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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?
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:
· 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).
About a year ago we had a serious lightning strike about 500-feet from our solar panels. The panels did just fine. What blew out was the AC grid-interactive control circuitry which is how I spent $1,200 to learn that my fancy inverter-chargers, while great in general (Outback power GTFX 2524’s stacked) they were no match for a surge of many hundreds of volts coming directly over from our neighbor’s house which takes off from the same power pole transformer.
You talk about turning ol’ George into a True Believer in the best surge protection you can afford! Making a major commitment to solar and keeping it online during [whatever] involves a number of subtle design attributes and your readers are wise to think of these up front.
If you’re looking at a couple of discrete panels and a small $200-class inverter and a few car batteries? Simply keep the charge controller in your metal (Faraday cage) garbage can and short the solar panel leads (not in bright sun, of course!) and don’t worry.
The Final Word
As I said at the onset, no one really knows what will happen if there is a catastrophic EMP. George’s answer is to get the best surge protection possible and don’t worry. Actually, when you think about it, if a huge EMP was going to take down the grid, we would have a lot more to worry about than our home-based solar setup.
Just thinking about it makes me want to eat chocolate.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Spotlight: 11 Steps to Living a Strategic Life: This little book will provide you with the motivation to get started or stay on track with a self-reliant life. 11 Steps to Living a Strategic Life, co-authored with my long time pal, George Ure (www.urbansurvival.com), and can purchased from Amazon.
Bargain Bin: Getting the goods you need to in place to be comfortable during a power outage when the grid is down can be daunting when you are just getting started. Always, start with food then branch out from there. Here is a list of some gear to help you along the way.
Ambient Weather Emergency Solar Hand Crank Radio: This is becoming a popular choice with Backdoor Survival readers. This unit is a Digital AM/FM NOAA Weather Alert Radio and a powerful 3 LED flashlight, with smart charger, all in one portable package.
AA and AAA Solar Battery Charger: Another popular item. This unit will charge up to 2 pairs of AA or 1 pair of AAA batteries via USB or solar power.
Tripp Lite Surge Protectors: You do not want to fry your electronics when there is a power surge. I have always felt that Trip Lite were the best surge protectors and even their most basic power strips are good. My guess is that I have 8 or 9 of these Tripp Lite SUPER7 Surge Protector Strips scattered throughout the house.
EcoZoom Versa Rocket Stove: Burning twigs and pinecones, this stove will cook a big pot of rice in under 20 minutes. The stove is solidly built and will burn charcoal as well. There is also a version that only burns biomass for slightly less money.
Coleman Rugged Battery Powered Lantern: This sturdy Coleman has a runtime of up to 28 hours on the low setting and 18 hours on the high setting but does require D cell batteries. Personally, I have both a battery operated and propane lantern. Of course by now you know that I like redundancy with my preps.
Dorcy LED Wireless Motion Sensor Flood Lite: Don’t let the price lead you to think this wireless flood light is wimpy. I have two of these (so far) and feel that these lights are worth double the price.
Chemical Lighting aka Light Sticks: These are inexpensive, portable and easy to use. These come in a number of colors so take your pick.
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