Your solar panels will work in the winter with solar cell efficiency increasing in cold climates and functioning well with indirect sunlight. However, the problem you will face is the reduced amount of sunlight hours, but solar systems continue to produce adequate energy throughout the winter months.
You can find winter solar solutions within the datasheets for solar panels. The best type of panels for use in extreme wintry climates are monocrystalline solar panels. Although more expensive, monocrystalline cells perform better than polycrystalline cells in low light conditions and increase energy production by as much as 5 percent. Solar panel arrays can produce electricity to power a standard home with as little as four hours of light on a sunny day. This makes it a good choice to go solar even in northern areas with reduced daylight periods.
Cold Weather Does Have an Effect on Solar Panels
Cold weather does affect solar panel energy production, but that isn’t bad news. They design solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. Solar panel performance does not require full sun to maintain efficiency.
Photovoltaic (PV) cells require daylight to produce solar energy. When it is cloudy, the sunlight still reaches the solar panels. Energy output may be lower, but solar power can be almost as efficient in the winter as it is in the summer months.
The Best Climate for Solar Systems
Using the sun’s energy with a solar panel system to generate electric power makes sense no matter your climate. In answering the title question, “Do solar panels work in the winter?” we verified that solar could be effective during the winter. However, some areas produce solar power more efficiently, even during the winter months.
Solar energy can be effective in every state, although the southwestern areas produce energy faster than the northeastern states. Surprisingly, mountainous regions produce excellent renewable energy options. Even in Alaska, although solar performance is lower, solar panels function well enough to provide electricity cost savings.
Optimizing Solar Production with Changing Temperatures
Standard testing for peak output is conducted at 77°F. Solar panels produce best when operated within a temperature range from 59°F to 95°F. Surprisingly, the warmer a solar panel gets, the lower the efficiency. In areas where sunlight is continuous and ambient temperatures reach 90°F and higher, the panel’s temperature can reach as high as 149°F.
In the winter, the opposite occurs—the temperature of a panel drops, decreasing efficiency. The good news is that solar panels can withstand temperature extremes. Optimizing your photovoltaic (PV) system can have additional benefits. Making your solar panels work at their best in any climate is possible.
Many factors are considered when designing a system for your solar energy needs. Professionals will evaluate the air temperature, level of direct and indirect sunlight, your geographic location, and even the type of roof that you have. Knowing these factors allows solar installers to recommend and install panels that will perform best for your needs.
How Snow Affects Solar Production
In the winter, snow and winter weather often affect solar panels. Snow, by itself, normally doesn’t present much trouble for solar panels. With a light dusting of snow, the breeze will probably blow it off panels before any change in system operation is noticed. Sunlight can filter through light snow, and the reflective properties of snow may even amplify the output.
Heavier snow can have a greater impact on how well solar panels work. These factors may affect how much snow can accumulate on your panels:
- Installation angle
- The intensity of a sunny day
- Weight of the snow
The installation angle and the intensity of the sun can work together to restore production. Once the snow begins to slide off the panels, exposing even a part of the panel, energy production will resume.
The weight of snow on a panel can stress both the frame structure and the panel itself. Problems occur with framed panels that develop stress at the mounting points.
Solutions for Home Solar Systems During the Winter Months
Solar panels have a lower ability to produce electricity during the winter months. That fact cannot be changed. However, there are several things that you can be done to help a photovoltaic (PV) system maintain optimal electricity production.
Winter weather, snow, and colder temperature ranges contribute to how well your solar panels work. With the sun at a lower angle, daylight hours are shorter, which affects the solar panel performance. Although solar panels work without much maintenance once installed, employing some of the following tips will help your panels work better.
Lower Electricity Usage During Cold Months
Conserving energy should be a year-round pursuit. When you go solar, you are probably already energy conscious. Applying common-sense solutions to energy conservation can help your solar panels work well in the winter.
Make Sure Battery Storage Systems Function Properly
Another common-sense solution that should be part of your normal routine maintenance is solar energy storage system upkeep. When snow covers your panels and producing less electricity, your house will be relying on the battery storage system.
If your battery storage unit is not indoors, make sure that it is sheltered and insulated adequately. Monitor the system for performance and voltage levels. Lead-acid batteries can freeze at below-zero temperatures, so they should not be used in extremely cold climates.
Install an Adjustable Support Frame
Adjusting the angle of your solar panels for summer and winter will help your panels function to produce more electricity. Because the sun is at a lower angle in the winter, adjustable frames will increase the value of your system.
Is It Necessary to Remove Excess Snow?
You may never have to remove snow from your solar panels. Although you may gain a few kWh by removing snow, you may risk damage to solar panels or, worse, to yourself. It is normally not necessary to remove snow to help your solar panels work in the winter.
