Failures on photovoltaic systems


The push for energy independence, the possibility of saving money and the increase in environmental awareness in recent decades has certainly contributed to a steady increase in the spread of PV plants that create energy from renewable sources.
Photovoltaic is certainly one of the protagonists, if not the main, given its extremely flexible nature to adapt to all situations: from the roofs of small private homes to large industrial complexes, exploiting land or shelters otherwise discarded or little used and so on.

A photovoltaic system is composed of a few essential components and although technology has grown up in this sector, especially in materials, it remains extremely easy to identify them. We have photovoltaic modules, composed by a series of solar cells, the inverter that converts the current from continuous to alternating, the transformer for voltage modification, the switchboards and other small components such as cables, connectors etc.

A proper preventive maintenance is important to keep the photovoltaic system operational, but despite this, faults and problems can always happen; let’s analyze three typical situations.

Failure of the photovoltaic module(s):
Failures to photovoltaic modules, affecting the entire module, or just some cells, do not imply the plant shutdown as they always affect one or only a portion of the photovoltaic system. The failure can be caused by a damage to the cells for hot spots or due to elements that cause dirt on the glass, causing temperature differences, or damage to the external structure, such as backsheet chalking. You may also experience minor damage such as damage to fuses and connecting cables.

The technician called on-site, once the visual inspection is completed in search of macro damages due to atmospheric agents, through diagnostic tools on the production and transmission of energy will identify the module that does not produce energy, will be careful to check all wiring the switches and fuses, and replace those that do not work or clean them or fix the loose ones. In the most serious cases it will be necessary to replace the whole module.

Problems and faults of the inverters:
The real heart of every photovoltaic system is the inverter. This component, as mentioned, is dedicated to transforming the energy of cells and modules into alternating current capable of being used by domestic and industrial systems. With the advance of technology the inverters are equipped with diagnostic displays that indicate the state of health of the system, what it produces and when action is needed because it is not performing properly. When anomalies occur, it is therefore easier for the customer to realize it (even better is to have a remote video surveillance system) and to take action with the maintenance service of the photovoltaic system.
If the inverter does not produce the right amount of energy, the main problems can be:
– A blown fuse
– A switch tripped
– Broken wires and / or connections
– Too high load

Not considering the possibility of breaking the inverse itself, as can easily be guessed from the above list, the other problems are easily solved by an efficient service of the photovoltaic system maintenance.
If the inverter is not producing the correct output, the technician will first use the voltmeter and dc ammeter to check and record the input voltage and current DC current level of the inverter. On the AC side, it will check the inverter output voltage and current levels. As mentioned earlier, many of these systems have a display that indicates the current inverter and system performance and, using this information, it will be possible, once the intervention is completed, check the current total kilowatt hour (kWh) and note this value compared to the one recorded during the last inspection.

Load related issues:
detecting low voltage or incorrect load is a symptom of a problem with the photovoltaic system. The specialized technician will take care to check with the voltmeter and other diagnostic tools that the correct voltage is present and identify the anomalies will proceed to check the integrity of the components such as fuses and switches. The cleaning of the components and the verification of the connections will be unavoidable as well as the following shutdown test and restart of the system to check if fuses and switches jump again once restarted.

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