6 Ways to Tell If a Home's Solar Panels Are Working Properly

Solar energy is a sustainable and cost-saving way to harness the sun’s rays to electrify your home. Solar panels are designed to fit securely on your roof and to be very durable in all weather conditions. For the most part, the system is worry-free and dependable if it is of good quality and installed properly.

However, there are instances when your solar photovoltaic (PV) system might not be performing as expected. There are ways you can check to see if the system is working as efficiently as possible with maximum output.

1. Keep Tabs on the Weather

It goes without saying that PV panels rely on clear sunny days to gather and store energy that is converted into electricity. Solar panels can work on overcast days but they will be at approximately 10% to 25% of capacity.

If you have been experiencing unusually cloudy weather for longer periods of time, this could account for less output from your system. You can check the mean number of clear and cloudy days per month on the National Weather Service website.

2. Examine Your Utility Bill

Your monthly electric bill shows you how much electricity you paid for to the utility company. While solar power can greatly reduce your electricity consumption from the grid, you may notice that this number is increasing. That could indicate that the system isn’t working as efficiently as it should.

3. Look at the Panels

If you can see the surface of the panels from the ground, observe whether they are shiny or dull. If the panels are dull, the solar cells could have a layer of dirt covering them that could affect their performance. While a thin layer of dust isn’t generally a problem, a buildup of tree sap, bird droppings, and lichen could be.

If the panels are more than 25 years old, you might be able to see signs of deterioration such as discoloration or actual damage. Climbing up on a ladder to inspect the panels is best left up to the solar panel professionals.

4. Inspect the Inverter

The inverter converts the direct current electricity (DC) that the solar panels generate into alternate current electricity (AC) that is used to power your home. The inverter has indicator lights to let you know how it is working. If the lights are flashing red, the system may need to be serviced due to a malfunction.

5. Read the Solar Meter

The solar meter monitors how much your system is producing in terms of kilowatt-hours. If the kilowatt-hours are increasing, your solar panels are likely functioning fine. If numbers are decreasing, this will indicate that your system isn’t producing enough energy and you will see less of a return on your investment.

6. Observe the Shade Pattern

Naturally, the solar panels need as much sunlight as possible to function properly. Shade from tree branches can cause the system to perform less optimally. Check to see that new tree growth isn’t compromising the ability of the sun’s rays to reach the PV panels.

This can also become a problem when a neighbor constructs a tall home or an addition that now casts a shadow across your roof panels. You may have to trim back overhanging branches or relocate the panels.