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Old 02-27-2019, 08:20 AM   #1
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Hail protection for flat-mounted solar panels

For those of us who have conventional solar panels (not flexible), here is another accessory that I'm noodling on right now - a shield that could be deployed quickly in the event of an incoming hail storm, to provide a little bit of protection.

Here in greater Houston, we have had hail 2 times in the past 5 days. Our Interstate has been exposed to hail at least a half dozen times prior to this week. The only thing that saved about a thousand dollars’ worth of solar panels on our roof is that, to date, the hail has not been large enough to crack the glass.

Remember – most panels mounted on vans are roughly horizontal. Hail hits them square on, full force. They are not like residential panels that are mounted at 30 degrees or whatever, and so the hail glances off them as a result. Near-miss events are cues that non-miss events might occur in the future.

Saturday's hail event was noteworthy because of WHAT ELSE happened simultaneously - namely the downing of a Boeing 767 jet (the Amazon Prime crash) in the same area.

My husband would confirm that, when that hail started falling, I EXPLODED off the couch - we have a skylight in our kitchen, it is very obvious to us when hail is incoming.

The Interstate was in our driveway, so immediately I started pulling radar images to see what we were in for, to gauge whether I needed to get the mover's blankets out of the garage and throw them over the top of the panels, or what? Was it going to be serious enough, as hail goes?

As I looked at the computer, I said to LB_3 something like, "What the hell is happening here?! This draft is not showing up properly on the radar feed - it is, like, only a hundred feet wide or something? Or what??" It was a highly, highly localized shear.

And then the jet went down. Could be a coincidence. Could be not.

Anyway, that kind of severe weather is a fact of life in the deep south. I figure we've now had enough near-misses on hail damage that I should be a little bit better prepared. Our solar panels are vaulted and strapped to our roof rack, and so perhaps I could make a roll of a thin but semi-rigid vinyl, strap it to one side of the roof rack, and quickly unfurl it over the panels for some measure of protection from hail.

Something like that - something maybe just a tiny bit better than nothing. I'm still working on ideas.

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Old 02-28-2019, 06:52 AM   #2
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There are products designed to protect vehicles. This one gets surprisingly good reviews on Amazon. It inflates to produce a bubble and has 3-way power options. Interestingly, it includes a phone app to warn when hail might be incoming.

It's too elaborate for what I want, though. The glass panels are more fragile than the sheet metal and (I think) more likely to get damaged by a wider variety of hail events. I'm just looking for a quick, easily-deployable measure. Something that is slightly better than nothing.

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Old 03-02-2019, 07:35 AM   #3
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I love little brain-teaser hobby projects like this. It keeps me off the streets and out of the dive bars and rowdy nightclubs.

Latest thoughts:

After reviewing the hail protection protocols for the specialty agricultural sector, it occurred to me that the poly mesh products they apply to protect greenhouses and other fragile equipment from hail are very similar to the CGear Sand-Free mat that I chopped in half because I didn't want to spread the whole thing in front of the van door - the one I bought was too large for our needs.

This is only half of a Sand-Free mat. The other half is still sitting in my garage:



That other half is danged near perfect for an application like this. It is:
  1. Weatherproof
  2. Light weight
  3. Does not catch the wind because it's an open mesh
  4. Does not get water-logged and heavy because it's an open mesh - water, like sand, runs through it
  5. UV stabilized
  6. Already paid for
  7. Coordinates with with what is already in the van.

We bought our own welder back when we made our custom hitch carrier. My latest thinking is that I can fabricate some simple brackets that bolt onto the underside of the solar panels' 8020 frame, such that I can cut the remaining CGear mesh to size and create a "hammock" to be placed here when the risk of hail is high. That is analogous to what many growers do with greenhouses.

I have to be careful with the bracket design, though. Whatever I put here can't cast shadows onto the panels. Because as Handy Bob taught us so well (even though nobody has heard from him in years now), even a small shadow can have a large deleterious impact on solar panel efficiency. Maybe I need to make them able to hinge to horizontal or somesuch, to get them out of the way while not in use. I'm still working on that part of the design.

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Old 03-02-2019, 09:05 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InterBlog View Post
Research:

There are products designed to protect vehicles. This one gets surprisingly good reviews on Amazon. It inflates to produce a bubble and has 3-way power options. Interestingly, it includes a phone app to warn when hail might be incoming.

It's too elaborate for what I want, though. The glass panels are more fragile than the sheet metal and (I think) more likely to get damaged by a wider variety of hail events. I'm just looking for a quick, easily-deployable measure. Something that is slightly better than nothing.


I want one of these "whole vehicle" airbags in urban camouflage print. Pull into a stealth parking spot, deploy, and they'd never see you.
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Old 03-02-2019, 09:25 AM   #5
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What about a derivative of this?

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Old 03-02-2019, 11:27 AM   #6
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I laughed when I saw the Carolina Tarps because that is such an issue of contention in greater Houston. Those things are required on trucks, but being a type of fabric, they get damaged and go missing frequently. And then all hell can break loose among other drivers, because of the potential for rocks and debris to be thrown from the trucks. The cops will jump all over a missing tarp.

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Old 05-10-2019, 07:10 AM   #7
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My schedule has not allowed me to do this mod yet, and I'm kicking myself. Yesterday morning I took the rig from our house to our storage facility so that I could clean the tanks (we have water, power, and dump facilities there), but I'm planning to get right back on the road within 72 hours, so I drove it back home with it, rather than putting it up.

