You may have heard of stories about malfunctioning solar panels after getting hit by lightning. It’s a scary thought because it can deliver enough current that can melt your system. If you plan on investing thousands of dollars for your panels, you’re probably curious if solar panels attract lightning, right?
Solar panels don’t attract lightning and don’t increase the probability of a lightning strike. It has the same probability as a tree or any object getting struck by lightning. A more important question that you need to ask is how you can protect your solar panels from damages caused by lightning.
Photovoltaic panels won’t survive a direct hit, but there are a few things that you can do to minimize the damages. Stick around to learn more about PV panels and lightning and how you can protect your investment from a devastating force. By the end of this article, you’ll have a very different view on this topic.
Do Solar Panels Increase the Probability of a Lightning Strike?
Lightning causes more damage to solar panels than any natural phenomenon. Aside from this, one strike, carrying as much as one gigajoule of energy, can cause extensive damages to your house. That’s why many homeowners are wondering if solar panels can increase the likelihood of a lightning strike.
One prevalent belief about lightning is that it’s attracted to metal. Since metal is an excellent electrical conductor, it tends to attract more lightning. Solar panels, especially the ones we install on our roof, require metal racks, so it definitely increases the probability of a lightning strike, right?
Let’s address the root of this concern by dispelling a myth: metal is a good conductor, and therefore, attracts lightning. The truth is that lightning can strike any object, even trees, rocks, or the ground. It doesn’t matter if it’s an electrical conductor; it has the same probability as any other object.
Contrary to what many believe, photovoltaic panels don’t increase the probability of lightning strikes. So, the likelihood of these panels to suffer from a lightning strike is no different than any structure. According to the National Lightning Safety Institute, lightning will strike at least 1 out of 200 houses every year, or in other words, lightning will strike your house at least once in 200 years.
These numbers remain the same whether you invest in solar panels or not. The only variable that changes is your location; some parts of the country, particularly the Southeastern U.S., experience more lightning strikes. Still, the odds of a lightning strike to take down a solar panel system is very low.
Knowing that there’s no way for you to prevent a lightning strike and that solar panels do not attract lightning, a more crucial step for you is to protect your investment from it. After all, you’re not investing thousands of dollars for solar energy and just wait for a lightning strike, right? Even if the odds are very low, one rare lightning strike can cause extensive damages to your property.
Can You Protect Solar Panels From Lightning?
There are two types of strikes that you can experience: direct and near-strike. Direct hits are rare, but there’s nothing you can do to protect your solar panels from them. Your solar array, inverter, controllers, and other electronics inside your house won’t survive the devastating blast of current that a direct hit can deliver.
Direct hits aren’t what homeowners should be worried about because near-strikes are more common and can also be devastating. It can deliver thousands of volts on your solar array and onto your house. In an event such as a near-strike, the solar panels are safe because they are properly grounded. However, your inverter and controllers aren’t, which are the most common victims of near-strikes.
There’s nothing you can do to prevent lightning strikes, and whether it’s direct or near-strike, it can cause extensive damages, but creating a direct path to the ground will help alleviate the damages. With proper grounding, all metal parts of the array will serve as a direct path for the current, which can be the most effective way to reduce the damages.
Protecting Your Solar Panel Systems
One strike, direct or near-strike, can destroy your solar panel system, so you must have proper protection systems in place. In areas where lightning strikes are more common, companies that insure solar panels may even require you to have one before they can include it in your policy.
If you’re still planning to install solar panels, you have to ask your installer for lightning protection systems. If you’ve already installed your panels, ensure that you have these two:
As mentioned, the purpose of proper grounding is to create a straight path, or an easy way, for lightning to get to the ground. It’ll help you reduce damages to your system because instead of lightning reaching your inverters and controllers, it’ll reach the ground first.
You can’t prevent lightning, but there are a lot of things that you can do to determine its path. If you don’t have a proper grounding, lightning can jump from one path to another, and if one of these is your inverter, there’s a good chance that you’ll need a new one.
Here’s a disclaimer on grounding your solar arrays: it won’t guarantee that grounding will save your system from lightning, but it’s a lot safer to have a direct path to the ground than let the current flow through your inverter or controllers directly.
Another thing that many homeowners think will help them reduce the damages of a lightning strike are breakers and fuses. These will help you with surges, but not with lightning strikes.
Lightning moves fast, and it’ll take down your system in a few microseconds—so much faster than the time it’ll take for fuses and breakers to blow. Although both are essential parts of your solar array, they do nothing when it comes to lightning strikes.
A surge arrester or surge protector is another way to protect your solar panels. These are clamp-like devices that you hook onto the live wires, with a separate wire that goes directly to the ground. These devices cost at least $200, and most of the time, they don’t do anything, but when the voltage reaches a certain level, it instantly shorts the higher voltage.
In other areas where lightning is more common, you can also install a surge capacitor to protect your solar panel system. This device gives your AC line the ability to catch high voltage spikes that are too fast for surge arresters.
By doing this, you’re creating two protection systems for your solar array: surge arrester and surge capacitor. Sometimes, insurance companies will even require you to have both before they can add it to your policy.
Sure, installing surge arresters and surge capacitors can be costly, and they really do nothing aside from protecting your solar panel system from rare lightning strikes. However, if you consider the damage a lightning strike creates, you’d be glad to have both of them in place.
Solar panels don’t attract lightning, but there’s a chance that it’ll get hit, especially if you’re living in an area experiencing more lightning strikes. Regardless of how low the odds are, you won’t get a second chance to protect your solar panels.
It’ll only take one direct hit to melt your solar array and a near-strike to cause problems with your system. So, you have to be very careful in protecting your panels and ensuring that the damages won’t be extensive and devastating.
You can’t control or prevent lightning, but there are things that you can do to minimize damages.
- The Solar Nerd: Do Solar Panels Increase the Risk of a Lightning Strike?
- Brilliant Harvest: Can My Solar Energy System Be Protected from Lightning Strikes?
- Solar Power World Online: Lightning Protection for Solar Panels Protects Your Investment
- Quora: Does Lightning Strike Solar Panels That Are Used for Roofing?
- Solar-Electric: Solar Lightning and Lightning Protection
- Lightning Safety: Lightning Strike Probabilities
- IEEE.org: Quantification of the Probability of Lightning Strikes to Structures Using a Fractal Approach