Solar Maintenance Blog

How to Diagnose Solar Panel Problems in 5 Easy Steps

January 16, 2020

Because most homeowners install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels for the financial savings, the most obvious way to determine whether your panels are working is to look at your utility bill. If this month’s statement is significantly higher than last month’s – you know something is wrong.

It makes intuitive sense.

But this strategy is actually one of the worst ways to see if your solar panels are working properly or not – for several reasons:

  • You might not receive your next utility statement for many weeks. And if your solar system is malfunctioning, you could spend a fortune waiting to find out.
  • Solar generation potential varies throughout the year – thanks to seasonal fluctuations and the sun’s changing position, you can even see major differences from day-to-day.
  • Utility rates are in constant flux, meaning that higher spending could be an accurate reflection of higher prices – not solar performance dips.
  • Monthly utility statements only tell what you feed into the grid – and not how much solar electricity your system generated for use within the home.
  • The solar electricity that you do send into the utility network isn’t always itemized – making it difficult to truly analyze the health of your PV system. 

Worst still, even the most detailed and accurate utility statements can’t tell you what your solar production should be. A consistent bill, for example, might just mean your PV system is consistently underperforming and failing to deliver potential savings.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look at your utility bills periodically. But these statements can’t alert you to underlying problems – nor can they help you fix them.

Fortunately, it’s possible to eliminate any and all guesswork with the 5 DIY tips below. These cover the most likely reasons why your solar panels are not working – and how best to resolve these issues on your own.

Step 1: Check Your Breaker Switches

Don’t you hate it when you call tech support and they want to make sure the computer you’re trying to troubleshoot is plugged in and turned on? It’s insulting. But these support reps have to ask because an “off” PC is one of the most common reasons why a user’s computer isn’t working.

How to Diagnose Solar Panel Problems in 5 Easy Steps | Stable Solar

The same goes for breaker switches – i.e. the tiny fuse boxes that manage your home’s electricity flow.

Surges, glitches and overloads can trip these switches – preventing solar electricity from charging appliances or going into the grid. However, switching them back to the proper state is usually enough to fix the issue.

Not sure how to find your breaker box or which switches to look at? Call us for free at (866) 737-2328, and we’ll walk you through the steps over the phone.

Step 2: Check for Obstructions

How to Diagnose Solar Panel Problems in 5 Easy Steps | Stable Solar

Because solar panels need direct sunlight to generate power, it’s important to keep your panels free of anything that might impede this production, including:

  • Trees whose recent foliage may be blocking out light. If this is the case, you may need to cut back some branches.
  • Accumulated dust, debris and pollen that can slowly build up over time and prevent sunlight from hitting your PV panels. Here are some free tips for proper solar panel cleaning.

You should also scan for obstructions under the panels too. Nesting mice, birds and other vermin can damage your PV system’s components – leading to lower energy production. So it’s important to clean out any droppings and debris. And it’s also a good idea to install a pest guard to prevent infestations from happening in the future.

Step 3: Check Your Solar Inverter

How to Diagnose Solar Panel Problems in 5 Easy Steps | Stable Solar

Nearly every PV installation comes with an inverter that turns the direct current (DC) electricity from your solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity for your home’s appliances.

  • If your solar inverter’s light is steady and green – it’s working. And there’s nothing you need to do.
  • If your inverter’s light is yellow, red or flashing – there may be a problem. To be sure, you can call us at (866) 737-2328 for a free diagnostic phone call.

Step 4: Inspect Your Solar Meter

How to Diagnose Solar Panel Problems in 5 Easy Steps | Stable Solar

Solar meters are responsible for logging your PV system’s energy generation in real-time. And this allows you to compare historic production data against current data to spot anomalies. For many homeowners, solar meters represent the first (and only) line of defense against lost savings.

But what happens if your meter stops collecting some or all of this energy production data? Be sure to visit My Solar Panel Meter Is Not Working for a free 3-step checklist that can help you quickly identify and fix issues.

Step 5: Install Solar Monitoring

If you have a working solar meter and remember to check it periodically, you should be able to catch most performance issues early on. But you have to remember. And you also need to keep track of past data to place current solar production numbers in the proper context.

For the average homeowner, this type of diligence isn’t always practical.

How to Diagnose Solar Panel Problems in 5 Easy Steps | Stable Solar

A better approach involves installing solar monitoring (or fixing your current monitoring setup). At Stable Solar, for example, we provide our customers with comprehensive solar service & membership plans that:

  • Run silently in the background, tracking your PV system’s production in real-time
  • Allow you to access this performance data from any computer or smart device
  • Analyze your historic generation data, local weather conditions, and what your neighbors are generating to determine the health of your solar installation
  • Send out alerts when your PV system’s production strays from its normal baseline

Our solar monitoring solutions can even let you know if your PV installation is “stable” but well below what similarly-sized systems in your geographic area are producing. This allows you to intervene and configure your system for optimal savings.

All of these monitoring benefits are automatic if you enroll in any of our Solar Service & Membership Plans.

How to Diagnose Solar Panel Problems Before They Impact Your Savings

The checklist above will help you resolve 80% of most solar-related issues. And it’s a good idea to run through these steps periodically since dust accumulation, pest infestations and tripped switches are all inevitable over the 20 to 25 years of your panels’ warrantied lifetimes.

But if you’re truly interested in protecting your clean-power investment, solar monitoring represents the simplest and most hands-off approach for diagnosing when and why your solar panels are not working. Once set up properly, solar monitoring can track your PV system’s performance and send out alerts when intervention is necessary.

To learn more about our comprehensive solar service & membership plans – or to have us troubleshoot an issue not on this list – contact us directly using our contact form.

Solar Service Membership Plan

For less than $10 per month, Members receive:

Monitoring and regular monitoring reports
Initial system analysis and detailed performance report
Discounts on service visits, system upgrades, cleaning and other services

Lead Magnet - Solar Panel Maintenance Checklist

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