Solar panels have incredible durability, with some lasting up to 30 years. Many factors do not affect them compared to other electrical devices. Therefore, you may get warranties of up to 30 years on the panel. However, one thing is bad news for any electronic device, an Electromagnetic Pulse or EMP.
This post will look at the impact of EMP on electrical appliances and whether it can affect a solar panel. What is an electromagnetic pulse? Will an EMP destroy solar panels? To find this and much more, continue reading.
EMPs have always naturally existed and arise from coronal mass ejections from the sun. Masses would be without power if a large solar storm were to hit the earth. Though the knowledge of EMPs existed long before, earlier generations did not worry about it.
This is because they were less dependent on electricity. If you depend less on the electrical grid, you are less vulnerable to outages and other interferences, like those resulting from EMPs affecting power lines. Let us consider some recorded incidences of EMPs in the past.
What is an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)
So, what is an electromagnetic pulse? An EMP is a brief spike of electromagnetic energy the induces current into various electrical gadgets such as power lines. EMPs have the potential of damaging electronic and electrical appliances. Electromagnetic pulses can originate from solar flares, nuclear detonations, and lightning strikes.
Average people can only experience nuclear EMPs through naturally occurring events like lightning strikes. You can protect your appliances from such events using power surge protection systems. However, coronal mass rejection is hard to safeguard against, although it rarely affects the earth.
The electrons from an electromagnetic pulse fall on a power plant or solar panel and cause a power spike-a spike in power fries electronic gadgets. However, most electromagnetic pulses do not affect people directly. They only cause harm when produced under extreme conditions, like the explosion of munitions.
History of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)
Carrington Event (1859)
The coronal mass ejection in September 1859 was the earliest electromagnetic pulse event. It was recorded by two British astronomers, Richard Hodgson and Richard Carrington, who described its effects.
They reported there was a white flash in the photosphere. In addition, a geomagnetic storm affected long-range communications. For instance, the telegraph systems went offline with their cables being overloaded.
The Manhattan Project
During the Second World War, there were many research and development projects. However, the Manhattan Project was the most destructive of all. The project was to develop and test nuclear weapons. Their first nuclear weapon to explode was Trinity Test. It was possibly the first human-created electromagnetic pulse.
The Atomic Energy Commission and the Defense Atomic Support Agency collaborated in July 1962 in conducting a high-altitude nuclear test. They launched a W49 thermonuclear warhead that was attached to a Thor rocket. They detonated the warhead about 900 miles outside the atmosphere. The project was the biggest nuclear explosion in the atmosphere to date.
The Different Parts of a Nuclear EMP
Nuclear EMPs have different parts. Its effects are also different in these parts. The effects are higher and more destructive in some parts than in others. Below are parts of a nuclear EMP.
- E1 (Most severe)
E1 is a quick component of electromagnetic pulse. It is an intense but brief electromagnetic field that delivers a high voltage to conductors and electrical gadgets. However, among all the components of a nuclear electromagnetic pulse, this is the most destructive.
It charges at a higher rate, rendering surge protection ineffective in protecting the electrical appliances and devices. E1 arises from the ionization of the atoms in the upper atmosphere by the gamma radiation from a nuclear attack. The effect is called the Compton Effect, and the current produced is called Compton current.
- E2 (moderately severe)
Gamma rays that are scattered and inelastic produced by the neutrons generate E2. It is an intermediate pulse that lasts for about a second after the detonation.
The component has many similarities with a flash of lightning. However, E2 induced by lightning is larger compared to a nuclear blast.
The good thing is that you can easily protect yourself from E2 with lightening protection. According to the US EMP commission, the problem is that E2 follows an E1. Therefore, the appliances that you may want to protect from an E2 would have already been damaged.
E3 differs from both E1 and E2. It is slower and can last for even minutes. The temporary distortion of the earth’s magnetic field causes E3 by a nuclear detonation. It is like a geomagnetic storm that is caused by a solar flare. Therefore, it can generate geomagnetic induced current in electrical conductors damaging components like computers and transformers.
How Does EMP affect Electronics?
There are three ways that an electromagnetic pulse can affect your electronics. Neither of them is better, but the extent of the impact may differ. The first one is because of the high electrostatic effects of an EMP.
If the electrostatic gradient of an EMP is high enough, it can destroy the semiconductors, a critical component of many electronics. To protect your appliances, a faraday cage can be an essential tool to have.
Second, the high magnetostatic gradient generated by an EMP is the other way in which your electronics can be affected. Unfortunately, a Faraday cage can not protect your electronics from this cause.
A high magnetostatic gradient creates a voltage difference between semiconductor junctions. Such a high voltage difference can damage your electronics because of over-voltage. An electromagnetic shield is vital in protecting your electronics from magneto-static gradients.
