We’ve shared a lot about what to do to protect you and your loved ones during El Niño weather this winter. But what do you do if you’re one of our 200,000 solar customers and you’re worried about protecting your rooftop panels during high wind, hail and heavy rain?
This wasn’t a relevant concern 20 years ago, but a lot has changed since the last strong El Niño barreled through California in 1997. That year, PG&E had eight rooftop solar customers connected to the electric grid. We now have more than 200,000 solar customers and expect to have 600,000 solar customers connected to the grid by 2025.
For their first El Niño, the majority of PG&E’s rooftop solar customers — myself included — may be wondering what to do before, during and after the storm season to protect their solar panels. PG&E has outlined best practices for rooftop solar homeowners to ensure their panels are protected this winter season.
First off, don’t worry! Rooftop solar panels are designed and installed to withstand strong weather conditions. But keep in mind that a robust El Niño could mean a general reduction in solar irradiance — how much solar energy your panels are generating — by about 20 to 50 percent compared to last winter. This means it’s important to ensure your house is as energy efficient as possible ahead of the storm season.
Before the storm
- Review your rooftop solar contract to determine what is covered for maintenance and call your installer with any questions ahead of time.
- Confirm your installer’s emergency telephone number in case you need it.
- If you suspect any issues with your roof (such as leaks or weak spots), have a roofer come out prior to El Niño weather. They’ll be busy after the storms, so anticipating any problems could save money (and stress) in the long run.
During the storm
- If there is an outage, solar systems shut down automatically for safety reasons. When PG&E restores power, your rooftop solar system should re-engage automatically.
- Know that there is no risk related to lightning when it comes to your solar panels during a storm.
After the storm
- Check your panels. Is there any debris or leaves on the panels? If so, be sure to have a professional clean them off to ensure that your panels are performing at their best and to prevent possible damage.
- Check your panels’ solar production after the storm is over. If production is extremely low or zero during the next reasonably sunny day, it’s possible that the wiring for your solar panels could have been damaged. If this happens, contact your installer and request a service call.
PG&E’s meteorologists help forecast when storms will be most severe and potentially lead to outages, which is an important part how we plan, prepare and respond to natural disasters and emergencies, including winter storms.
Whether you’re a solar customer or not, PG&E offers many tips on getting ready for storms or other natural disasters at www.pge.com/beprepared.
Tim Fitzpatrick is PG&E’s vice president of corporate relations and chief communications officer. Follow Tim on Twitter @PGE_Tim.