Solar Panels And Cell Phones: What You Should Know

No cell reception

If you’re considering installing solar panels on your home, one thing to keep in mind is whether or not they will interfere with your cellular reception. Cell phone service providers use low-frequency signals to communicate with cell towers, and some solar panel designs can reflect those signals back into the house, causing interference.

If you’re worried about this possibility, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the likelihood of it happening. Talk to your solar panel installer about placement and installation guidelines, and ask your cell phone provider about their specific frequencies and what measures they recommend taking if interference does occur.

With a little bit of planning ahead, you can enjoy the benefits of solar power without sacrificing your cell phone service.

Will Solar Panels Interfere With Cell Phone Reception?

In general, solar panels installed on your roof can interfere with cell phone reception. This can occur because of direct physical interference or electromagnetic interference (EMI). While interference can occur because of these two, they are usually infrequent.

The first potential cause is fairly self-explanatory. Solid objects can interfere with cell signals when they are between you and the cell tower. Concrete, metal, and some metal-coated glass are all great at disrupting signals.

This is the same reason that your signal drops when you go through a tunnel or a valley. Get enough of any material between you and the tower and you will have a bad connection. 

When you have solar panels covering your entire roof, it adds more material for the signal to go through. This potential interference is decided by how close you are to a cell tower, where the panels are placed, how many panels you have, and where you are in the house.

The second potential interference gets a little more complicated. Solar equipment can generate EMI. Unlike the first type of interference, this one is not because of the panels. The power coming out of the panels is in direct current (DC), but everyday electronics run on alternating current (AC).

So your solar equipment needs a power inverter to switch DC to AC. EMI can be generated by that power inverter and the wires carrying AC out of it. When AC does what it is named for and alternates, it creates EMI. This interference then radiates outwards from the wire and inverter.

Thankfully, this is taken into account during installation, and both the inverter and the AC wires should be shielded. This makes this second potential interference source also unlikely.

Will Solar Panels Interfere With WiFi?

In some cases, solar equipment can interfere with your Wifi, but not in the way you might think. The panels themselves won’t negatively impact your WiFi signal. Instead, if the photovoltaic (PV) system is to blame for Wifi signal issues it will be due to the cables carrying AC electricity.

As mentioned previously, these cables will emit electromagnetic interference. This is a problem particularly when the cables are improperly shielded. In this case, the EMI is allowed to expand until mitigated by another material. If it comes in contact with your WiFi system it can interfere.

However, if your PV system is properly installed, the cables and inverter should be shielded. This will greatly reduce the effects of the generated EMI. If these cables happen to be near your WiFi router it is still possible for some interference however unlikely.

What is more likely to interfere with your WiFi is unrelated to solar equipment. Other sources in your home can generate EMI including:

  • Microwaves
  • Bluetooth devices
  • Radio devices
  • Other WiFi networks

In addition to this, physical barriers can interfere with WiFi signals. This means that the solar panels could theoretically interfere with your WiFi. The problem of course is that they would have to be between you and your WiFi router. So unless you are on your roof there’s no issue.

Is There A Way To Test If Solar Panels Are Interfering With Cell Or WiFi Reception?

To test for reception interference caused by solar panels, you can try various apps that have been developed. But the most accurate way to test is by asking your solar installer to use a spectral analyzer to detect any signal interference. These devices are available to the public if you prefer to test yourself.

Spectrum analyzers, whether in the hands of a professional or not, can detect the presence of signals across a wide range of frequencies. This will allow you to determine if the PV system is the cause of any interference you may be experiencing.

Since these EM signals can affect both cell and WiFi reception, this is the best option. Unfortunately, a spectrum analyzer cannot detect if the physical material of the solar panels is disrupting your cell signal. 

In order to detect this, your best bet is to take before and after readings of your cell signal strength. To perform these tests properly, it is important to understand that there are plenty of other factors that affect cell signals.

Other materials can affect signal strength as mentioned before. Heavy signal traffic in the area can also make a connection unstable. 

It is also important to note that the signal bars on your phone are not the best way to measure signal strength. Instead, there are a few apps you can use that test for signal strength in decibel milliwatts (dBm).

How Can You Improve Reception If There Is Interference?

Typically, if there is interference, the best way to improve reception is to mitigate the interference itself if possible. This won’t be possible with physical interference in most cases but can be possible with EM interference. Another option is to improve the strength of reception.

Throughout this article, I have mentioned the advantages of proper installation. This is one of the best ways to mitigate any potential interference. A professional installer will consider the chance for interference and do their best to eliminate it.

This can look like quality shielding around cables and inverters, mindful cable placement, or various filtering or suppression methods. 

If your PV system is already installed and you believe it may be the source of interference, have your system evaluated. Improper installation is readily apparent in most cases. However, installation mistakes can be expensive to solve depending on the issue. 

The other possible solution is strengthening your reception. This isn’t always possible of course. Some things to try include:

  • Reducing the number of networks
  • Switching WiFi frequencies
  • Relocating WiFi routers
  • Switch cell carriers

If possible, reduce the number of WiFi networks. Too many will interfere with one another. Switching frequencies can work if one is too crowded. Relocating the router will work if the interference is localized. Switching cell carriers should be treated as a last resort.

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