Lightning and Solar Panels: What You Need to Know

Yes, lightning can damage solar panels. In fact, it is one of the main causes of solar panel failure. Solar panels are designed to withstand a certain amount of electrical current, but when they are hit by lightning, they can experience voltage surges that can damage or even destroy the panels.

Lightning is a major concern for solar panel owners. Many people wonder if lightning can damage their panels and what they should do to prevent lightning from damaging them.

There are many misconceptions about lightning and solar panels. Lightning can damage solar panels, but if you know what to do, it should be easy to avoid lightning damaging your solar power system!

IIn this guide, we will go over what happens if lightning hits a solar panel and other ways lightning can affect your solar system. We will also discuss the safety concerns you should be aware of and what you can do to prevent lightning from damaging your solar panels.

Can Lightning Damage Solar Panels?

Lightning can damage solar panels because lightning is electricity. This means it has a large amount of energy that could cause physical harm to the system or destroy its components.

It may not happen immediately, but lightning might be able to shorten the lifespan of your panels over time if you are unlucky enough for lightning bolts to strike them directly.

What Happens if A Solar Panel Gets Struck by Lightning?

If lightning hits a solar panel, it can cause current to flow through the entire system and damage components such as inverters or wiring that is not lightning resistant.

If lightning hits your roof where you have installed solar panels, the electrical surge from lightning may travel down conductors into electronics in other parts of your home if they are not lightning protected.

The lightning strikes the roof of an apartment building.
Lightning strikes roof

If you have an off-grid system with batteries, lightning can damage the batteries or the system’s charge controller if lightning conductors are not installed.

There is no protection against lightning damage for solar panels that are connected to the power grid and consumers should take additional precautions such as protecting their main electrical panel with a lightning arrestor and surge protector.

A direct lightning strike can damage solar panels in a number of ways, including:

  • physical damage to the cell itself due to system overheating or ozone formation from the lightning strike
  • lightning may damage the equipment in your home solar system such as inverters or charge controllers
  • lightning can cause electrical surges that travel through wiring and into other parts of a building if not properly protected
  • shorts between cells that may cause visible electrical arcing on your roof and which leave black marks on damaged modules
  • lightning that is not directly hitting the solar panels can disrupt your system’s ability to function by creating electrical noise or voltage surges.

As you can see, lightning does impact solar panel systems. Solar panels are designed to work through normal conditions, but lightning poses a real threat for solar owners because it occurs very quickly and is incredibly powerful.

If lightning has damaged your solar panels, the best thing to do is to contact the company that installed them. They will be able to inspect your system and let you know if lightning damage has caused any problems for your solar panels or system.

Does Lightning Charge Solar Panels?

No, it does not. Although lightning has been known to charge solar panels in some cases, lightning is not what charges them since electricity doesn’t flow through the air very well.

The way solar panels charge has to do with a phenomenon known as electron excitation which causes the surface of a panel to become positively charged and this process can continue even after being struck by lightning or being exposed to high levels of radiation from thunderstorms.

This effect occurs because lightning strikes have been shown to cause changes in the upper atmosphere and lightning can charge certain particles in the air that then release this charged energy over a period of time after coming into contact with solar panels.

This is why lightning may cause some damage to solar panels since it might be enough to reverse polarity on one or more cells, though lightning does not actually charge them directly like typical household electrical wiring.

So lightning does not charge solar panels directly, but lightning strikes can cause damage to solar panels by causing power fluctuations that may be enough to reverse polarity on one or more cells.

Do Solar Panels Increase the Risk of A Lightning Strike?

No, solar panels do not increase the risk of lightning strikes because of the way they are designed.

Lightning will often strike taller objects such as trees or telephone poles before it hits a solar panel, so solar panels themselves do not increase the risks for lightning to strike the panels.

How Do You Protect Solar Panels from Lightning?

While lightning may damage a solar panel, a lightning protection system is available to mitigate these risks and protect your investment in solar energy.

Some companies offer a dedicated lightning protection system designed specifically for use with photovoltaic solar panels. These lightning protection devices protect the solar system from lightning damage by creating a low-resistance path for lightning currents to follow around your solar panels.

Grounding Cables

Green grounding cable routed through a grounding system.
Grounding cable

A grounding system is a safety measure that ensures lightning currents follow the path of least resistance and pass around the solar.

