Leaving Solar Panels Disconnected
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Solar energy is one way of being more mindful of our impact on the environment. The sun is a giant ball of energy that’s not likely to go out anytime soon, so why not harness its power to keep our lights on?
However, you may have wondered what would happen if we unplug our solar panels. Is it even necessary? Stick around, as we’ve done the research and are ready to present you with answers.
What Happens if a Solar Panel Is Not Connected to Anything?
In short, the solar panel is still generating a high voltage although it’ll be conducted through the solar cells.
These cells get hotter with the rising voltage but the surface area of the cell is big enough to manage the heat. Nothing is going to run unless an external load is plugged into the solar system.
A solar panel is made of photovoltaic cells that turn solar energy into electricity. Sunlight reaches the solar cell which releases an electron, that electron that goes through the wires and cables to give power to a microwave, a TV, or anything else you’ve connected to the solar panel.
Devices that use DC power can directly connect to a solar panel and run, although appliances that are AC powered would need an inverter to run.
That, or hit songs like Hell’s Bells, Shoot To Thrill, and Thunderstruck should do the trick. Jokes aside, you’ll need a solar inverter to flip that DC power into AC power. If there’s no outlet for the power to go, then the cells will just loop the electrical current into themselves, making the solar panel slightly warmer.
Is It Necessary to Unplug Solar Panels?
Now, before we go outside and unplug everything, would it even be necessary to do it?
The answer is no, it’s not actually necessary to unplug your solar panel. Unless, of course, you’re trying to figure out how to get rid of pigeons under solar panels, that is.
A solar panel will rarely be disconnected once everything’s installed, and while having it disconnected for short periods of time is not bad, it’s not any good either.
The whole thing with solar panels is that they provide electrical power to your appliances and other devices. Disconnecting the solar module means that you’ll have to wait a significant amount of time before it’s gathered enough energy to redistribute again, and this could be hours or even days.
It’s usually best to leave the solar panel going at all times; getting slightly hotter isn’t going to hurt it and it will always have an electrical load, anyway.
If you’re not planning on using the solar panel for a long time then it might make sense. For example, you might go on holiday for a few weeks, or you could be expecting bad weather.
Maybe you have some deep cycle solar batteries wired up to the system. The charge should stay at the same level for a while, so when you connect them to the solar panel again they’ll be good to go. Don’t leave them unplugged for too long, as batteries do discharge after some time.
How to Safely Disconnect a Solar Panel
Disconnecting the Solar Photovoltaic System
Before we get to the actual solar panel, we’ll have to start with the PV system.
A few things that you’ll need to keep yourself safe are a hard hat, some work boots, and most importantly: insulating gloves.
It’s best to disconnect your system in the early evening when the sun is at its lowest. The system is constantly generating electricity during the day which makes it riskier; early evening is safer.
Lastly, the DC and AC switches have to be disconnected. The AC has to be turned off first, then its breaker.
Now the system isn’t producing any energy which means you can now turn off the DC and work safely on that solar panel.
Disconnecting the Solar Panel
First, look at your solar panel and check if it has a disconnect switch. If it doesn’t then you’ll need to cover the panel with a reflective or non-transparent surface. You’ll probably want to disconnect your solar panel when cleaning it to make sure you don’t get any water or soap in a live wire.
Using a voltage meter, make sure that the voltage output measures exactly zero. Once you’ve done that, you can safely disconnect the wires - you can use a socket wrench but MC4 connectors make it a little easier.
Last but not least, the bolts and clamping devices can now be removed, if there are any.
How Long Is It Safe for the Solar Panel to Be Disconnected?
Keeping the solar panel unplugged for long periods of time, let’s say for more than a month or so, can have a significant impact on the panel’s longevity.
Once a solar panel is left out in the sun for too long without a load, it can get damaged. There’s nowhere for the power to flow and, without a regulator, the current can overload the system.
Many homeowners tend to keep the panels connected and running; capitalizing on the solar panel’s energy reduction.
In some cases, disconnecting a solar panel is fine. It could be for solar panel maintenance, installation, or just a vacation where no one is at home.
Should I Cover Solar Panels When Not in Use?
You don’t have to cover your solar panels when they’re not in use. Solar panels can be covered if that’s what you want to do but it’s not necessary. It usually comes down to your decision as the owner.
A typical solar panel is usually made of silicon because it’s a good electrical conductor. The chemical structure of silicone changes when it’s exposed to sunlight which helps the electrical current flow with lower resistance.
Solar panels are also built with a protective sheet in the back and a glass casing on the front for added protection against the elements.
Why You Should Cover Solar Panels
There are some reasons why covering your solar panels can be necessary. Extreme weather and too much exposure to sunlight can lead to an overload of energy.
Many solar panel owners are concerned that extreme weather and other naturally occurring elements can damage their panels.
This is one of the more general reasons why you may want to put a covering over your solar panels, it’s also widely applicable to solar panels that are still in use.
Of course, this isn’t much of a concern when you’re living in an area with mild weather patterns, or even only experiencing seasonal snow and rain.
If you’re not trying to figure out how to keep snow off solar panels then you’re probably in a mild weather area and shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
If you live in a state like Texas, for example, being concerned about how to protect solar panels from hail is much more applicable. Everything is bigger in Texas, even the storms filled with hail the size of golf balls.
Even when a solar panel isn’t being used, it still generates electrical energy. Some owners have had their share of concerns that the batteries could overload while they’re exposed to sunlight.
Some have also speculated that the solar panel can get damaged by the sun itself, but that is only speculation as there isn’t any solid evidence to support this.
There you have it, folks. Turns out it’s much better to leave your solar panels connected and running than not.
You might only have to worry about disconnecting the solar panel if you expect some bad weather for a few days, or if you’re going on vacation for a week or two. Other than that it’s nothing to worry about.
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