How to Test a Solar Panel: A Simple Step by Step Guide

Looking to test your solar panel? Whether you’re a homeowner with a new installation or a business owner looking for ways to reduce energy costs, this simple guide is for you!

We’ll show you how easy it is to test your solar panel and get an accurate reading of its performance in order to make sure it’s working properly.

How to Test a Solar Panel

To test solar panels may sound complex, but it is a simple test that checks for the most basic things. It gives you confidence that the panels are still working while providing you with a chance to check for physical damage.

Ideally, this test should always be done on new solar panels in direct sunlight to ensure that you have a proper system from the get-go.

If you are curious about how well your solar system is doing, testing your solar panels is an easy way to confirm everything is okay. Here is a simple guide on how to test a solar panel.

Understand the Type of Power that Comes from a Solar System

Before you test solar panels, it is important to understand the type of power that flows through a solar system.

There are two main types of electricity, which are AC and DC Alternating Current is (AC), and Direct Current is (DC). Direct Current flows only in one direction and is useful for low voltage needs, such as solar panels.  

When measuring the solar panel output, that is done in watts. This is because it is how most household appliances measure the power that they use.

The specific calculation you need to measure the output will require you to measure the amperage and voltage. With these measurements, the calculation is:

Amperage x Voltage = Watts

For more information check out our other post on understanding solar panel power. It will help you understand the technical jargon before you test your solar panel.

Measure the Amperage

To conduct your solar panel test, you will need a tester known as an amp meter. Using this device, you will measure the amp output of the solar panel by attaching the amp meter to the positive and negative terminals of the panels.

Ensure that the panel is in direct sunlight to get an accurate reading. Ensure that the amp meter you use has a higher rating than the maximum stated capacity of the solar panel.

Measure the Current

Next, you will need to measure the current of the solar panels. For this step, you will need a multimeter. With a multimeter, you will need to use it the right way.

If used incorrectly, it could damage the panels. Always check the instructions that come with the device before you use it.

The steps for using the multimeter the right way are:

Find the Converter Box

The converter box is located at the back of the solar panels. Once you find it, take off the cover to view the connections inside.

You will see positive and negative connections inside the converter box. Now you need to ensure that the panel is facing the sun.

To achieve this, tilt the panels so that they are facing an optimal direction regarding the sun.

Set the Multimeter to DC

When using the multimeter, ensure that the device is set to a higher rating than the volts that the solar panels are rated for.

For instance, if the panel has a 20 V rating, the multimeter should be set higher. Doing so ensures that you will get an accurate reading.

Connect Alligator Clips

Connect the red lead from the alligator clip to the positive connection, and the black one to the negative connection. When this is done, the multimeter will give you a reading of the volts produced by the panels.

The panels should have a similar read to what they are rated for or extremely close to that reading. If the panels you are testing have been in use for a while, the reading may be lower than that.

Before disconnecting the alligator clips, ensure that the multimeter is switched off.

Precautions for the Test

A solar system has numerous components that generate and conduct electricity.

When handling any part of this system, where electricity is being actively generated via interaction with the sun’s rays, it is important to take precautions to avoid injuries.

Even during low light, it is still possible to generate enough voltage to cause injury.

Some of the safety measures that you can take are:

  • Avoid wearing metallic objects when working with electric circuits
  • Do not touch live wires with a live negative wire
  • Do not short circuit the battery or solar panels
  • Observe the polarities of the batteries and solar panels, and ensure that the connecting wires are in the right position.
  • Before working with a solar panel, cover the top to avoid the risk of injury due to electricity.

Common Issues with Solar Panels

If you find that the solar panels are not working at optimal capacity, some of the causes could be:

Faulty Wiring

Faulty wiring could cause your solar panels to perform below optimal levels. For instance, if there are loose connections or corroded cables, you can call the electrician to check them.

Avoid tampering with the panels unless you are a certified electrician.

Cracks on Panels

The cracks on the panels can be so small that you miss them. However, the damage could grow with time due to weather changes.

These cracks usually occur from the start due to poor handling when moving. Always deal with professionals to handle the movement of your panels.

Hot Spots

Hotspots occur due to poor soldering of joints and dirt build-up. If the issue is not handled early on, it could affect the performance of the entire system.

Birds’ Nests

Sometimes, birds will form nests under the panels. They can damage the cables or scratch the panels.

To avoid these issues, use roof-integrated panels that do not leave gaps where birds can nest.

For more information, read our guide on solar panel bird damage in order to find out how to prevent it and also stop it if it is already happening.

Inverter Issues

While solar panels can last for up to 25 years, inverters usually wear out within 10 years. Thus, you should always check the inverter warranty to ensure it is replaced as soon as issues crop up.


Final Thoughts

Performing a simple solar panel test is the best way to ensure your system is running smoothly and catching any problems before they become too big. By checking for basic issues like physical damage, you can have confidence that your solar panels are still doing their job.

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