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Do Solar Panels Need Direct Sunlight?

By Benjamin Strusnik March 15, 2022

Do Solar Panels Need Direct Sunlight

People tend to stay away from purchasing solar panels because they might live in an area that doesn’t receive a lot of sunlight and they question whether it’ll be beneficial for them.

Fortunately for you, we’re going to break down everything regarding solar panels and answer the question of doing solar panels need direct sunlight.

Before we can dive into whether solar panels need direct sunlight, let’s go over how solar panels work.

The Science Behind Solar Panels

Without going into too much depth, let’s look at what solar cells are and how using solar energy can be beneficial to us.

Solar panels contain solar cells made up of individual layers. These cell semiconductors are made up of 2 layers of silicon, followed by layers of metal and glass.   

Since the top layer is made from glass, it’s the first one to encounter the sun’s rays, and since glass is transparent, the rays will pass straight through.

The layer below the glass is an anti-reflection coating which will help trap the light instead of letting it escape once it shines onto the glass. 

does solar panels need direct sunlight

This coupled with the reflective silicon semiconductors helps prevent the light from being reflected away.

In terms of where the power comes into play, that would be the second silicon layer containing boron encounters the phosphorous bonded layer. 

Above and below these layers are metal grids and plates acting as back and front conductors.

the front conductor is a grid so that there’s space for the light to reach the silicon below without escaping. 

The silicon layers then separate the charges and give us a voltage, and we make use of multiple solar panels to create a solar array containing many solar cells.

Once these cells are powered up, we can use them as a source of electricity to power up appliances and homes.

Now that you know the more technical side of solar panels, here’s why you should consider using solar energy.

Benefits of Using Solar Energy

Opting for traditional electricity and gas is not only damaging for the environment, but it’s damaging your wallet too. 

Constantly needing to fill up on gas for a generator or pay an electric bill at the end of the month can break the bank.

Lucky for you, the sun doesn’t cost a penny to stay shining. Making use of solar panels will allow you to harness the sun’s energy and will save you from paying that hefty electric bill at the end of every month.

Speaking of cost, the only funds you will need to pay is for the solar panel itself and maybe installation if you need the assistance.

They provide an off-grid energy supply that lasts for extended periods. If the sun is shining, you will have a reliable and clean source of energy.

With the energy coming from the sun, it’s a natural and readily available source of energy that reduces your carbon footprint significantly.

Solar panels can be installed pretty much anywhere, but certain areas offer the best exposure to the sun, but more on that later.

Now that we have all the basics covered, let’s dissect the question of whether solar panels need direct sunlight to grant you optimal energy levels.

Is Direct Sunlight Important?

When people set up their solar panels, they ask questions regarding where to point solar panels and how to position them so that they get an unobstructed view of the sun.

do solar panels work in the shade

However, sometimes factors such as shade from surrounding buildings or trees prevent that from happening. 

Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world and you can still use your solar panels to harness the sun’s energy.

They work best in direct sunlight, but they can work without it.

Solar panels use direct and indirect sunlight as inputs, both of which contain photons that will be used in the conversion process when creating electrical energy.

Since there are two inputs, if one isn’t available then it will make use of the other. For example, if your solar panel happens to be obstructed by an object or clouds, it will make use of indirect sunlight to produce energy.

That’s not to say there won’t be any changes if you only rely on indirect sunlight.

Relying solely on indirect sunlight will lead to a drop in performance as solar panels need 1000 W per square mile to reach their peak output. That can only be done using direct sunlight.

So, if you are wanting to set up your solar panel, it’s best to do it in an environment where there are no obstructions. 

Such a location would be the roof, which is arguably the best location for solar panels.

Direct sunlight has more photons than indirect sunlight, meaning that an optimal solar panel angle would be one in which the most direct sunlight is hitting the surface.

It’s true to say that direct sunlight provides the optimal solar energy conditions so that solar panels can thrive, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to power your solar panels if it wasn’t in direct sunlight.

Let’s have a look at some conditions that might affect the energy production in a solar panel if direct sunlight isn’t present.

The Shade

Solar panels can work in the shade but will generate less current compared to direct exposure to the sun.

do solar panels need direct sunlight to work

Solar panels these days use photovoltaic cell technology that is designed to reduce the impact that shade has on solar panels’ energy production.

However, the longer your solar panels are in the shade the bigger the drop in how much current is generated.

Making use of microinverters or power optimizers will ensure that shade on a single panel won’t influence the other panels.

This causes a small reduction in the amount of energy produced instead of all panels shutting down.

The Weather

Certain weather conditions can also impact the energy production of a solar panel. 

These conditions include rain, clouds, and snow, all of which can reduce both direct and indirect sunlight.

Solar panels work on cloudy and snowy days, just not as effective as they would on a day where the sun is shining. 

This is due to the clouds or snow blocking some of the sun’s rays from hitting the panel’s surface.

Sunlight can pass through a sheet of snow, so you won’t need to worry about your solar panels not generating usable electricity during snowfall.

how much sunlight do solar panels need

When faced with an overcast day, your solar panels tend to produce under 60% of their regular output. 

This all depends on how thick the cloud cover is along with the placement of your solar panels.

The rain itself doesn’t have much of an effect on solar panels. It’s more of the clouds that come with the rain that might obstruct the sun’s rays.

A positive aspect of the rain is that it helps clean your solar panels, especially if you live in an environment surrounded by dust or sand.

Knowing the best orientation for solar panels will ensure that elements such as weather and shade don’t influence your power production.

Conclusion

Direct sunlight is important in ensuring that your solar panels are working under optimal conditions. This, over indirect sunlight, ensures that you get the most of your solar panels.

However, saying that direct sunlight is the only way to power up your solar panel would be incorrect.

It turns out that even when faced with conditions such as bad weather or shade, solar panels are still able to do their job.

It might not be as good of a job as using direct sunlight, but the job is the job at the end of the day.

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