Can Solar Panel Survive EMP: Pro ideas to protect the panel
Solar energy is one of the most frequently growing green energy alternatives to fossil fuels in the modern world. Besides, it helps cut down the cost of electricity and is reliable too. Scientists are hoping to make the electricity generation process mostly carbon-free in the near future. They are mostly looking for more advanced technology so that solar energy can feed the huge demand for energy worldwide smoothly. But is there anything that the systems are considered protecting from? Well, of course! Rain, storm, flood, etc., won’t make a solar PV system out of order. But some things like lightning, thunder, and natural happenings like that can. This article is to discuss all that.
The survival rate of the solar panel and especially the system depends upon the intensity of the EMP strike. Hopefully, the panels themselves are less likely to get affected. It’s the other electrical parts of the system that get damaged in general. In most cases, they survive if proper safety measures are followed. After an EMP attack, the damaged one can be fixed too.
Let’s check the details!
What is EMP?
Electromagnetic pulses are brief impulsive bursts of electromagnetic energy. It can be natural as well as artificial. This huge wave of energy acts like a giant moving magnet, and it causes an abrupt, massive flow of electrons resulting huge current flow.
That cannot just damage any electrical or electronic device but can burn them to ashes. The impulse may vary for different sources. But all of them cause huge electrical surges. Each one is enough to destroy your devices. Solar panels are no exception.
Different kinds of EMPs and the worst one for your panel
Lightning is the most common reason/source of EMP. A lightning strike can be both direct and indirect. Indirect strikes are a comparatively more common phenomenon. A high voltage difference is created if lightning strikes anything connected to the system or any nearby object.
That creates an electromagnetic induction resulting in a huge induced voltage in the solar system. This is enough to break down the panel’s semiconductor and destroy the other components like inverter, batteries, meter, etc.
The extremely high voltage may cause sparks and even flame. Direct lightning strikes are much rare but much destructing. If a flash of lightning hits the panels directly, it can melt them immediately and also destroys the other components connected to them. So, lightning damage is devastating for the system.
If your system’s material is high-quality and installed by efficient installers (they provide lightning protection, too), the risk is really low. Grounding the system with proper precautions and installing surge arrestors are the most general lightning prevention methods that are often used in many other cases of lightning safety.
Coronal ejection/Solar flares
Solar flares mostly ionize the upper layer of the Earth’s atmosphere and cause radio outrages. Also, solar flares and solar storms emit a high burst of x-ray and UV rays. Solar flares are powerful. But these demonic rages of radiation are mostly handled by the atmosphere itself.
So, when the slow coronal mass ejection hits the Earth, there’s nothing to worry much about. Yes, your electrical devices and power grids can get damaged but not to a great extent. It may damage the diodes, which can be repaired later. And in the worst case, it affects the functionality of the inverter, batteries, and other components.
Most solar panels come with in-built solar disruption management. Even if it doesn’t, the inverter shuts itself down when it risks its functionality. Mostly you may have to replace your fuse.
Nuclear EMP (really!!)
Nuclear war is something to fear as it can even bring an apocalypse! Wait, WHAT!! Why should we even think of that? Well, that may seem ridiculous, but if you bother thinking about that, then I must say nuclear EMPs are the strongest artificial EMP. It can remove a whole city from existence before the citizens even realize it. Then think about what it can do with your solar PV system.
But, it has different phases, and all the phases aren’t equally harmful. As I said earlier, a nuclear weapon’s first and most immediate pulse is devastating. The extreme heat waves just wash everything away.
The second phase is more like lightning. So the effects and safety measures are just like I previously said. And the third or the last one is a slow-moving EMP that induces a great amount of current slowly in the long conductors. This can harm the grid and all the power equipment and turn them off.
If you ever have to face a thermonuclear war, you’ll have greater problems than this. Your innocent system can never survive the first pulse, and if you live outside the reach of the most immediate pulse, lightning safety measures can save your system. And the third phase is mostly like coronal mass ejection.
Is it possible to fix the damaged ones?
Solar panels contain diodes in them (You know, the main components!). So, unless the diodes are melted and destroyed, the system hopefully is still functional. After an EMP attack, you should first check the diodes.
You may use multimeters for that purpose. If the loss isn’t too much, then you can consider replacing the useless ones. Then test the other components. Find the burnt wirings. Check the inverters, batteries, etc.
If you find any component short-circuited, consider fixing them (there are experts!). If they are already dead, replace them (You may keep spare parts already piled at home for safety purposes). Replace the burnt wirings. Replacing the whole panel is quite costly. So, if you consider repairing the damaged one, then it will be pocket friendly.
Can you protect the panels from it? How?
