When in comes to all things solar, I am a novice. I have a very basic set-up from Harbor Freight that is used for light duty power in my garage but other than that, I have a long way to go. So when I was asked the question, “Will solar panels survive an EMP?” I was stumped.
First of all, no one really knows what will or will not survive a massive EMP such as the type in the hugely popular book, One Second After. Second, and more to the point, I am not well versed on the technical side of electronics even though I am a techy nerdy type when in comes to computers.
Faced with a good question and no answer, I turned to my long time friend, George Ure, who I have known since 1971. George writes a popular news and economics column at UrbanSurvival.com is also the author of Peoplenomics. He is an absolute whiz at this stuff so I turned the question over to him.
George Ure Answers the Question: Will Solar Panels Survive an EMP? Speedway 53541 8 in 1 ... Check Amazon for Pricing.
The answer to EMP protection is fairly complex, as you might imagine.
EMP is a pulse of energy created by an atomic or chemical blast under highly specialized conditions. The easiest way to create it is to set off a fairly high yield atomic blast above the Earth’s atmosphere. Gamma radiation, upon striking the upper atmosphere, sets off the pulse which is about one-third the length (or smaller) than the duration of a lightning strike.
In the analysis of EMP damage, one needs to look not only at the device itself (the solar panel) but you also need to take into account the peripheral equipment and wiring. A solar panel itself may be inherently resistant to EMP to some extent. But, if damage occurs, it is likely due to the wires between the solar panel and (most often) the solar charge controller.
Another way of looking at it is to pretend that the system you are trying to protect is a complex network of components that might (in simplest form) look like this:
I’ve drawn three transparent areas to represent the three “antennas” that are commonly created by this kind of installation: ALLPOWERS Solar Panel ... Best Price: $142.33 Buy New $179.99 (as of 04:35 EDT - Details)
· Upper left: Solar panel to battery including the wire run from the panels, DC disconnect switch, wiring to the charger controller.
· Right: Wiring from the charge controller to the battery.
· Lower left: From the battery to the inverters (which turns the DC into useful AC power) and the inverter output wiring.
I have a fairly extensive grid-interactive system so I’ve installed multiple layers of protection. On the panel side I have transient voltage suppressors (TVSs) from the panels to ground. Next there is a network of TVS (actually 5 discrete devices wired in parallel across the battery bank) and then a serious (4,000 joule) line surge device on the inverter’s AC side.
Now, as to what’s going to “give” first (in the event of an actual emergency, eh?) that becomes anyone’s guess. What I can tell you is that lightning plays havoc (and is a very likely enemy of any off-grid installation, particularly in the South during spring tornado and thunderstorms).