, but maintains the integrity of your system and allows for defect detection,” he explains.

Experienced installers will also ensure that the electrical connections and wiring are correctly installed to minimise energy losses. A high-quality installation will help generate the maximum amount of electricity, achieve a better return on investment in the long run, and ensure the system can stand the tests of time and mother nature.

“It’s also important to note that professional solar installers will never place their reputation at risk by cutting corners throughout installation and maintenance. This means that your solar system will simply have a better chance of weathering the storm than systems installed by someone less qualified – which is why it’s important not to use fly-by-night companies who may have disappeared when you require post-installation maintenance and assistance,” he concludes.

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