Around 6 p.m. I got nervous. I've lived in Houston for almost 30 years and I know how things are here - the air did not look right, did not smell right. So I drove the rig back to the storage facility and got my daily driver. When my husband got home, I told him, "The Interstate is in the garage, power is on, fridge is still full of food and running, all my clothes are personal things are still in it. But I have a bad feeling and I can't leave it here tonight."

Our subdivision was apparently hit by a small tornado about 5 hours later. There are sections of new fence that are not knocked over - they are gone, transported from the subdivision to some unknown new location. Among the debris in the streets is a large-screen patio television, apparently plucked from under a patio, detached from the wall, and flung into the street. I don't know what can do that other than rotational winds (there's nothing in the news about it yet because damage is widespread across the entire Houston metro, and a lot of areas are being investigated).

And this was the third time that we've had hail just since I decided I needed a hail protector for the solar panels. I need to make time to do this (she told herself).
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Old 05-10-2019, 07:17 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InterBlog View Post
My schedule has not allowed me to do this mod yet, and I'm kicking myself. Yesterday morning I took the rig from our house to our storage facility so that I could clean the tanks (we have water, power, and dump facilities there), but I'm planning to get right back on the road within 72 hours, so I drove it back home with it, rather than putting it up.

Around 6 p.m. I got nervous. I've lived in Houston for almost 30 years and I know how things are here - the air did not look right, did not smell right. So I drove the rig back to the storage facility and got my daily driver. When my husband got home, I told him, "The Interstate is in the garage, power is on, fridge is still full of food and running, all my clothes are personal things are still in it. But I have a bad feeling and I can't leave it here tonight."

Our subdivision was apparently hit by a small tornado about 5 hours later. There are sections of new fence that are not knocked over - they are gone, transported from the subdivision to some unknown new location. Among the debris in the streets is a large-screen patio television, apparently plucked from under a patio, detached from the wall, and flung into the street. I don't know what can do that other than rotational winds (there's nothing in the news about it yet because damage is widespread across the entire Houston metro, and a lot of areas are being investigated).

And this was the third time that we've had hail just since I decided I needed a hail protector for the solar panels. I need to make time to do this (she told herself).

Wow, glad you are ok. It pays to go with your gut sometimes. While I was reading your post about the weather turning bad, I thought it was due to a fear of hail. That's bad enough, but even a small twister is worse.

We caught the tail end of the storm down in Corpus Christi. 4.5 inches or rain, but we escaped the bad winds to the North and the predicted hail to the West. Good thing, because I have no covered storage for my Avenue.
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Old 05-10-2019, 07:28 AM   #9
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Broken solar panels are probably cheaper to replace than aluminum roof panels.
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Old 05-10-2019, 07:45 AM   #10
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Ours is a van, so there are no aluminum roof panels. And we have an elastomeric coating on it, which might help a bit with small hail.

Our solar panels are very specific to our build, and they are not manufactured any longer - they are the original Grape Solar 100 watt monocrystalline high-efficiency panels of an aspect ratio that fits our space perfectly. If we lose them, we have nowhere to go but down, tech-wise. That's part of the reason why I am focused on building a hail shield.
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Old 05-11-2019, 09:23 AM   #11
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I'm in Oklahoma, and had to keep my Interstate outside before I sold it. Last year an EF0 dropped down on one side, took out a tree about 50 yards away, went back up and came down on the other side of the van about 20 yards away and took down another tree. The van wasn't even scratched.


Every time a severe storm hit, I worried about damage. Not much you can do for a tornado. Hail, maybe. I feel your pain!


With that being said, I've lived in the same place for over 32 years, and only once would the hail been large enough to do damage, about softball size. Sounded like mortars hitting the house. Lots of smaller size incidents but did not damage the van. Hail is very isolated. My daughter's care was about 1.5 miles away. Didn't even rain there!
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Old 05-11-2019, 11:31 AM   #12
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Not too practical for AI, but worth a good laugh.

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Old 05-11-2019, 03:08 PM   #13
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Reportedly, this pic below was taken a day or two ago in the village of Carlyss, which is near the Louisiana - Texas border, this representing the same persistent storm system I was talking about above and which continues to plague us, the one that prompted me to put our van in storage while still running.

BTW, we checked on the lithium battery this morning and were pleased with the draw-down in isolation - it was still at 58%. Before now, we've never put it into storage with the electrical system still powered up.

But back to this pic... get it? Carlyss? Car-less? God's sense of humor again.

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Old 05-31-2019, 05:55 AM   #14
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This is friggin' brilliant - a $2 inflatable outperformed everything else. And it packs down into a tiny thing for small space living.

2.5 minute video, worth watching.

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Old 05-31-2019, 06:46 AM   #15
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^ They had some fun with it. But impressive to see how the inflatable worked better than anything else... easy to store when not in use and easy to deploy if you have an air source available... so inexpensive air mattress should be able to cover a large area...
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Old 05-31-2019, 06:48 AM   #16
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Not too practical for AI, but worth a good laugh.

I think that this would work if it had a cover over it that would avoid the hail going in between the noodles... but the inflatable option, again, also with a cover over it to avoid punctures, still looks like a better alternative...
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Old 05-31-2019, 07:09 AM   #17
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Old 05-31-2019, 07:12 AM   #18
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... easy to deploy if you have an air source available... .
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Old 05-31-2019, 08:52 AM   #19
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Talking

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I was thinking more along the line of this:


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