There is this wonderfularticle in Popular Science titled, “What could possibly go wrong withdrilling into a super volcano?” It was so funny and unfortunately, sotrue that it started the creative juices flowing for our solar blogs.While we hope that catastrophic, civilization-ending scenarios aren’t at the end of this page, there are a few bad things that can (and do)happen with solar panels from time to time and we thought we’d have alittle fun and talk about them … and like the volcano thing, all of this is a result of “stupid human tricks.” Treat solar panels right and they will be good to you for a very long time. Treat them badly and, well,bad things will happen.
The first big thing to know about solar panels is that they areactually kind of heavy. Today’s modules come delivered in pallets of 26pieces, typically and weight something near forty pounds a piece. That800 pounds or more per shipment. Certainly, you can’t lift that evenwith two or three of your drunken friends. Once they are set down on the driveway, that’s where they will sit until they are installed. Gettingthem up on the roof is actually a trick. There are all sorts of machines available to do this because dropping a panel is trouble.
When we say trouble, we actually mean … trouble. If it falls on you,you are going to the hospital for a while. Maybe you will heal and maybe you are going home with fewer parts than when you went in. A fallingsolar panel is heavier and potentially more dangerous than a medievalFrench guillotine. With the executioners blade, you would only be indanger if you were in it. Falling solar panels are trouble withoutboundaries. We won’t dwell on the sadness that is a shattered panel,even though it’s something over a thousand dollars that isn’t insured by anyone we know. Like Doritos, they’ll make more. Do take time to sweepup the glass off your driveway. Maybe do it a few times just in case you ever wash your car out there and forget your flip-flops.
Here’s a little fun fact. A broken panel from First Solar ispoisonous. Unlike silicon panels that are most frequently put up onhouses, the panels from First Solar (used primarily by Solar City) aremade up of Cadmium and other wonderfully toxic, heavy metals. Bust oneup and you’ll need to call the haz-mat team over for coffee andprotective suits.
Ever thought about putting a Radio Shack voltage meter on your solarpanels just to see what happens? Great idea, genius! If it’s daytime inPhoenix and you’ve got the thing set for ohms and aren’t wearing aprotective, high voltage suit, expect to burn the wires into your handsand leave an extra crease there for the rest of your life. It’s betterthan a tattoo but not nearly as interesting a story at your local bar(after you get home from the hospital … is there a theme running through this blog or is it just us?) These are power station components. Youwouldn’t mickey-mouse around with parts of a nuke plant, would you?Solar panels are “hot” anytime the sun is out. There is no OFF switch …none. Don’t play with them. Really, even if you know what you are doing … especially if you know what you are doing, don’t play with them. Wedon’t and you shouldn’t either.
Let’s say, you can’t help yourself. You just don’t like expert advice and you know best about stuff that you know nothing about (the wives of the world are all loving this), so you take the wires on the back of asolar panel and notice that there is a male connector and a femaleconnector. What would happen if you clicked them together? Oh boy! Haveyou ever jump started a car? If you connect the cables pretty fast,nothing happens … until you try to take the cables OFF of the battery.That’s when you see the sparks fly. Same with a solar panel … excepthere, the power is five or ten times as great as a battery, and thespark is a whole lot hotter.
Even if you do get the connectors apart without sending yourself tothe hospital (there it is again), the spark will damage the panel, voidthe warranty and turn the thing into a very dangerous fire hazard whenit’s installed, very likely resulting in burning down your house in thenot-too-distant future.
One of our favorite things that can go wrong starts off havingnothing at all to do with the panels. Let’s say you are baking beans inthe oven and simply forget that they are there. You go to the mall forStarbucks. On your way home, you see fire trucks and hear all sorts ofsirens and think it would be fun to follow them for a while, until yourealize that they are all going to your house.
You get there and the fire guys with their heavy equipment are up onthe roof with their great toys including the classic fire ax working toput the fire out by venting the roof with holes. It isn’t even the smoke that’s a problem, nor all the water that is now showering your couchesand TV’s, although these are the things that seem most problematic while they work on your house late into the evening. It turns out that thereal trouble is not seen until the next day.
While they were up there, they damaged your solar panels. In somecases, they may not have even known that they were there. Not only havethey cracked, dinged, nicked and put outright holes in your panels, they also nicked, spliced, frayed and yanked all the connecting wires. So …and here’s the incredibly stupid, good part of the story … when the suncomes up the next morning on your newly extinguished home, the panelsfire up again, as they do every morning, but this time, the wires areshorted and guess what happens?
Good guess, they start the house on fire … again. Only this time, itstarts in multiple locations. The roof is already compromised and thefire guys may just let it burn to the ground this time. Ooopps!
By the way, fire damage isn’t the only way to get frayed wires upthere. If your installer cheaped out the build and didn’t use metalconduit, squirrels, owls, rats and other varmints are all possiblechewing hazards. The more metal, the better for you over the long run.
Before we let you go, one last thing that could happen … well, not really, but we are trying to think of everything.
Some years ago, there was the TV show called “Northern Exposure,” where themain character kept losing boyfriends to all manner of incidents thatjust don’t happen to normal folks. She had one die from being hit by ameteor. In a dark sort of way, it was a very funny scene. Your solarpanels could be hit by a meteor, too. That would be bad. Now that wemention it, back in the late 1970?s there was a clause in homeowner’sinsurance policies that excluded falling space debris because Skylab asdue to fall out of orbit and no one knew where it was going to “land.”Turned out that it fell in the Indian Ocean between Capetown and Perth(which are a very long way apart from each other), but you never know.
So what could go wrong? Well … fire, hospitals, shattered glass,guillotine-like scenarios, electrocution, crazy uninsured expenses,burned down houses and general sadness. As we said, it’s not the end ofthe world, but it certainly could make for a very bad day in yours. Becareful out there, boys and girls. Let the experts handle the panels and don’t try any of this at home.