Grounding cables may be used with lightning arrestors to safely conduct lightning current away from sensitive components in your photovoltaic system.

A grounding system like this is designed to ensure the path of least resistance for lightning currents.

Lightning Rod

A large lightning rod on top of a roof.
lightning rod protecting roof

Lightning rods are normally composed of several pointed metal objects on top of each other and a grounding cable that attaches them to the ground.

A lightning rod is a conductive object that has been designed to attract lightning and safely direct the lightning strike. This means they must be more than merely highly resistant, or it will become likely for them to cause damage themselves by inducing high currents into any nearby equipment.

Lightning rods do not attract lightning, but they can safely conduct large currents away from sensitive equipment in your photovoltaic system during a direct strike.

In almost all cases of direct strikes, damaged components will be those which have been lightning rod protected.

Unlike grounding cables, lightning rods are designed to protect against damage caused by direct lightning strikes.

Lightning Arrestors

A lightning arrester safety device to protect a large solar array behind it.
Lightning arrester protecting solar array

A lightning arrester is designed to divert potentially damaging lightning currents from the protected equipment. It does this by presenting an extremely high resistance path while appearing as a very low-resistance path to normal current flow in lightning strikes.

In most cases of direct lightning hits, the damage will be contained within components that have been lightning arrester protected.

Unlike lightning conductors, lightning arrestors are designed to protect against damage caused by direct lightning strikes.

What Parts of My Solar Equipment Need Lightning Protection?

Inverters in particular would require protection from lightning in order for this not to occur and oftentimes they come equipped with such protections already.

Other components in your solar system such as switches and charge controllers would also require lightning protection.

Lightning arrestors and grounding cables are installed separately from inverters, but they may be used to protect the rest of a photovoltaic system.

It is recommended that all lightning protection systems be installed in accordance with the national electrical code and standards for safety when working with electricity.

Should the Inverter Be on During Lightning?

Inverters should never be plugged in during a storm. This is because inverters are very sensitive and can be damaged by lightning.

The best practice is to unplug inverters, but if you are worried about potential power outages (which inverters will prevent), it can be a good idea to invest in surge protectors.

If the inverter is plugged in during a storm, it’s possible that the inverter could explode or catch on fire because of a surge from lightning.

A set of solar inverters hooked up a large number of solar panels.
Solar inverter attached to solar panels

What Should I Do if My Inverter Has Been Damaged?

If you have an inverter that has been hit by lightning, you should unplug it immediately and call an electrician to see what can be done.

Depending on how much damage has been caused, inverters could either work again with minor repairs or need to be replaced entirely.

The most important thing to do following a lightning strike is to disconnect the inverter from your solar panel array.

Your inverter should be fine after it’s been disconnected for at least an hour, but you can always call an electrician if you’re unsure.

What Should I Do when Lightning Has Hit My Solar Panels?

If lightning strikes your solar panels, you might not see any damage at first glance. However, upon close inspection, you may find that some of the photovoltaic cells have become damaged and no longer produce electricity as efficiently as they should be able to do so.

Lightning damage can make solar panels unsafe, therefore you should first inspect your solar panels after a lightning storm.

If you do find damage then you need to repair or replace any solar panel that has been damaged by lightning as soon as possible.

A solar technician with white gloves inspecting photovoltaic solar panels with a multimeter type of device.
Photovoltaic solar panels being inspected and repaired

If lightning strikes your system causing damage, contact your installer immediately for assistance with filing an insurance claim and for information on how to proceed with fixing any damaged equipment.

There are many components to a solar power system, and lightning can damage each of them in different ways. With the right protection systems, your solar panels will be safe from lightning strikes that could put you out of business or even cause injury if they hit anyone nearby.

Final Thoughts

If you want to avoid lightning damaging your solar system, it should be easy with the different lightning protection systems available such as a grounding system, lightning arrestors, or a lightning rod.

Use surge protectors for inverters to be on the safe side. If you ever experience a strike, always disconnect the inverter and inspect for damage before reconnecting it. With these tips, your solar panels will stay safe from lightning!

We have provided some great tips and different options for protecting your solar panels from the dangers of lightning in this guide. If you are wondering if solar panels work in the rain or if solar panels get damaged by hail then we have other great guides for you!

Always remember safety first when working with electricity and keep in mind that when installing lightning protection systems, it is important to follow local codes and standards.

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