Solar panels and weather

Can your solar panels survive a hailstorm?

Solar panels are designed to withstand various weather conditions for many years. Nevertheless, they are not invincible, and extreme hailstorms can easily damage them regardless of brand, size, or type. From 2017 to 2019 the United States experienced more than 2 million hailstorms in total, with Midwestern states being impacted the most. However, no matter where you are located, it is better to be prepared and to know how to protect your solar panels.

Solar panels aren't afraid of golf ball-sized hailstones

Most solar manufacturers certify and test their panels to withstand hail. To pass US standards, PV modules must be able to withstand the direct impact of hailstones about 1 inch in diameter falling at 50 mph. This is more than enough for most storms, and even stronger than a typical shingle roof.

On May 8, 2017, the Denver area saw an unusually severe hailstorm, which left golf ball-sized dents on the roofs of homes and cars. A large rooftop solar array of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), however, survived with only one broken panel out of 3,000.

Larger hailstones can cause panels to break, though. States like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, New Mexico, Colorado, Missouri, and adjacent states in the Midwest and South often experience severe storms with hailstones greater than 1.7 inches. If you're going to install a PV system in any of those states, keep reading – the following is extremely important.

Before hail storm

1. Choose the location correctly
Make sure your panels are set properly at angles from 18 degrees to 45 degrees. It will help the panels avoid direct hits from hailstones. If your panels are installed at 10 degrees or less, they are at a higher risk of damage from hail.

2. Use protective covers or arrange a shelter
Purchase special protective covers for your solar panels, such as hail netting. However, bear in mind that they limit the panels' output. If a huge hailstorm is about to come, take your solar panels to a shelter, which can be a basement, a secure part of your home, or a covered parking space.

3. Get insurance coverage
Most solar panel manufacturers' warranties will not cover hail damage, so be sure to purchase insurance for your solar panels that will include coverage for natural disasters. That will help to replace your damaged panels without having to pay a fortune.

4. Sign up for weather alerts
There are lots of ways you can be notified when severe weather threatens your area. Here are some of them:

After hail storm

1. Check your inverter
If your panels are not working properly, it is likely that your inverter will detect the problem. Look at the inverter's display screen. If there are any red lights, or faults, or no indication of any power generation, your panels might have been damaged.

2. Inspect your panels
Check your panels from a distance, but don't climb on the roof as there could be leaking voltage.

3. Call your insurance provider or a licensed solar electrician
If your panels were smashed by hailstones, contact a solar electrician for a proper investigation. Some damages cannot be seen with a naked eye and should be tested by a specialist.

What to do with broken solar panels?

If your solar panels are damaged and cannot be fixed, they can be recycled. However, it is a tricky process that requires disassembling, etching, and melting. Also, some solar panels include highly toxic components, such as arsenic, lead and cadmium, and should therefore be handled by a specialist.

Unfortunately, the US does not have a national policy for recycling solar panels, but several states, e.g. Washington, implemented a state law that requires your manufacturer to collect non-operational panels for recycling at no charge to the customer. If your state does not have a law of this kind, you can always hire a private recycling service.

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Illustrations – Marina Fionova

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