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Old 03-19-2013, 09:42 AM   #1
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Failing Solar Panel?

I'm having some trouble with my solar charging system. My motorhome, in outdoor storage, has a large panel on the roof installed professionally 5 years ago. The controller has stopped lighting up for days. The fuses to the house and chassis batteries are good. I have no power coming down from the panel when using my volt meter. I changed the controller thinking it was the problem. I think the panel generates 218 watts and the new 30A controller can register amps down from solar and volts from batteries. The solar panel has a flashing blue light at one corner of the panel that flashes when working, I guess when working. After I installed the new controller it wasn't indicating any amps. coming down from controller but 11.8 volts up from the batteries. The next day I returned to the motorhome, to check, the controller was all flashing its lights and the amps coming down on this cloudy day was .8 amps and the batteries 12.3 volts but the battery charged was showing 1/2 full. The next two days the controller showed nothing lighting up and no amps. coming down. The blue light on the panel is no longer flashing. I want to flip over the panel to see if any wires are loose but the mounting brackets are screwed and glued down so I need to wait for a better day. Do solar panel go bad in 5 years or is it likely a wiring issue. I live in the northeast and weather is bad. Does anyone have any input for me in figuring out the problem. Thanks for any help. Jeff
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Old 03-19-2013, 10:25 AM   #2
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when i bought my rv last sept, i was unaware of the solar panels on roof, the po never mentioned it. after driving back and climbed to top, oh, bp solar panels!! in next few weeks my coach batteries were always dead at outdoor storage after fully charged. i dug into it and found the culprit - "SolarPro" controller was cooked (the manufacturer has long been out of businee). bought a new 20a mppt from ebay and installed, 8a charging were seen on a regular day; my batteries are always full at 13.2-13.7v now. according to po, the panels were installed in 2002 (11 years already by now), he didn't list it as a feature due to the fact it was not working

did you double check your controller? you can simulate the input with a car batt charger and a batt/12v light bulb as a load (pm me if you are not sure). although it seems like your controller is working per your description, just to make sure it is working consistently. the panels rarely fail unless broken. if the controller proves to be good, i would check wire connections the next. good luck in fixing it.
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Old 03-19-2013, 10:42 AM   #3
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Is it possible for a solar panel to go bad in 5 years? Possible but just not likely. Probably something else is wrong like the wiring. Maybe something got in there to chew on it or some moisture to mess it up.
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Old 03-19-2013, 10:43 AM   #4
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new controller installed
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Old 03-19-2013, 10:56 AM   #5
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Solar panels do have a life span, quality dictates it. I think first I'd check wiring and connectors from the roof to the controller.
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Old 03-19-2013, 11:07 AM   #6
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the lifespan of solar panels is a process of decreasing efficiency, over time in a very slow pace. generally panels are expected to function for a period of 30 to 35 years, most commercially available solar panels are capable of producing electricity above 80% for at least twenty years.
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Old 03-19-2013, 06:18 PM   #7
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Disconnect the solar panel at the controller. (you can throw a blanket over the panel if you are the cautious type)

Connect the multimeter - on the 50V range or close - and measure the open circuit voltage with good sunlight falling on the panel.

Should be above 17 volts.

If your multimeter has a 10 amp DC current range on it you can check the short circuit current. Should be several amps depending on how bright the sun is and the angle the sunlight strikes the panel. (if the sun is really bright and high in the sky then the output current will be more than 10 amps so if the meter goes overscale, disconnect it within a few seconds and consider that test passed.

If these values are in the ballpark, your panel and the wiring down is likely ok. If not then the back of the panel or the wiring down is the next to be checked.
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