Innocent Snail Residue? Or Self-Destructing Solar Panels??
And thoughts on my snail trail experience with Suniva
Click here for more pictures of Suniva's trash.
There's a lot of junk on the internet - "scientific papers" about snail
trails. One must even wonder why it takes so much "science" to be able
to make a solar panel that doesn't self-destruct. After all, there's no
evidence of snail trails appearing in even slightly older panels, and you
know there's ancient space junk flying in extreme conditions without
a ton of smashed up cells on their panels.
There is one paper that I've seen which appears to be both straightfoward
and knowledgable. It is here. I think the guy that wrote this is
authentic. However, he does not go all the way to explain what these
defects mean and how they're related. Still, by following his lead and
having real-life experience with the problem, I think it is clear.
Why I think it is happening and what it means:
It seems to me that the dark marks on adjacent wires that appear in trails
are burn marks. The Suniva guys (you know the ones who don't want to do
warranty service) say that it's definitely not burned wires! It's
anything else! Some people claim that it is corrosion, but the slippiest
guys (like the ones at Suniva) describe it as a simple cosmetic change
or an innocent chemical reaction that does not affect performance.
"Simple cosmetic change" and "no affect on performance" (0.000000%??) are
two phrases that I can wholeheartedly say are NOT SCIENTIFIC.
But back to reality. I think they are burn marks. And they are appearing
on top of tiny cracks in that crystal-ish structure. Of course the cracks
affect the wires which are on top of them, and even the slightest bit of
electrical knowledge will let you know that the rate of degradation
in a defective wire grows, ending in connection destruction. And
that there's going to be some temperature issues as wire structure falls
below the required specs.
Regardless, there is a direct connection between the state of that
crystal-ish structure, the wire condition, and the stability of power
What I consider to be the first type of snail trail is a series of
marks on adjacent wires in a "trail". I think this is just the beginning
of cell self-destruction. Well, the beginning was really the micro-crack
created at cell production time.
(As an aside, it seems that certain companies keep photos of at least
SOME of the cracks in the panels that they are going to sell you! Don't
you wish you could have looked those over at purchase time?)
But this is just the beginning of what you start to see. And you know
that what you can see as regards wires generally affects performance -
particularly as you can see the different sizes of wires and circuitry
traces with the naked eye, and you know dramatic things happen when those
qualities are changed. But anyway, I say that the darkness of the wire
is where its malfunctioning creates heat that burns the plastic. Or if
you don't like "burns", how about "sizzles"?
Anyway, the next type of snail trail, which is what happened with my
panels, appears in the exact same spots as that of the blazing wires
aforementioned. This is where the "blue area" is darker for about a
centimeter around the burned-looking wires.
I believe the darker looking areas in the blue are just cooked. I suspect
that if you got some of that crystalish structure and cooked it, it
would probably turn dark like that.
I just say that this is a second phase, the same situation has gotten
Either way, the hot spots in each wire line up in a fashion such that
they highlight the micro crack across the cell.
The last situation is where there is VISIBLE cracking. Where Glen Morris
says it is "serious". But you see that the cracks appear in the
same place as the earlier patterns. Inside the patterns, in fact, and
clearly in the position of the micro-cracks.
In other words, damaged wires, the associated heat and other conditions
apparently cause the micro cracks to grow into huge, cell-smashing cracks!
And why wouldn't they grow? Doesn't the grand canyon get bigger in time?
As the cracks get bigger and bigger, the wires that sit upon them get
angrier and angrier until they fail. At some of the hot spots on mine,
at the wires there appears to be tiny pools of molten material.
What it comes down to is simple, so why even bother getting all
scientific on it? Do you want to buy a new technology product and have it
spontaneously crack up? That's generally considered an undesirable
feature for any product. Unless it is the varnish slowly crackling over
the span of a century on some fine woodwork. But it is certainly not
good for a solar panel!
If solar guys (like Suniva) sell cracking panels and then refuse to
quickly replace them without fighting over it, do you want to buy their
junk? They seem to think that if the industry stands up together to cram
cracking panels down the gullets of the public, that the public will have
no choice but to believe their "science" and take the industry's losses.
Further, I seriously doubt they've actually solved the problem, though
the solution seems so obvious.
As for me, I'm going to recommend buying older panels that don't have
these problems. If you want panels, that is. If you have cracking
panels, do what you can to get them replaced. Disreputable companies aren't
going to be eager to tell you how to test a defective panel in a way
that will satisfy their self-adjudicated warranty requirements. Instead,
expect some quack-science, authoritative statements, or curious notions
that someone stepped on the panel and shattered those cells.