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How Do Solar Panels Work in the Winter?

PV panels in the winter

Winter’s arrival is marked by shorter days and cooler temperatures. You might be sad to see the end of summer, but those with solar panels have another concern on their minds: in the winter, how will their PV panels generate enough energy to power their homes?

In the winter, there are fewer hours of sunshine. Peak energy production hours for your photovoltaic panels are cut in half. But even so, you might require even more energy than you would in the summer since you’re spending more time indoors.

Although summer is the prime time for solar due to the long and sunny days, your setup can still operate efficiently in the winter. But how do you avoid running out of energy on a cloudy winter day? We’re going to explain why going solar in the winter isn’t a bad idea:

Why are PV Panels More Efficient in the Winter?

A common misconception about solar is that its performance is diminished when it’s colder outside. However, solar panels rely on sunlight, not heat, to generate energy. So, even in colder temperatures, they still effectively produce power if the sky is clear.

This might surprise you, but the technology used by solar panels actually works more efficiently when temperatures are lower. The solar cells within the panels have an easier time generating electricity from sunlight. In fact, the performance of your panels decreases when temperatures get too high.

Your PV panels can produce more power on a sunny winter day than on a sunny summer one.

Snow itself is highly reflective, which helps panels catch and absorb sunlight from all around. The light that would have otherwise gone into the ground will be reflected onto your PV panels.

You can expect a decrease in how much power your panels produce when winter arrives, simply due to fewer hours of daylight, but these features can help to offset that difference.

What Happens if Snow Accumulates on Solar Panels?

After a heavy snowfall, you might see heaps of snow piled on top of your panels. While your first instinct might be to grab a brush and start sweeping it away, you might want to reconsider.

Generally, it isn’t recommended that you attempt to remove snow from rooftop panels for a few reasons:

  • You could damage the panels. Any tool with sharp or abrasive edges can damage the surface of your panels, which is integral to its functioning. Even worse, this type of damage won’t be covered by a warranty.
  • You may injure yourself. If your solar panels are on the ground or in an easily accessible location, clearing them off might be easy. But for those with a roof- mounted setup, climbing up to clean them can be dangerous. It puts you at risk of falling and injuring yourself.

Most solar panels are tilted at a slight angle. Due to their smooth surface, snow will slide off them naturally, especially when the sun heats them up. The panels themselves are a dark color, which attracts warmth and helps melt away the snow. As they operate, solar panels produce heat of their own, which further contributes to the melting effect.

There’s often no need to try and remove the snow—given how marginal the loss of production is, the benefits are not worth the risks! The effects of snow on your solar panels are insignificant. With time, the snow should slide away on its own.

But after a snowstorm, you might be dealing with an excess of snow. If you want to prevent a pile-up of snow, you can try a snow guard. To remove snow, select a tool that’s specifically designed for use with solar panels.

Snow will slightly hinder the output of your panels, but not by enough that you should put yourself in danger or damage the panels to remove it.

Avoid Running Out of Energy in Winter

Despite the advantages of solar modules (like their financial benefits, use of renewable energy, and ease of maintenance), you’re still concerned about whether they can adequately meet your energy needs. And in the wintertime, their power production is compromised by a lack of sunlight. Is solar still feasible in regions where winter is the dominant season?

Solar remains popular even in cold countries like Canada and Germany. To prevent power shortages in the winter, you can try the following:

Use solar batteries

Solar batteries do exactly what their name suggests—they allow your panels to store the energy that isn’t used during the day. You can draw on this power source at night or on days when your panels don’t produce sufficient energy.

During a winter storm, the electrical grid may go down due to damage. A grid-connected solar system will also lose power if this happens; it will be cut off to prevent damage to utility workers. However, if you have a battery, you can draw from stored power.

This prevents you from losing energy during extreme weather events in the winter. Batteries with a large capacity can store enough energy to power your home for an entire day. And just as homeowners use batteries to power their houses at night, they can also be used to store energy for cloudy winter days.

Draw from the grid when needed

In a perfect world, the sun would always shine for enough hours each day that your PV panels could generate adequate power. But in reality, there are days when you generate too much power and others where you have too little. With solar net-metering, you can find a middle ground.

What is solar net-metering? If you have a grid-tied system, you can use power from your local energy utility company when your solar panels fall behind on cloudy days.

You can pay for it using credits from the excess energy that you produce in the summer. Let’s say that on a sunny day, your panels generate more power than you end up using. You can sell that power back to electricity companies and receive credits for it. Then, when you need power in the winter, you can use those credits to purchase some from the electrical company. It all balances out!

When you combine a solar battery with net-metering, you won’t need to worry about running out of power in the winter. Better yet, you can benefit from the excess energy that you generate in the summer.

The output of your solar system is dependent on annual weather conditions. However, you aren’t entirely at the whim of nature—with these technological advancements, home and business owners can cover their energy needs on short, cloudy, and snowy days.

If you’re on the fence about installing solar panels because you’re worried about the winter, fear not. With solar batteries and a net-metering system, you won’t run out of power, even on days when your panels can’t keep up.

Article written by:

I am a writer and reporter for the clean energy sector, I cover climate change issues, new clean technologies, sustainability and green cars. Danny Ovy

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