Whats The Science Behind Solar Panels And Temperature
Even in below-freezing weather, solar panels turn sunlight into electricity. Thats because solar panels absorb energy from our suns abundant light, not the suns heat. In fact, cold climates are actually optimal for solar panel efficiency.1 So long as sunlight is hitting a solar panel, it will generate electricity. Any diminished output during the winter months will primarily be due to heavy snow and shorter daylight hours.
So, how do solar panels work? When sunlight photon particles hit solar panel photovoltaic cells, electrons in the silicon are put into motion. This creates an electric current, which is sent to your homes electric distribution box to power your essential items.2 A rechargeable solar battery can help store this electricity so you can still use solar energy at night, during peak electricity usage, or when the grid goes down.
Remember how electrons move around atoms? Electrons are at rest in cooler temperatures. When these electrons are activated by increasing sunlight , a greater difference in voltage is attained by a solar panel, which creates more energy. Thats why solar cells produce electricity more efficiently when its colder.3
In the winter, its also less likely for solar panels to reach their peak temperature, or peak power.4 Once their temperature rises above that peak temperature, solar panel performance decreases.
Do Solar Panelswork At Night
Solar panels actually producemore energy at night than they do during the day because solar panelsproduce electricity all day as long as they are in sunlight.
During the night, solar panels still continuously collect solar radiation and convert it into energy even though they may not be producing much power because there is little to no sun exposure.
Do Solar Panelswork In Extreme Cold
Solar panels can convert sunshine into electricity even when the temperature drops below freezing. The fact that our suns plentiful sunlight rather than the suns heat is what powers solar panels. In reality, the effectiveness of solar panels is enhanced in cold climes. As long as the sunshine hits a solar panel, power is generated.
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Solar Battery Storage For The Darker Days Of Winter
Unfortunately, the shorter days can affect the amount of energy that your panels receive.
As we have explored, less sunlight = less solar energy. This is an unfortunate reality for solar panel owners in the winter, however, there is a solution.
The addition of solar battery storage as an add-on component to your home solar system allows you to tap into stored solar power even after the sun sets. Excess energy produced by your panels during daylight can be stored within these batteries.
This enables you to run your home off of clean solar energy even during the darkest hours of the night, and you can also tap into battery storage in the event that a snow/ice storm knocks out your power.
What If Theres A Big Snow Storm
If you live in an especially snowy area, there may be occasional instances when the snow piles up on your solar panels after very big blizzards. When the panels are buried in deep snow, light cant get through to them and they are unable to produce energy.
If youre concerned about the weight of the snow and/or how long it will take to melt off of the solar panels, it may be necessary to have the snow manually removed from the roof by a professional. .
However, most of the times, the combination of the suns heat, wind, and the tilt of solar panels will eventually remove on its own. Over the long run, the buildup of snow on solar panels wont make a very big difference in total energy production.
In fact, in a study by the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, solar panels which had snow removed only experienced 1% to 5% more production than ones left unmaintained, during a 3 year period.
This result shows just how limited the effect of snow is on solar power systems. Even in areas of Canada like Edmonton, Alberta, solar panels have been shown to be a viable cost-effective option.
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Will My Energy Costs Go Up If My Panels Arent Producing As Much
Ultimately, the amount of energy collected during cold winter months is very low the days are shorter and the amount of sunlight reaching your panels will be minimal. Fortunately, because most on-grid solar energy systems work through a credit system, the energy you accumulate during the summer months will roll over to the winter months and keep you from spending too much on power.
In situations that are more time-sensitive, you can take extra steps to get your panels functioning back at full capacity. If you have the option, though, its generally easier and safer to just let the season run its course.
Find out how much it will cost to install solar panels
How Different Weather Impact The Solar System
Modern-day solar panels are built in a way that allows them to withstand different and extreme weather conditions like heavy rain, snowstorm, hail, severe wind, and extreme heat. When they are constructed, they are subject to testing, and they need to get Underwriters Laboratories certification in order to claim they are resistant to bad weather and extremes in that sense.
But, you need to know that that certificate doesnt guarantee every solar panel has the same quality and durability. Most solar panels should withstand wind up to 140 MPH, and they can only benefit from cold temperatures because the whiteness of snow will reflect light and improve their performances. Its just important they are clean and not covered with loads of snow.