Third, an EMP can also damage your electronics by creating a significant energy surge. EMPs cause a temporary shift in the earth’s magnetic field. When the electromagnetic pulse is over, the magnetic field quickly returns to occupy the void that the EMP created.
The rushing back of the electromagnetic field induces voltages and currents that can end up damaging your electronics.
As you can see, in the event of an electromagnetic pulse, most of your electronic equipment and gadget would be at risk. These include things like a TV, radio, computers, and anything running on electrical power.
However, some electronics can survive an EMP. The impact of an EMP on electronics depends on the number of electrical components within it. For instance, the automobiles made before the 1990s have very few components that rely on electronics to operate. Therefore, the chances are high that they can survive an EMP.
But an electromagnetic pulse strike can render some of those vital electronic appliances in your life useless. These include power grids, computers, tablets, smartphones, diagnostic machines in hospitals, banking systems, and even that new solar electric SUV.
Within a matter of seconds, an EMP can cause enough chaos that can disrupt not only your way of life but can bring a country’s economy to its knees. If anything has a microchip, it has a low chance of surviving an EMP unless you have taken measures to protect it.
Will an EMP Destroy My Solar Panels?
Most solar panels can withstand the effects of an electromagnetic pulse. So, EMP protection for solar panels is usually not an issue. However, if you have a large array of solar panels, your solar power system is at more risk.
This is because an EMP can damage your inverter, charge controller, or wiring. There are no electronics on solar panels. All they have are silicon semiconductors (solar cells) and a junction box containing some diodes.
A solar array panel has no such thing as a circuit board that has delicate electronics. Therefore, the home solar system can survive an EMP strike. However, their output may reduce by about 5%. So, will an EMP destroy solar panels? NO, it will not.
As we said, the case differs from the other solar power system components. If you use a Lithium-ion battery bank like a Tesla Power wall, it cannot survive an EMP attack.
The battery system contains many in-built smart electronic devices. Therefore, you need to institute mechanisms to protect it from EMPs.
Other components that can be affected include inverters and charge controllers. Thus, solar panels are resilient, too, besides offering you renewable and clean energy.
Also Read: Best Solar Generators 
Non-Nuclear EMP Weapons
NNEMP (Non-Nuclear EMP) weapons are also commonly called radio frequency weapons. They are non-nuclear weapons that use high-power microwaves. They may also use explosively driven generators to produce an EMP similar to a nuclear weapon’s E1 HEMP. However, NNEMP produces low energy that has a short radius.
Contrary to nuclear HEMP, NNEMPs are terrorists, and some state actors easily exploit much readily available. They can fabricate them using design information and some parts that are commercially available over the internet.
Regardless of its strength, an NNEMP can inflict damage on an economy. For instance, using an NNEMP weapon against a transformer control substation having 100 EHV in the US power Grid systems says Texas, Eastern, and western can cause a protracted blackout nationwide.
The advancement in non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons technology has made them more miniaturized, lighter-weight, and robust. A drone or a warhead can deliver them.
To keep yourself powered, ensure that you have a backup power system. Solar power is the best. However, the battery used should have no electronic circuitry. The effects of NNEMP on a solar power system are like those of a nuclear electromagnetic pulse. Therefore, it is better to remain prepared.
EMP Protection for Electronics
As we have already seen, EMPs are the biggest enemy to your electronics. Although they are not frequent, it is better to be prepared and protect your appliances. One of the many reasons to protect your electronics is the financial loss you would incur in an EMP attack.
The following are the EMP Protection methods that can help your electronics survive an EMP attack.
Use clip-on beads made of ferrites.
Do you have an appliance that you must connect to power? To protect it from an EMP attack, put some ferrite clip-on beads on all the exposed cables. The beads are easy and inexpensive to install. In addition, they attenuate the high-frequency currents that are produced by the EMP.
For EMPs that cause a 200MHz-2GHz, use Type 61 (HF) ferrites as per the recommendation of NCC. They are made using zinc and Nickel and can protect your electronics from lightning EMPs.
Put the electronics inside a faraday bag.
A faraday bag acts as base-level protection for electronic appliances against damage from an EMP. Faraday bags house small electronic gadgets like laptops, mobile phones, radios, and tablets.
They cover a range of 10MHz-18GHz. Faraday bags protect your gadgets against electrostatic and electromagnetic energy. Nesting multiple bags together increases the defensive effectiveness of faraday bags that only protect your electronics against electrostatics. Faraday bags come in varying shapes, models, and sizes. Their prices vary depending on the quality of EMP protection.
