What you need to know about solar power hail damage
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Rough weather, from hurricanes to blizzards to high winds, is a major risk for solar panels. Out of all the types of extreme weather conditions, hail is of the utmost concern for many homeowners looking to protect their long-term investment.
This is because the impact of hail is very direct and damaging to solar panels on rooftops. The sound of hailstones falling on the surface of solar panels may make you cringe in horror (insert money flying away emoji), but we’re here to provide you with some peace of mind.
Fortunately, severe hail storms are uncommon around the country and most solar panels can withstand a good amount of light-to-moderate impact. According to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study, the chances of hail damaging solar panels is less than five percent.
The chances of incurring solar panel hail damage are very low, but never zero.
For people living in areas prone to receiving hail every year, such as Texas, Colorado, or Nebraska, it is helpful to understand what exactly happens to solar panels when exposed to hail. This information can help you decide on what measures to take in protecting your solar panels during these extreme weather events.
Hail consists of solid ice, which falls from the sky like rain or snow. Hailstones are created when moisture is quickly pushed upwards in the clouds during an updraft. These conditions bring hot and cold temperatures together. As a result, the tiny water droplets freeze and form round, solid hailstones. Heavy thunderstorms generate big hailstones due to the intense conditions that come with the rough weather.
Though, it is not the size and weight of hailstones that you should be worried about. Instead, it is the speed at which hailstones travel that is a knee-shaking concern.
Hail travels at speeds between 10 miles per hour (mph) and 75 mph. Because large hailstones travel at faster speeds, they can cause more damage to solar panels.
Well-made solar panels are protected by a thick layer of tempered glass that can tolerate a substantial amount of hard impacts (we’ll get into how solar panels are tested for impacts later). Tempered glass is known to withstand moderate hail and comes with a high safety rating so that it can be used outdoors for many years.
Reports surrounding hail damaging solar panels after a heavy storm are mixed. Some homeowners report no damage, while others highlight the presence of small cracks and scratches on the surface. Even if external cracks are minimal to none after a hailstorm, the module’s internal solar cells and components could be damaged by the impact of hailstones hitting the surface.
So what happens when cracks appear on the surface of solar modules after a hailstorm? Damaged solar panels with cracks on the surface will still work. However, these abnormalities can cause solar production to decrease. The panel may not operate at maximum efficiency, output, or voltage. If 15% of the cells inside the panels are damaged due to hail, the unit would achieve 15% less peak voltage. You can easily test this by taking a voltage measurement of the broken panel.
If you catch the issue early, it is less likely that cracks will result in damage to internal components or affect performance. That’s because cracks can cause water, moisture, or debris to get trapped inside the panels over time, which can cause the panel to malfunction or fail prematurely. A cracked surface may also generate hot spots, resulting in fires or permanent damage to internal components.
Not all external cracks will result in reduced performance, though. In some cases, the damage is purely cosmetic or only on the surface.
Hail is a problem for photovoltaic (PV) modules because most warranties do not cover damage related to hailstorms. For solar warranties that include hail under the “environmental factors” category (which is rare), the scope of the coverage is limited to specific conditions or events.
The takeaway here is if you live in an area that is prone to experiencing hail, such as the Midwest, it is highly recommended to check whether the warranty covers hail damage and the extent of the coverage.
If your solar panel warranty does not include hail damage, you would have to look at your homeowner’s insurance for coverage.
Most standard homeowner’s insurance covers solar arrays on rooftops. However, it is still important to verify whether hail-related damage to rooftop solar panels is protected by your homeowner’s insurance under the dwelling section of the policy. Be as thorough as possible and check if hail is included as a “covered peril”. This section of the policy cites the different types of damage covered by your homeowner’s insurance.
Additionally, make sure you are comfortable with the coverage limits in the event your solar panels need to be replaced or repaired due to hail damage. If the coverage limit is low, you have to raise the limit which comes with higher costs. Costs vary, depending on the rates of the insurer.
If your insurance does not cover solar panel hail damage, you would need to extend the policy or purchase a separate one to receive coverage. Extending or purchasing an insurance policy usually comes with added costs on top of your current homeowner’s insurance rate.
As mentioned earlier, most homeowners’ insurance includes solar panels installed on rooftops. If your solar panels are mounted on the ground or installed on a carport at your residential property, the more likely you’ll need an add-on or separate policy for the system. This is because the solar panels are not directly attached to the home.