If yours is a standalone system, then you’re already much safer. The larger the whole system is much more it is susceptible to damage. The on-grid systems are connected to many other systems. So, if one of they are affected, then yours too isn’t safe.
In the case of an on-grid system, you should rely on military standard construction or EMP hardened panels. And the simplest but most effective enough thing to do is disconnect your system when there’s any possibility of your system being struck by some EMP.
Once you disconnect it from the grid, it can be considered a standalone system. We’ll discuss some other ways to protect your system here. But remember, each of them only reduces the possibility of damage to a significant rate. Nothing ensures 100% safety.
Grounding is the most common, practical, and easy method to protect solar panels from lightning. It is a method of diverting the path of the huge induced electricity and sending it to the Earth. The grounding circuit contains wires that offer less resistance and thus more conductance.
So, the extra electricity always chooses the bypass path without harming the solar panels. If your locality is a thunderstorm-prone area, then grounding your panels is a must. You may construct the grounding system while you are installing a new system. For old systems, some experts can install grounding to your old system.
2. Surge arrestors
You can install surge protectors on your device. Surge arrestors are devices that protect electrical devices from over-voltage due to external or internal phenomena. Ensure the device is connected to both ends of the panel/system. It is also connected to the ground.
Surge arrestors generally have a low impulse ratio, so they send the electrical pulses directly to the ground instead of to the electrical instrument. Though it is not a very good option for a direct lightning strike, it provides good protection against indirect strikes.
This only protects against sudden electric surges and has nothing to do with continuous huge electricity flow. There are different types of surge arrestors of different abilities. You have to choose the suitable one for your system.
3. Faraday cage
Faraday cage is nothing but a metal envelope that protects everything encased within it from any kind of electric charge. A metal envelope doesn’t always mean a solid metal case. Rather traditionally, it’s a cage made of fine wire. You can make it yourself, or you’ll get to purchase one. Installing it is a very easy task.
You just have to ensure that any part of the metal envelope isn’t touching the equipment inside. It won’t work otherwise. This provides really good protection. But it only works in case of electromagnetic surges, so it won’t resist the gamma-ray bursts of nuclear weapons or any other radiation that can harm your devices. Instead of it being a reliable option for EMP protection, it has some drawbacks that make the option quite impractical.
Imagine holding the whole system in a metal cage! Yeah, the whole system as encasing only some components on just the panel ain’t going to work until they are connected. You have to disconnect the equipment inside the Faraday cage from every other instrument to make it work.
In brief, you have to electrically isolate it completely. That’s quite impractical. And even if you do that, then the envelope will reduce the irradiation received from the sun by the panel. So, there will be less energy generation than normal.
4. EMP-hardened solar system
Using military-grade components will reduce the risk of damage to a great percentage. So, you may buy military-grade components and use the EMP-proof wiring. The military generally uses such wiring to defend their vehicles and other things to be safe from potential attacks.
Using military-grade wire to wire the whole system will make the system hardened and safer. They won’t get fried easily. You can purchase other pieces of equipment that are military grade. Like, you’ll find a military-grade inverter and military-grade generator toughened to have a greater survival rate.
EMP-proof solar generator and inverter
Some parts are more likely to be damaged than others. It needs only one wire exposed to the huge electrical surge to start the damage. The wires connecting the blocking diode and the charge controller, charge controller and batteries, batteries and inverter, and the output wiring of your house are the most susceptible to getting attacked.
Several brands offer EMP protection for their solar power equipment. An EMP-proof generator is a common thing. An EMP-proof inverter isn’t that common, but you’ll definitely find some. If you install EMP-hardened components, you’ll know that they can withstand a direct hit, and now you have to protect only the wires. You can purchase TVS or line surge devices for that purpose.
Is it really worth worrying about EMP?
That’s a great question! To know this, you must first know how common an EMP is. About lightning, you can see, it depends on where you live. Some areas are really thunderstorm prone.
And for an on-grid system, it’s not very rare to face the problem due to lightning strikes. Still, a direct lightning strike is a really rare case. And if your area isn’t that likely to have a thunderstorm there, then there’s nothing to worry about.
About coronal mass ejection, it gets very much softened while passing through the uppermost layers of the atmosphere, and it can’t harm your system much and isn’t worth worrying about. Also, this is a quite rare phenomenon. So, yeah!
And in the case of nuclear EMP, as I previously said, if the world is unfortunate enough to get to witness one thermonuclear war, then there will be much more severe and frightening problems to face than regaining the power.
If you want to get extra security, even if it’s rare, there’s nothing bad. I’ll rather encourage your spirit and appreciate your concern. After all, prevention is always better than cure! And it takes nothing much, just being a little more conscious and careful. At the end of the day, you will receive the benefit of a little extra care if anything bad happens.