Solar panels can silently turn the sun’s energy into electricity, day in and day out, for an average of 25 years or more. Since there are no moving parts, and panels don’t require a lot of maintenance, you may be thinking, “How can I tell if my solar panels are working?” That’s especially true for older home solar power systems that don’t have built-in solar production monitoring.
A grid-connected, solar-powered home will always have electricity available, whether it’s coming from the grid or coming from your solar panels. If the panels stop working, then the grid just steps in to provide the power that’s needed. Unfortunately, that means your utility bill goes up, and you’re using less clean energy. (Note: Even solar-powered homes lose power during a power outage, but there are backup options available like solar battery storage.)
So what’s an easy way to tell if your solar panels are doing their job? With this article, you'll learn how to tell if your solar panels are working, and what to do if your solar panels stop working, so you get the maximum return on your investment.
How To Check If My Solar Panels Are Working
For those wondering, “Are my solar panels working?” it can be helpful to check the status of your solar panels on a regular basis, no matter their age. Catching issues early will help you get them solved quickly, and get back to being an energy producer of green, clean energy.
If you have a relatively modern solar panel system, it should send out alerts or notifications about its status if an issue is detected. (Solar homeowners with Palmetto Protect can get 24/7 monitoring by the Palmetto team, who can proactively alert you if something goes wrong.)
If you want to check on the status of your system to make sure everything is working correctly, we recommend performing these five steps:
1. Inspect Your Solar Inverter
The most common point of failure for any solar energy system is the inverter. This device converts the direct current (DC) electricity your panels generate into the alternating current (AC) power that your household uses. If the DC to AC inverter fails, it can appear as though your solar panels are not working.
Many inverters come equipped with status lights that indicate how the system is operating. Typically a green light means everything is good, an orange light means a potential issue has been detected, and a flashing red light indicates there is a problem with the system.
Possible issues can include overloaded or faulty wiring, failed micro-inverters present on the solar panels, and component damage from nesting birds, raccoons, and squirrels. If an issue is detected, you should contact a qualified solar technician to take a look at your system.
2. Examine Your Electric Meter
Your electric meter monitors how much electricity your home consumes. When you go solar, you should consume less electricity from the utility, because your solar panels will be supplying most of your needs. In the middle of a sunny day, if you participate in net metering and aren’t using a lot of power, some of that extra electricity might even flow back into the grid, and your meter will credit you for that excess energy production.
As a result, one easy way to tell if your solar panels are working is to check your electric meter during a bright, sunny day. If your panels should be supplying most or all of the power that your home needs, but the electric meter still shows that you’re drawing power from the grid, there’s likely an issue with your solar installation.
Some solar installations will also have a solar meter that measures how much electricity your photovoltaic (PV) panels have generated and displays essential information for the homeowner and solar installer to review.
The key data point on the solar meter is the total kilowatt-hours your solar panels have created. This number should always be on an upward trend during daylight hours because your panels should always be generating some electricity. If the total kilowatt-hours aren’t increasing, that’s a good indication that something is wrong with your solar power system.
3. Review Your Electric Bill
One of the top reasons most people install solar panels is to lower their electricity bills. If your solar panels are working, your utility bill should be less than before you had your system installed.
The amount you pay each month can fluctuate, as it depends on how much power your residential solar system generates, compared to what you draw from the utility grid. However, you should still see a reduction from pre-solar bill amounts. Thus, if your utility bills start getting high again, it’s likely that your solar panels are not working as they should.
4. Check the Weather
The amount of electricity that your PV system generates depends on the amount of sunshine it receives. This is especially true when you consider the day-to-day weather forecast, long-term seasonal effects, and overall climate of the area where you live.
If you notice that your power generation has recently fluctuated outside of established norms, you might have simply endured a recent stretch of bad weather.
We recommend consulting with historical trends and future projections for weather in your area, to better understand how your solar panels will create electricity for your home. Start with the number of peak sun hours your home should receive consistently, and then adjust for seasons where more daytime cloud cover might impact your panels.
You can also review historical trends in a production monitoring app like the Palmetto App to compare current production rates to previous years.
5. Remove Any Obstructions
Anything that blocks sunlight from hitting your solar PV panels can lower their efficiency. Even just a small area of shade can impact the entire panel. Possible obstructions include tree branches, dust, dirt, bird poop, and more.
Our recommendations for removing obstructions and cleaning your solar panels include:
- Trimming overhanging tree branches once a year
- Spraying the panels with water from a hose once a month
- Deep cleaning your panels with soap and water once a year
What Should I Do If My Panels Aren't Working?
If you discover that your residential solar panels are not working properly, you need a plan of action for how you are going to tackle the problem. Before picking up the phone to call for solar panel maintenance (“Hello, my solar panels are not working…”) you can perform a few quick checks to further diagnose the issue:
- See if a circuit breaker tripped on your electrical panel.
- Restart your inverter, as this can sometimes clear out any faults in the system.
- Take a look at your wiring to make sure nothing looks damaged or out of place.
If everything seems to be working correctly, your next step should be to contact solar service professionals to come out and troubleshoot your system.
They will analyze your system for faults, and complete any necessary repairs. A thorough checkup typically includes a comprehensive investigation of the solar cells, inverters, wiring, mounting hardware, and any other solar technologies and attached equipment. The solar technicians can also verify how much power you are producing, address system vulnerabilities, and more.
Make Sure Your Solar Panels Are Working Correctly
You deserve maximum performance from your solar power system, but as with any other form of technology, problems can happen. If you think you might have an issue, you can conduct a minor checkup of your solar panels to see if anything obvious is causing drops in performance. While restarting the inverter or cleaning your panels can sometimes be enough to get your system working again, they're not always the answer.
If the solar company that did the original installation is no longer in business, Palmetto is ready to help with your solar panel upkeep so your electric bills remain low. With our Inspection and Check-Up Report, we will review the current status of your solar PV system, diagnose any issues, and make the necessary repairs to get you back up and running as quickly as possible.
For ongoing solar service, our Palmetto Protect plan is designed to give you the peace of mind you need, and know your solar panels are working correctly and reliably generating electricity for your home.