How does salt exposure affect solar panels?

solar near sea

Do solar panels work when they are exposed to saltwater or salty air? The answer, while not always clear-cut, is that the damage caused by these elements depends on how long the solar panel stays wet and/or exposed to salty air.

In this blog post, we will discuss what happens when you expose your solar panels to saltwater and/or salty air as well as some ways you can prevent it from happening in the first place.

Are solar panels sensitive to salt water and salty air?

Yes, solar panels are sensitive to salt water and salty air. Because salt can corrode solar panel components, leading them to malfunction or stop functioning altogether.

Here is how salt may affect your solar power system:

Corrodes components

Long-term salt exposure to solar panels will corrode the metal in the panels. It is mainly due to the fact that salt is an electrochemical conductor, which means it's good at conducting electricity.

This corrosion can impair a solar panel’s performance and efficiency over time because the electrical properties change as the metallic components are eaten away by corrosive ions in salty air or water.

The effects of this corrosion depend on how long your panels stay wet and/or exposed to salty air:

Short-term exposure:

If you keep your solar panels dry for most of the year but they're occasionally exposed to seawater during storms or high tides (e.g., if you live near the ocean), then short-term contact with saltwater won't cause any significant damage to them unless there was physical trauma from smashing waves against them while submerged underwater.

Long-term exposure:

If your panels are exposed to salty air or water for long periods of time, then you may see a gradual decrease in the amount of electricity they produce.

solar panel corroded

Intermittent contact with salt water can be just as damaging as regular (daily) exposure even if it's only during certain times of the year when storms and high tides make this type of direct contact unavoidable.

The damage will depend on how often the panel is wet and/or exposed to salty air per month.

Encourages algae growth

Saltwater can also create an environment that is conducive to algae growth on the panels.

algae growth on solar panels

This can be a particular problem if solar panels are not cleaned on a regular basis since algae will keep growing and will eventually block the panels from catching the sunlight.

How does salt affect solar panel's performance?

Salty water splashed on the solar panels or brought by the winds makes a significant decrease in the production and efficiency of a solar power system. Researchers in Indonesia studied the effects of salt deposition on solar panels' performance.

They have applied seawater on a group of solar panels imitating the situation of an off-shore installed PV module. They have also tested the identical type of solar PV module configuration in normal conditions (no saltwater applied).

According to the output measurement results, there were significant differences in output and efficiency. In three days, the average output power difference between normal and salt-doused PV modules was measured as 1.3778 Watt, and the efficiency difference was 0.948.

Given that the tests were administered over a three-day period, this figure is very significant. This study shows the difference gap between the two test groups increases by spending more time in salty environments.

What are the implications of saltwater and salty air exposure?

Solar panels become less efficient as they spend more time in both saltwater and salty environments. This means your solar installation does not using its equipment properly, which can lead to a much lower production each month.

How to protect solar panels from salt exposure?

The best way to keep your solar panels from the adverse effects of salt is to keep them away from saltwater exposure. 

Avoid installation too close to salty water

Avoid installing solar panels too close to salty water such as sea level coastal homes with nearby lagoons, bays, or other bodies of water that could flood during high tide events; install no closer than 200 meters from the coastline.

Don't store equipment near salty air sources

Do not store equipment near salty air sources like beaches and ports. Avoid storing solar panels right next to any oceanfront property where they will experience constant exposure; keep storage area at least a few hundred feet away from these areas 

Seal & coat to maintain them well

If you live in a coastal region, there are precautions that can be taken to help protect against corrosion due to high levels of salinity in the atmosphere or sea spray.

These include installing a protective coating on the surface of the panel, adding an anti-corrosion film over any metal parts, and using silicone sealant to prevent moisture intrusion into electrical connections.

Use the dedicated type of equipment

To protect your PV solar panels from these corrosive conditions, you should use modules that meet the IEC 61701 standard for salt mist resistance. The IEC 61701 Standard outlines test sequences used to measure the resilience of various PV solar panels against corrosion from salt mist containing Cl- (NaCl, MgCl2, etc.).

The IEC 61701 standard defines six levels of corrosion resistance. Level one indicates that the panel is ok with a little salt mist now and again, while level six is the most strict and indicates that the panel is ideal for use on docks, lighthouses, and boats.

Test level 6 is required if your solar PV system is directly on the beach. The positive results of the IEC 61701 standard tests confirm that the tested PV solar panels can be used safely near the sea, where there is a high salt content in the air, and in solar PV systems near highways, which are loaded by saline water spray during the winter.