Can solar panels interfere with WiFi, TV, or cell phone reception?
If you have solar panels installed and started having reception issues with your devices at home, could the panels be the cause?
It’s pretty darn annoying when the electronics in your life start glitching. Are you having trouble with one of your devices? Have you tried turning the thing off and then on? That usually fixes it for me.
But if that doesn’t work, it’s time to track down the source of the problem. If you’re talking about a device that relies on receiving a remote signal, whether that signal is wired or wireless, electromagnetic interference (EMI) is problem that can sometimes occur.
EMI can happen when radio frequency (RF) radiation generated by one device gets received by another device. A lot of things in your home can generate RF radiation: electric motors, microwaves, cell phones, baby monitors. External factors can cause it too, such as weather or even exotic events such as solar flares from the Sun.
How about solar panels on your home? A solar panel system consists of many photovoltaic panels, a lot of wiring, and one or more inverters that convert direct current (DC) electricity into alternating current (AC). Can solar panels cause interference with your TV, WiFi, or other devices?
It is possible for solar equipment to cause interference, but it’s very rare. The most plausible case is when you have a poorly shielded coaxial TV cable that runs parallel and near to an AC power cable that carries electricity from the panels on your rooftop. AC power cables emit small magnetic fields, and with inadequate or damaged shielding, those EM fields can be picked up by a nearby parallel cable, such as the type used to carry a signal from a rooftop satellite dish into your home.
But this shouldn’t happen if you have a good quality, undamaged coaxial cable.
Also, this is a concern with AC power but not DC power, which doesn’t generate the EM fields that cause interference. To know if this is problem with your solar setup, you have to understand whether you have a central inverter or microinverters.
A crash course in inverters, microinverters, and AC/DC (not the rock band)
Photovoltaic panels are really cool. Thin sheets of silicon turn sunlight into moving electrons. Those moving electrons move in a straight path, which is direct current electricity. Your house uses alternating current, which switches direction 60 times a second in North America. (It’s that rapid switching that generates an RF field that can interfere with your electronics.)
To convert DC power from your panels into AC power that’s useful for your home, you need an inverter. Your home solar system will either have a central inverter or microinverters.
If you have a central inverter, it will be placed somewhere near your electric meter and panel - in your basement, garage, or the side of your house. This means that DC electricity will flow from your solar panels and down a wire along the side of your house (or inside a wall of your house) to the inverter.
This means that even if you have an antenna or satellite dish on your roof and a coaxial cable running down from the roof alongside this DC power cable, there won’t be interference because of the nature of DC power.
However, microinverters are mounted not in your basement, but adjacent each panel in your system. This means that the DC-to-AC conversion happens on your roof, and the wire that runs down from your roof carries AC power. If you happen to have a coaxial cable running parallel and only a few inches away from this AC power line, it’s possible for EM interference to happen.
Even with microinverters, interference is unlikely
But even if your solar installer or television installer allowed these cables to run next to each other like this, interference is still unlikely. This is because there are probably three layers of shielding in the way: the insulation/shielding around the electric wire, a rigid metal conduit that the wire is run inside, and finally shielding around the coaxial wire.
With all this protection, interference from your microinverter-based solar panels and your television is highly unlikely.
But what you have a really sloppy installation? There are cases where solar installers run wire on the outside of a home and don’t bother with conduit. With coaxial wire, there are different qualities of shielding, and a cheap cable will be more prone to interference than a higher quality one.
This means that if you have a poor quality installation, it’s possible for you to experience EM interference between your TV and solar panels.
To find out, step outside your home and take at look your wiring. If you see these kinds of problems, you might have identified the source of your EMI problems. Time to call an electrician.
By the way, power optimizers aren’t the same as microinverters. While they improve the efficiency of a solar system the same way that microinverters do, with power optimizers the DC-to-AC conversion happens at a central inverter. This means that if you have something like a SolarEdge power optimizer system, the wiring from your roof is carrying DC power.
What about WiFI and cell phone interference?
WiFi operates at either 2.6 ghz or 5 ghz. Nearby power cables can cause interference, but so can things like microwaves, cordless phones, baby monitors, and fluorescent lights.
This means that with all the possible sources of WiFi interference, it’s very unlikely that your solar equipment is the culprit. Instead, look to other causes.
The 2.6 ghz WiFi band is busier than the 5 ghz, so you can try switching to 5 ghz see if that solves the problem.
As for cell phones, your phone is more likely to be a source of interference than a victim. If you have cell phone reception issues in your house, it may be because some materials block cell signals better than others. Metal siding, wire mesh (which is used with stucco), plaster walls, and concrete block cell signals more than wood and vinyl siding do.
Problems of EM radiation
EM radiation can cause annoying problems in your house, but it’s pretty unlikely that a home solar system will be a root cause. Your walls are already full of electrical wires carrying AC power. There are electric motors in things like your fridge, hair dryer, and vacuum cleaner.
A modern house is full of microwaves, IoT devices, multiple laptops, TVs, and tablets with WiFi transmitters, baby monitors, and cordless phones. And most people are carrying around little radio emitters called cell phones in their pockets.
Adding solar panels will mean you have a bunch more wires carrying high current electricity, but when properly installed there’s very little chance of this causing you any problems.
As a side note, some people fear that EM radiation - because it has radiation in the name - can cause health problems such as cancer. The fact is, EM radiation isn’t ionizing like high energy X-rays and gamma rays are, and have been proven to be safe. Read our article on solar panels and cancer to learn more.