With so much hearsay evidence available on whether solar panels work in winter or not, discerning the facts from the rumors can be a daunting task.
The answers, however, are more readily available than it appears at first glance. That remains true, whether you are living somewhere with long winter months and snow or whether you’re in a place with a shorter winter period.
We’re here to tell you about the benefits and downsides of solar panels in the winter months and what to do to mitigate the effects of the winter months on your power output.
We highlight below what we believe to be essential issues you need to understand to make an informed decision and lessen the effects of the colder months on the effectiveness of your solar panels.
Solar Panels, Light, and Heat
It’s a common misconception that solar panels generate electricity from the sun’s heat. Instead, the energy originates from the sun’s light. That means that in the winter months, when the sun's rays hit the Earth at a shallower angle, the sun's light will still hit the solar panels and generate electricity.
But if your solar capacity is diminished, you might end up asking yourself if you can make up the shortfall and generate solar electricity from moonlight or by using artificial lights to power your solar panels.
The answer to all these questions is that solar cells use direct light and diffuse light, which means light that scatters (e.g., by way of clouds or rain particles) before it hits the panels.
Solar panels receive diffuse light during rainy weather or cloudy days, and the solar cells still charge. However, the solar output will be less than in the case of the solar cells receiving direct sunlight.
Solar panels at nighttime will also receive energy from other light sources such as the moonlight or artificial light; however, their energy output will never be comparable to direct sunlight charging the cells.
Solar Panels and Cold
Cold weather and lower temperatures do not prevent solar panels from functioning optimally (not referring to rain and shorter daylight hours, which could inhibit solar panel efficiency).
On the contrary, a bright, cold day could cause more power output than a sunny warm day. The reason is that the power generated is also linked to the energy variance - between the sun’s photons and the solar panel or solar cell’s electrons.
The greater the energy variance between the sun’s photons activate the solar cell’s electrons, the more power generated.
In short, the warmer a circuit is, the more its resistance. This means that in warmer conditions, solar panels operate less efficiently.
Of course, along with the lower temperatures in winter months comes severe weather events, but even then you’ll probably be okay. A good quality panel is built to be durable, solar panels can even work underwater, so a little bit of rain and snow isn’t going to do any permanent damage.
Solar Panels and Snow
The ice crystals in snow reduce and scatter sunlight, which means that diffused light hits the solar panels. This is similar to how rain affects solar panels and their power output.
Snow that falls on panels, however, will block the sun’s light from reaching the solar cells. So while the snow is covering the panels, the panels will produce no energy.
Snow melts, of course, and you could either remove the snow every time it covers the panels or wait it out until the snow melts and the sun again hits the panels.
We suggest that you get solar panels that can withstand a particular snow load if you stay in countries known for heavy snow during the winter months.
Mitigating the Adverse Effects of the Winter on Solar Power
Cold weather doesn’t necessarily inhibit power generation as we’ve explained above. However, fewer hours of sunlight each day, coupled with snowfall covering panels, will probably lessen power output during the winter months.
We list below some actions you can take that will ensure that you lessen the potential downsides of the winter on solar panels and power output:
(i) Battery Maintenance During the Winter
You should monitor your battery temperature during the winter months to ensure that it does not freeze. It’s also a good idea to install your batteries indoors and insulate the battery area to prevent them from freezing.
You should also regularly check the voltage level for the cells of lead-acid batteries to ensure that the cells operate optimally.
(ii) Adjusting the Angle of the Solar Panel Array
You should adjust the angle of your solar panel array in the winter months as the angle at which the sun hits the panels varies in the winter months from the summer months. That will ensure better solar panel performance during the winter months as the panels will be getting more direct sunlight, increasing their power output.
(iii) Turn off Unnecessary Lights and Appliances
It helps if you use less electricity during the winter months by switching off lights and appliances you’re not always using. This also makes up for the increase in electricity that you need to power things like heaters and air conditioning to keep you warm.
You should be mindful that some appliances draw power while in sleep mode (e.g., television or DVD player). Therefore, you should make sure (especially in the winter months when less energy is available) that these appliances do not draw power without being aware of it.
(iv) Use a Solar Generator for Backup Power
Suppose you require a constant power supply during the winter months (or even during the summer months). In that case, it is a good idea to also have a generator as a backup (whether a fuel generator or solar generator).
That will enable you to ensure that when power is interrupted for a longer time and your battery charge is not sufficient, you also have a generator that can ensure that you have adequate power.
Contrary to popular opinion, solar panels require sunlight and not heat from the sun to charge.
Winter months can affect the energy produced by solar panels because the daylight hours in the winter are fewer than in the summer. Cold weather during the winter could ironically also, in some instances, assist solar panels in generating more electricity than during hot days.
To mitigate the effects of the winter on solar panels (e.g., fewer daylight hours, snow covering solar panels), you can take specific steps such as adjusting the angle of the solar panel array and monitoring your battery function during the winter months.
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