If your solar panel installation is under a lease or power purchase agreement (PPA), you shouldn’t have to worry about protecting the system from hail damage because you do not own the panels. However, you should still verify whether hail is covered under the terms of the lease or PPA and understand how the responsible party remedies such damage.
Solar panels are tested extensively to withstand outdoor locations and rough weather. When it comes to hail, the folks at Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) provide hail impact tests and certification for PV modules under the UL 61730 rating. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has its own version of these tests under IEC 61730. The main difference between the two is jurisdiction. UL markings apply to North American markets, while IEC is for international locations, making it a global standard. You’ll likely see a mixture of both markings on solar panels.
Solar panels with UL 61730 or IEC 61730 markings are resilient to most hail storms across the U.S. Solar panels that pass these tests can withstand between one inch to three-inch hailstones traveling at 16.8 mph to 88.3 mph.
According to the map below, areas between Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska experience hail storms with two-inch stones. Outside of this zone, the probability of encountering these types of storms is moderate to low.
Image source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
When looking for top-tier solar panels that can withstand hail, look for UL 61730 or IEC 61730 product certifications. As established above, these standards indicate the solar panel has been tested for hail impact and can withstand between one inch to three inches of hailstone ice balls traveling at 16.8 mph to 88.3 mph.
Knowing your solar panel passed these tests can give you the confidence you need during a hail storm. These tests take time to complete and cost thousands of dollars. Manufacturers in the solar industry know how important these tests are. Therefore, it makes sense that only top-tier solar panels from a leading manufacturer will have proper performance certification for hail testing.
High-quality modules made by a reputable solar panel manufacturer utilize durable materials and construction. These companies usually go out of their way to acquire performance certification and testing for their products.
Below are some solar panels with high safety ratings:
Temporary solar panel covers are one of the most effective ways to protect your system from hail damage. There are two types of covers for solar panels: hard shell and padded covers.
A hard shell cover requires special mounting to keep the shell in place. The advantage of using this type of cover is that it does not absorb rain or moisture. Hail storms may also bring rain, therefore, a hard shell cover is a great choice for protection.
A padded cover is softer and more flexible than a hard shell. This type of cover helps dampen the sound of hailstones hitting your panels.
Note: Carefully consider that while your solar panels are covered, they will not be generating solar power from the sun. Hence, you shouldn’t keep them covered for a very long time. Remove the temporary covers when the hail storm passes and the sky clears up.
You don’t have to cover your solar panels during every thunderstorm or hail storm. After all, most high-quality panels have been tested to withstand light to moderate hail. Exposing solar panels to periodic, light hail every year isn’t likely to result in damage. If you live in an area that receives heavy hail, with stones larger than two inches, it makes sense to proactively cover your panels for protection before the storm.
Inspect your solar panels after a heavy hail storm for damage. This is also a good time to remove any debris, small branches, or leaves that may have fallen on the surface during the storm. Check the surface for any small cracks, as well as the frame for any dents.
You don’t have to inspect your solar energy system after every hail storm, especially for light to moderate events. If you notice that your system is generating less power or isn’t working properly after being exposed to mild hail, then you should assess the panels on the rooftop and check for any cracks or inconsistencies on the surface. For extreme hail, it’s a good idea to check the solar panels after the storm has passed.
If you find any cracks, dents, or broken parts take a picture of the damage. This will help streamline your insurance or warranty claim and serve as evidence of hail damage. Although very tempting, avoid opening the panel or applying adhesives to the surface. These actions could void your warranty and make filing claims difficult. In these cases, simply leave the solar panel in its current condition and wait for a solution from your insurance company or warranty provider. They will likely either replace or repair the broken panel.
Hail yes! You should consider installing solar panels on your home even if you live in an area that experiences hail storms.
However, if you live in Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, or Illinois you should take extra precautions in protecting your solar panels. These states have the highest rate of hail-related insurance claims, which means individuals reported some form of hail damage to their homes.
Make sure hail damage is covered by your homeowner’s insurance or solar panel warranty if you do decide to install solar panels on your rooftop. If you’re expecting heavy hail storms with two-inch or larger stones, it would be worth buying temporary covers to protect your solar panels when extreme hail storms come around.
Solar panels manufactured by reputable companies can withstand a hefty amount of hail and light to moderate impacts. Stick with the best brands for peace of mind. Dig into the specifications when choosing solar panels for your home to find products with hail damage and weather ratings.
Check out our list of top brands to find and compare high-quality solar panels for your home.