Although they are built to last and to face different challenges, solar panels can be damaged by hail or storm, for example. But in that case, you should be covered with your warranty or insurance policy. And lets not forget about the most surprising fact extreme hot climates can lower the efficiency of solar panels! If the temperature is above 87 degrees, you can expect that exactly this happens. Every degree above this number will lower their productivity by one percent.
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What Can I Do About Snow On My Panels
You could hire a professional to come safely remove the snow from your panels. After some extreme snowstorms, this may be your best bet. But oftentimes, youd spend more money on this service than your solar system would save you.
One thing you could do, if you have a ground-mounted system and your panels are low to the ground, is keep the ground in front of your panels bare. As the snow falls down off your panels, it wont pile up and drift back onto your panels.
Overall, your best option is to simply do nothing! Whether you prefer to stay inside with a warm beverage or venture outside for some winter sports, chances are your favorite snow activity isnt its removal. Unlike your driveway, you can take the easy way out and let the sun do its thing. Youll stay safe, keep your panels working properly, and be back to producing electricity in no time!
Effectiveness Of Solar Panels During The Winter Months
A widespread misconception is that solar panels are hardly effective during the winter season. Although it is true that the energy output of solar panels is at its peak when exposed to direct sunlight and UV rays, the temperature does not play a large role in the solar panels overall performance.
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Solar Panels Work Fine In The Snow
There are many misconceptions about solar panels in the winter. Many believe that panels dont work in the winter, but cooler weather actually allows for a more even flow of electricity from your systems photovoltaic cells into your home. Cooler temperatures enhance solar energy production efficiency, increasing the daily amount of electricity produced. The bigger factor that affects system production in winter is that we have fewer daylight hours, and the sun is lower in the sky, so more shade is created at different times of day from nearby trees, which can reduce the amount of direct sunlight hitting the panels. It is important to remember that panels create electricity from the suns light, not the suns heat.
Do Solar Panels Work In Cold Temperatures
First, lets explore whether or not solar panels function as well in the cold as they do during the warmer months of spring, summer, and the beginnings of fall.
We are happy to report that yes, solar panels do indeed work productively in cold weather. In fact, you may be surprised to find out that solar panels have actually been proven to work more efficiently in the cold than in the heat.
Additionally, situations where panels have been exposed to excessively hot temperatures, have actually shown a drop in panel efficiency. Another reason why Massachusetts is a great place to own solar panels.
Remember, home solar panels require the suns rays to work, not its heat.
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Will The Weight Of Heavy Snow Hurt My Panels
Except in some extreme cases, the weight of snow will not hurt your panels. All solar panels are assigned a pressure rating which measures the amount of pressure a panel manufacturer is willing to guarantee wont hurt their product. Most panels are rated for a load of 5,000 or more Pascals , which means two to four feet of snow, depending on the snows density.
Unless you have severe and consistent snowfall, your panels will not be affected.
Do Solar Panels Work In The Winter
The cold temperatures accompanying Canadas Northern climate are beneficial for the use of solar panels. If temperatures get too high, the solar panels will overheat and will stop producing as much energy. This is comparable to if I asked you to go play soccer in extremely hot weather conditions. You would be exhausted and not perform half.
Solar panels can produce more energy in lower temperatures. This is because heat is considered being a resistance in a circuit, and when the heat is removed, the resistance is lowered, allowing for more energy to be produced. In essence, when the heat is lowered, then the output can be increased, making Canadas low temperatures an attractive place to put solar panels.
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What Solar Panels Are Made Of
The vast majority of solar panels that have been sold are made with crystalline silicon solar cells. These c-Si solar panels are what you might think of when you think of solar. The layers include a frame made from aluminum, low-iron glass that covers the whole panel, crystalline-silicon solar cells sandwiched between two layers of EVA encapsulant , and a backsheet made of polyvinyl fluoride that provides extra protection from moisture, UV light, and temperature fluctuations.
Heres an image that shows the layers that go into a typical c-Si panel is made:
Image credit: DuPont
The layers are fairly simple, and when combined together using heat to seal the encapsulant and bond it to the glass, form a very sturdy panel built to last.
Be Mindful Of Your Energy Consumption/monitor Your System
Since the days are shorter and your panels have less access to sunlight, we recommend keeping an eye on your energy consumption. If you already monitor your system closely and want to keep production and consumption even, here are a few tips for you:
- Everyone loves a good holiday light display, but those shows can be energy hogs. Blow-up decorations use a lot of energy with the fan motor constantly running, so make sure to use a timer to prevent your displays from using all of your produced energy.