The first rule is, of course, safety. If your panels are on the roof, it is best to let them clear naturally. Solar panels are dark, which attracts light. With the reflective properties of snow, combined with the dark panels, a bit of light on a sunny day will melt most snow easily.
They DO NOT recommend using a roof rake or other method to clear snow from your solar panels. This can cause more damage than the slight value you may achieve from the increased sun exposure.
Selecting the Right Solar Panels for Your Climate
Solar panels all have datasheets. While these will vary from one manufacturer to the next, the basic data displayed is fairly consistent. Each will have sections including mechanical dimensions, mechanical data, electrical data, tested operating conditions, I-V curve, warranties, and certifications.
Most of the information on data sheets is useful when planning a new system or replacing components in an existing system. Like purchasing tires for an automobile, selecting the correct type of solar panels for your climate is important.
Terms to Have a Basic Understanding Of
- Standard Test Conditions (STC) — This is a set of standard conditions that all panels are tested to determine peak power. The standards are a cell temp of 77℉ (25℃), a light intensity of 1000 watts (equates to the sun at noon), and an atmospheric density of 1.5 (equates to the sun’s angle perpendicular to the panel at 500 feet ASL).
- Normal Operating Cell Temperature (NOCT) — This is a set of standards closely related to normal operating conditions experienced with roof-mounted solar panels.
- Open Circuit Voltage (Voc) — This represents the available voltage of a panel with no load. This figure is used to determine the number of panels wired in series connected to the inverter or charge regulator.
- Maximum Power Point (Pmax) — This represents the point where voltage and amperage result in the highest possible wattage (V times A = W). With a Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) inverter, this is the point where the control unit tries to maintain maximum volts and amps, which maximizes power output (Pmax = Vmpp times Impp).
- Maximum Power Point Voltage (Vmpp) — Represents the voltage when the power production is at its highest rate.
- Maximum Power Point Current (Impp) — Represents the current, or amperage, when the power production is at its highest rate.
- Nominal Voltage — Not a real voltage. This is a rating figure that represents a category of equipment. This helps determine what equipment can be wired in series. For example, you should use a 12V panel with a 12V charge controller, a 12V battery, and a 12V inverter.
Exploring Types of Solar Panels
The two main types of solar panels, polycrystalline and monocrystalline, are both Crystalline Silicon-based Solar Panels. These comprise approximately 90 percent of the current solar power market.
Newer additions to the solar panel lineup are thin-film solar panels and solar shingles.
Crystalline Silicon Solar Panels
In use since the 1950s, crystalline silicon solar panels have proven their value and reliability. Although the cost of solar equipment used to be high, recent technological advances are making solar systems more affordable for the average homeowner.
Crystalline silicon solar panels are available as polycrystalline and monocrystalline solar cells. Both types can be installed on roofs or as a ground-based array.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline solar panels are competitively pricey, making this type of panel the most affordable for homeowners. They are not as heat tolerant as monocrystalline cells. While sufficient to power a standard home, it is a detractor if you participate in a net metering program.
With a lower efficiency rating of 13 to 16 percent, polycrystalline panels produce less power than monocrystalline panels. This causes a lower production rate, especially during inclement weather and low-light conditions. It also requires more polycrystalline panels per square foot to produce the same amount of electrical power.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Using more pure silicon, monocrystalline cells achieve a higher efficiency rating. Monocrystalline cells are more costly to manufacture, but they generally last longer, which will amortize their value over time. They perform better in winter and during low-light and snowy conditions.
Monocrystalline solar panels have many advantages over polycrystalline panels, including a greater heat tolerance. This makes them a better choice in areas with unpredictable variances between summer and winter weather conditions.
Thin Film Solar Cells
These newer, more flexible panels are not in wide use for home installations. This product is in portable solar chargers for phones, small electronics, and calculators. This type of solar cell is not suitable for areas with extreme climates.
They are produced using layers of semi-conductor materials that are rolled out on a surface as a film. Less efficient than crystalline solar panels, thin-film panels require much more roof space. They are also more susceptible to damage from inclement weather. While less expensive, they carry shorter warranties and are less of a value in the long run.
Solar Roof Shingles
The newest trend in solar news is solar roof shingles. These durable and beautiful panels give the appearance of traditional asphalt shingles with the added benefit of providing solar energy. These withstand inclement weather well but are more expensive than standard asphalt shingles.
While a newer technology, solar roof shingles are increasing in popularity and use for all climate conditions.
Winter Weather and Snow Enhance Panel Performance
The answer to the question, “Do solar panels work in the winter” is a resounding yes. In fact, due to the reflective quality of snow, it may even enhance light absorption in some instances. Even in cold and snowy climates like Alaska, installing solar with fewer daylight hours is still beneficial.
In some northern climates with heavy snow, solar production may decrease. While direct sunlight is optimal, indirect light can also supply a solar system with plenty of power to keep the heat on. Installing solar in a harsh winter environment can still produce significant solar savings.
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