EMP threats and photovoltaic solar panels?

I first fell in love with PV solar technology in 2004. I’ve been answering questions from pioneering adopters and thought I’d heard them all. That was until I was asked, “If an electromagnetic pulse will affect my solar panels?”

I will attempt to answer this most unusual of questions. Upon further inquiry, I discovered this question came from current peak solar activity and more than unusual solar flare activity – ejected by the sun.

If super-massive coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were to direct hit the Earth, then this would bathe the planet and solar panels with electromagnetic waves! The question was valid, and so I set out to investigate the answer to this.

There’s a difference between CMEs and electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) which is a by-product of a nuclear weapons discharge and other modern-day weaponry if you believe the rumors!

There’s good news and bad news. The least likely occurring threat to solar panel technology could be a solar mass ejection hit, but likely to disrupt traditional power lines.

This is why putting critical infrastructure onto internet land is crazy!

The most famously known CME to hit the earth happened in 1859 and disrupted the telegraph system of that time. With today’s technology, a CME could cause many times the amount of damage to power lines and infrastructure. Smaller known CMEs have occurred in 1972 and 1989, and the good news is that photovoltaic solar panels weren’t affected during those times.

The cause of the damage comes from a surge in power to exposed lines and transformers when the unusually high volumes of solar particles charged the network. Therefore, if a CME were to hit PV solar panels, then the inverter that’s load-protected and fused would shut down automatically. If your inverter was specified correctly, then your inverter will be over-specified anyway.

The worst-case scenario will mean your inverter will blow a fuse and a simple fuse change will get your solar panels back to full working order. If the external power network is affected by outages, like those experienced by Quebec in Canada in 1989, then your photovoltaic system will automatically shut down to protect itself.

Once power company engineers have completed repairs, then it should automatically start up again.

For owners of solar heating panels and evacuated tubes then the same is true with the solar controller that’s protected by your home’s internal trip switches. No known issues are known to affect these types of solar heating technologies.

Impressively, satellite technology encompassing PV solar panels has been circulating our planet since the 1950s. These endure varying amounts of solar weather and most are still operational today.

I suggest these prove that you’ve nothing to worry about, but everything to gain when installing. A threat to your solar panels could be an electromagnetic pulse, but very unlikely. Returning to the original question, a small electromagnetic pulse occur naturally via a lightning strikes.

Like the lottery jackpot, you’ve got a minimal chance of coming across one. This issue brings us to human-made EMPs by modern weaponry. In the event, the affected area will see most forms of modern and delicate electronics damaged.

An EMP strike works by reverse magnetised and overheating nearby electrical systems.

In other words, your iPhone will be toasted! Solar panels are vulnerable to the EMP effect, but the real dangers are not from a direct strike, but from the indirect effects. The only way to protect your system is to incase the inverter inside a Faraday Cage, but protecting yourself from the indirect effects would be much harder.

Your photovoltaic solar panels should be OK, but your definite inverter is the one at risk!

The Faraday cage may help, but even then, fuses will require replacement. Even if your solar panels do manage to survive any future EMP attack or solar flare, other circuit-based technologies around the home will almost certainly not survive!

Threats to our modern age come in many varieties of ways. EMPs and CMEs are almost certainly at the lower end of the threat spectrum.

I can confidently say that investing in a PV solar panel system is still an essential way to future-proof. Over the last two decades, I’ve helped many thousands of people decide on a solar-paneled future, and I hear people say, “they wished they had installed sooner.” It’s all about becoming less dependent on increasingly expensive traditional energy.

The sun is your friend with solar panels on your roof.

Stuart Lovatt 2013-11-20