Using a Faraday cage/ Container
A Faraday cage is a larger compartment where you can store your stock electronics. They are durable and offer more protection compared to Faraday bags. a Faraday cage comes in different sizes and shapes.
The faraday cage can hold a high electronic component like an offline server. In addition, a custom Faraday cage has backup power and other elements that ensure the survival of your electronic gadgets.
Other notable DIY protection methods against EMP attack include keeping your electronics inside a microwave and covering your electronics with a well-grounded tin foil. Unplug any electronic gadget from the power sockets.
Other Components of your Home Solar Grid
As we saw above, an EMP does not destroy solar equipment. However, things are a little different for your other solar unit infrastructure. These include things like batteries, inverters, charging controllers, and wiring. These cannot withstand the strength of an EMP attack and are damaged on such an occasion.
Therefore, it is vital to protect them using either of the above methods. In addition, powering your gadgets can become a challenge if you only have a solar power panel with a damaged solar power station.
Repairing your Solar System after an EMP
The strength of the EMP and its distance from your location determines the extent of the EMP’s damage and how you can salvage your solar power systems. Inspect the solar power systems after an EMP to see what you can repair.
- The components and wiring
Check for burnt components or wires by inspecting your entire solar system installation. Are there any burnt wires? There are high chances that the charge controller, battery, and inverter are also short-circuited. Replace the bunt wires and use a multimeter to check if the new cables are dead. You may need to buy or repair your inverter too.
- Inspect the diodes
Are they intact? If the diodes have not melted and are intact, they are most likely operational. Use a multimeter in diode mode to test them. A multimeter is a decent tool to have in your home repair kit.
- Keep some spare parts with you.
After an attack, it is most likely that your local electronics shop will not open. Ordering some spare parts online may take time before they are delivered if at all they will be delivered. Therefore, having backup spare parts is essential.
Buy multi-packs of diodes, solar cells, panels, and wires and stash them for emergencies. A car battery can come in handy in case of an EMP. It can provide temporary power as you repair the rest of the system.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the Consequences of an EMP Attack?
A successful nuclear EMP attack can cause a nationwide blackout of the power grid. Therefore, other critical infrastructure, like transportation, communication, water, and food that relies on the electric power grid, could shut down.
Depending on the shutdown, a large section of the society may die from disease, hunger, and starvation. The other impact is the financial losses that you incur after your electronic devices are damaged.
These include expenses like repair costs and even the costs of purchasing new equipment. In case of an EMP attack, The Power grid is affected. Today, many business processes like Point of sale systems and ticketing systems rely on power. Thus, in case of an EMP attack, they stall. These are also financial losses.
Will an EMP Destroy Solar Panels?
Solar panels have very few electronics that an EMP can affect. Therefore, there are good chances that the solar panels survive an EMP attack. However, other systems like wiring may not, and its effectiveness may decrease. Even in severe EMP attacks, your solar array can remain with a 90% effectiveness.
Does an EMP Permanently Destroy Electronics?
An EMP’s damage to an electronic device depends on its strength. However, simple electrical systems might not survive regardless of how strong the EMP is. A high-altitude nuclear EMP can destroy some electronics permanently, while you can salvage others. However, many are not salvageable.
Will an EMP Destroy Batteries?
All batteries can survive an electromagnetic pulse, so an EMP will usually not destroy batteries. However, some may have better resistance compared to others. For instance, some argue that a dry-cell battery bank has weaker resistance to EMPs than wet-cell batteries.
Batteries found in various portable devices have microcontrollers attached to them, making them highly vulnerable to EMPs. Therefore, we can conclude that batteries vary in their resistance to EMP.
Can Solar Flares Damage Solar Panels?
No, solar flares cannot damage solar photovoltaic modules either by IR/UV energy or power. The energy from the solar flares is attenuated by the atmosphere and magnetic field of the earth, reducing its power. Any remaining power is diminished which makes your solar power systems safe.
Will Solar Panels Survive an Earthquake?
Yes, solar panels can survive an earthquake. They are made to withstand various natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes.
With a direct hit, solar panels may not survive. Your structure may be damaged, but the solar energy system remains, another reason to shift to solar power.
There are many consequences of electromagnetic pulse attacks. However, a power outage is the main one. With the power outage, critical infrastructure like transport and communication comes to a halt. Therefore, you must take precautions to protect your electronics from these attacks. An EMP does not affect solar panels, making it a great power added to your home.
Having some spare parts and enough food is a great way to be prepared for a power outage resulting from an EMP. Use either of the above mechanisms to protect your electronic devices and avoid financial losses.
I’ve always been a lover of Mechanics and the engineering that goes on behind it. Naturally had a knack for fixing things and i’ve had lots of adventures that generators are second nature to me.