Can You Overload A Solar Panel?

Solar panels are a great technology to harness the sun’s power for use as energy. It’s efficient, cost-effective, and less harmful to the environment than coal-powered electricity. They can have various applications in telecommunications, remote power grids, and appliances while reducing the use of fossil fuels.

There’s an important question in having solar panels that every owner should know:  Can you overload a solar panel? Overload, also known as impedance, is possible but it’s not the kind of problem or trouble you would think. To “overload” or “impede” a solar panel means blocking the flow of the current. Your appliances may slow down and the device may not work well, but the panel itself won’t sustain any damage.

Because solar technology is newer, it’s important to understand how they operate. It’s a lot of technical jargon and scientific know-how but you will better grasp what to do when certain problems arise.

Understanding Solar Panel Operations

Solar panels contain several individual cells made of silicon, phosphorous, and boron. This allows them to absorb and convert sunlight “photons.” These photons, or energy particles, transform into usable power by way of an inverter.

Inverters are an important aspect of solar panels and how they operate. When the sunlight is first converted, it comes as a direct current (DC). Inverters change DC into an alternating current (AC), used by most appliances and electrical systems in homes and businesses.

Solar panels involve a process called the “Photovoltaic Effect.” When the panels absorb the photons, its components launch an electrical current, hitting the surface of the panels and allowing for electron release. The phosphorus provides a negative charge while the boron gives a positive charge. The electrons are then put into a field of electricity, produced by the cells, which then takes free electrons into usable power.

Is Overloading Solar Panels A Bad Thing?

Rainy days, the winter months, blackouts and other natural disasters are when collected solar energy can be a lifesaver. But sometimes, you will have more than what’s needed and this is where impedance can become an issue. It may be necessary to reduce, store or divert the energy to remove the blockage so the current increases into the load.

Having your solar panel overload isn’t a bad thing though. In fact, you want the panel to be able to take on a greater amount of energy than what the inverter can handle. The worst that will happen is the panel stops working and slows down power dispersed throughout the system.

Knowing what to do about excess energy incurred from solar panels will help save you money and frustration down the road. Be sure to explore all options that coincide with your budget, needs, and location along with local, state, and federal regulations.

Excess Energy is a Terrible Thing to Waste

There are some ways you can ensure excess energy doesn’t get lost and wasted. Although a basic list, you should do your own research since different areas offer different programs for crediting excess solar energy. Contact a solar professional, electrician, or your utility company to answer any questions you have and maybe provide assistance to you.

  • Give/Sell It To Your Local Power Company
  • Store The Excess
  • Use Shade To Limit Excess

Can Solar Energy Be Given Or Sold To Power Companies?

It is possible to sell excess solar energy created by your system back to your local electrical utility, this is called “net metering.” This is where you can get credit for excess energy because it’s put back into the electrical grid.

I go further into unused solar energy in this article: What Happens To Unused Generated Solar Power?

Although easier, it may not be the most ideal since only 19 states in the US have net-metering programs. Some places do not allow this option at all and others limit how much you can put back into the grid.

The main problem with net metering is how it changes profit models for utility companies. Until there is a way to meet both consumer needs and utility company profits, it’s unlikely legislators will alter regulation any time soon.

Store The Excess

Storing your excess energy is the most cost-effective and easiest method because you can save it for days when sunlight is low or during a catastrophe. Today, there are many ways you can store excess solar energy:

  • Battery Bank – Some systems come with a battery bank which will allow the inverter to divert any excess. But there can be problems with overcharging the battery and may result in the bank not working when you need it. Overcharging can damage the battery due to gassing and loss of electrolytes.
    • To prevent this, invest in a charge controller, called a “solar regulator.” Solar regulators observe maxed-out batteries, stop the current flow, and can prevent “back-feeding” at nighttime. Back-feeding of a solar panel is what causes a battery to flatten, thereby preventing its usage later on down the road.
  • Flow Batteries – This operates in the same way as fuel cells used in the aerospace industry. By utilizing quinones, the flow battery converts excess sunlight photons into fuel which is then converted into power for some later time. Quinones, often found in plants like rhubarb, are notorious for recharging with high efficiency and are a renewable source.
  • Molten Salts – When capturing the sun’s rays, heat can go into thermal tanks by incorporating molten salts. This allows for vast amounts of extreme heat to be stored without changing the state of the salts.  They can last a long time as salt is famous for its heat-retaining properties.
  • Hydrogen Conversion – This method is still under experimentation but there are promising results. You can store the excess with water to turn solar radiation into methanol, a common power source.

The Future’s So Bright, You Might Use Shade

Limiting the production of solar power may be your only option.  Even though this may be a solution, it isn’t recommended. Unfortunately, it can be costly and you may not have as much energy as needed if weather becomes unfavorable or, fate forbid, a blackout.

What about using shade to limit excess solar energy creation?

You can limit production by using shade to your advantage. Anything blocking the solar panel can reduce collection and production by up to 50%.  Clouds, fog, and trees can block the sun’s interaction with your panel.  But if that’s not available, you can makeshift a contraption you can move and adjust over the panel from time to time.

Try Adding More Solar Panels

Increasing the number of panels can save a decent amount of money and reduce overload issues. More panels help the inverter by running more efficiently and this can help make up for most of what’s lost. It’s possible to do this because most panels hardly ever produce more power than it’s capacity.

There’s one caveat though, the inverter size must be constant. So, you may have to tinker with some kind of simulation program to get an appropriate analysis.

Take caution though, some places may limit the inverter size to five kilowatts or less.  This can ditch the whole oversizing option for you altogether depending on where you live and what the regulations are.

Renewable energy is the wave of the future and having solar panels is one of the most popular ways to reduce using fossil fuels. Understanding solar panels and how they operate will help combat unforeseen problems. This will not only save money but also keep your home or business powered with the least amount of grief.

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