Solar panels rely on energy from the sun to produce cost-saving, clean electricity. Winters are often long and harsh, depending on which part of the country you're from. With fewer daylight hours, the cold, and the possibility of snow, it is a valid concern to wonder if solar panels work in winter.
Although not as efficient as they are during the summer months, solar panels still produce electricity in winter; just less of it.
Low temperatures, less daylight, and snow all affect the productivity of solar panels, though not always detrimentally. Mass generation of electricity during summer months more than makes up for reduced production in winter.
What are Solar Panels and How Do They Work?
Understanding the science behind solar panels explains their efficacy when sunlight is limited.
Photovoltaic cells made from silicon gather together beneath a glass plate to form a solar panel. Protons in light waves from the sun hit the cells, triggering a reaction whereby energy is produced.
Learn More: Polycrystalline vs Monocrystalline Solar Panels
A nearby inverter converts this AC (alternating current) power into DC (direct current); usable electricity to power homes offices, or to send to the National Grid.
It is mostly photons seen to the naked eye that energize PV cells; not Ultra-Violet or Infra-Red rays. This means that there doesn't strictly need to be direct sunlight to generate energy, some photons will find their way to the cell.
Direct sunlight is stronger and will always produce the most power, however, dull days do not entirely halt energy production.
Factors That Affect Solar Power Generation
As its name suggests, solar power relies upon the sun. Overcast skies during winter impact how much electricity is generated.
Below are wintry conditions and their impact on output levels.
Light levels decrease as daylight shortens throughout winter.
The sun sits lower in the sky so solar panels receive less exposure from less intense rays.
Contrary to belief, solar panels work more efficiently in cooler temperatures; they don't overheat.
For maximum generation, solar panels are ideally situated in bright but cool spots.
In these conditions, they produce more clean energy than cells placed in constant, hot sunlight.
When summer temperatures exceed 80°f., the inverter fans need to work harder to prevent the cell from overheating. This results in less efficiency, especially as dust and other particulates in the air increase at this time of year.
If thick snow covers the solar panels, no light can reach the cells, resulting in no power.
Unless the snow is especially heavy, don't risk climbing on the roof in such conditions. Solar panels are positioned at an angle that encourages snow to slide off naturally.
Melting snow has the added benefit of cleaning the PV cells, improving efficiency.
On a positive note, the bright, smooth surface of the snow reflects the sun onto the cells, therefore increasing productivity.
In theory, ice is clear and solar panels are waterproof, so we don't foresee any issues.
Winter Output vs Summer Output
Solar panels work in winter, though their KW output is understandably reduced.
On overcast days, each panel is anywhere between 50% and 90% less efficient when compared to a full-sunshine, summer day.
What does this mean going forward?
All seasonal factors are taken into consideration when planning a solar-powered installation.
Battery back-up systems store any excess electricity generated through summer for use in winter.
This system is known as Net Metering and enables solar panel owners to earn enough energy credits during spring and summer to redeem in fall and winter.
During the winter, the sun spends most of its time warming the southern hemisphere. At this time of year, those in the northern hemisphere suffer shorter, colder days when the sunlight is far less intensive.
Ground-mounted and large free-standing solar installations have dual access trackers fitted. These behave in much the same way as a sunflower head follows the sun to thrive.
PV panels change the angle and rotate throughout the day, following the path of the sun., maximizing output.
Single access trackers adjust between the seasons. Typically the angle adjusts 25° between summer and winter to receive optimum radiation.
How Effective is Solar Power in Winter?
The electrical output of solar power is measured in kilowatts. A 3-bedroom house typically requires a 3.5kw peak system. Average solar panels have an output of 265w, though they can range from 225 – 350w; The higher the wattage, the greater the electrical output.
The daily output amount created is a simple calculation; the PV wattage X the number of sunlight hours.
Therefore, a 265w PV panel in 6 hours of direct sunlight achieves 1590 watt-hours (Wh) or 1.5-kilowatt hours (kWh)
In summer, a 3kw system, facing due south might produce 300kWh during the brightest months of June or July.
That same system might only produce 75kWh during December or January.
Ergo, a standard domestic solar array of between 12 and 16 panels generates around a quarter of the energy in winter than it does in summer.
Yes, solar panels work in winter, but, given typical cloud cover and reduced density of sunlight, you should expect the yield of electricity to be reduced.
However, your chosen installation company ensures your system compensates for this. Your solar array harvests maximum energy from the sun during the summer months to bank sufficient electricity to power your property year-round.