- It may be tempting to turn on that electric space heater if youre working in the garage or the basement, but remember that they pull an enormous amount of energy and operate extremely inefficiently. Use portable electric space heaters sparingly and only when necessary.
- Unplug idle electronics, such as coffee makers, microwaves, chargers, printers, and even your computer. It feels good to power down for the day!
- Replace your traditional light bulbs with LED bulbs. LED bulbs are the most efficient lighting option, and use 75% less electricity than incandescent bulbs. When youre not using those new lights, be sure to switch them off!
- Consider turning down your thermostat by a few degrees, especially during the hours youre tucked away in bed or at the office. The U.S. Department of Energy suggests saving energy in the winter by setting your thermostat to 68°F while youre awake and setting it lower while youre asleep or away from home
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Will Winter Weather Hurt My Systems Effectiveness
While the sun may not seem strong during the winter months, keep in mind that solar energy systems generate electricity fromlight not heat. Under the right conditions, solar panels are actually more effective during the colder months. There may be little less sun due to shorter days, but Colorados winter sun shines bright. Thats part of the reason why were one of the top states for solar energy production. Notably, other top states, such as Massachusetts, have much harsher winters than we do here.
But how can a PV system work better during the winter? Electronics in general run much more efficiently at cold temperatures. This means that a properly designed system has the capability of producing more energy per hour than it does during the summer, compensating for shorter days. Additionally, snow on the ground reflects light like a mirror, focusing the sun back onto panels for an extra boost.
How Much Solar Electricity Can You Generate In The Winter
While you might hate the idea of losing solar electricity in the winter due to snow, if you live at higher latitudes your winter days are relatively short, which limits how much power you can expect to generate anyway.
You can use The Solar Nerd calculator to find how much. Toward the bottom of the report is a chart that shows how your electricity generation will vary from month to month. We also have an article comparing solar power generation between summer and winter.
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Learning More About Solar Panels And Snow
If you want to look at a real world example more closely, feel free to explore the public data for my solar panels.
The screenshot at the top of this article is from February 7th, 2021. If you click around, youll see that the day before was partly cloudy but all of my panels were completely covered in snow. By the next day the snow had cleared off most of the panels except the bottom row and were generating a decent amount of power.
Youll see that pattern repeat throughout the winter as the snow came and went.
Its not something I worry about. I just wait until spring, when the snow is gone and sunny days return. Want to see an example? Go to my data for March 19, 2021. Its a cloudless cold spring day – perfect conditions for solar panels.
Should I Clean The Snow Off
The short answer is, no. Just leave it. If you feel the snow is too heavy or full of moisture, you should consider calling an expert to do it. Contact the company that installed the solar panels, or someone with professional experience and equipment to get on your roof.
Plus, not only trying to clear snow and ice yourself is dangerous but if something goes wrong or you damage something other than yourself, your home owners insurance may not cover it.
Your panels will still work with the snow on them, just not as well. Besides, depending on the type of contract you have, you may have already provided your surplus of energy for others to use, which likely covers you if there is a shortage of production.
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How Durable Are Solar Panels
If you decide on purchasing a high-quality solar system, you wont have to worry about it. Those solar panels will be able to resist a lot of inconveniences and stay bulletproofed to weather impact. Usually, top-rated solar systems are placing their durability as number one attribute, right next to their efficiency, and they will probably degrade extremely slowly. Most manufacturers claim their products will look like they are new for years if properly maintained, and that they will produce 92 percent of power up to 25 years of usage.
It is also important to say that even though solar panels look very fragile and super sensitive, they are actually used as roof protectors, regarding extreme weather conditions. They can hold on to a significant amount of snow, for example, but you should remove it as soon as you can in order to enable them to work again.
Do Solar Panels Require Maintenance In Winter
If your solar panels are on your roof, we strongly recommend that you DO NOT climb on your roof to clean them off. It is not worth the safety risk or the hassle for the minor increase in generation. If you’re array is ground-mounted in an easily accessible location and you really want to get out of the house, you can brush them off with a soft brush. Do not use coarse brooms, wire brushes, or hockey sticks as they may scratch the tempered glass on the solar panel.
Questions, comments or concerns? We would love to hear your thoughts on this.Hit the buttons below to contact us/get a free solar quote or to read more articles.
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