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In general, it is perceived that the ideal circumstances for solar energy generation is to have a bright sunny day with a clear sky. 

This is the reason for the common misconception of solar panels being ineffective during winters. However, it might be interesting to note that on some occasions, they work better in winter than on a typical summer day. 

This article will help you understand how solar panels work through winters and aim to resolve your doubts regarding their performance the cold season.

Do solar panels work in the winter?

If you live in an area where the temperature drops during certain months, you may feel the need for more clarification before installing solar panels. 

Nevertheless, science says solar panels can generate electricity even in chilly winters. Solar panels utilise the energy from the sun’s light, not the heat. Therefore, as long as sunlight falls over the thermal panels, they’ll function. The only reason for diminished output would be when the panel surface is covered in heavy snow. 

Scientists believe that in certain instances, solar cells may be more efficient during winters. During summers, the solar cells may get extremely hot, they generate more current but less voltage which results in less power. Research indicates that solar panels can loose efficiency when temperature crosses 77ºF.

How do solar panels work in the winter? 

Essentially, the functioning of solar panels is the same in winters as during the summer months. When sun rays hit the photons present in the photovoltaic cells within the panels, the electrons get into action. This generates an electric current, which through wires is sent to a home’s electric circuits or stored in rechargeable batteries. 

Let’s dig deep and understand other factors that may affect energy generation during these months.

Do solar panels work in heavy snow?

Heavy snowfall can create problems for solar panels since sunlight cannot hit the surface of the panels. 

In addition to that overaccumulation of snow can create a load over the panels which may even harm the photovoltaic cells. 

To avoid such occurrences solar panels are set up at tilted angles so that the snow can glide off the smooth surfaces of solar panels. 

Energy production on shortened winter days

Winter means shorter days, and shorter days mean less sunlight. These weather conditions may lead to a minor drop in energy production in the winter. 

Best angle for solar panels in winter

To select the best angle for your solar panels in winter, you’ll need to know your latitude. Once you know the figure, multiply it by 0.9 and then add 29° to it. 

It will increase the probability of more midday sunrays hitting your panels. 

As daytime during winter is short and midday time is the hottest, this method will allow you to be in an advantageous situation. 

Solar panel output in winter vs summer

While solar panels still keep producing energy in winters, the output may be approximately 35 % less in winter than in summer. This is because during winter, the sun goes farther from the earth. Therefore the intensity of the light hitting the panels may diminish. In addition, at some places, the winter atmosphere could be cloudy, affecting the panels’ output.

snow on solar panel
Photo by Miha Rekar on Unsplash

Does snow on solar panels stop electricity generation?

Solar panels can work with moderate snowfall. When sun rays fall on the snow-accumulated panels, they convert the snow into water, which falls off the panels cleaning all the dust and grime along with snow in the process.

However, power generation may stop if snow covers the panels and blocks sunlight. 

Why should you instal solar panels in winters?

Spring and summer are the busiest months in the solar business. Hence if you decide to install solar panels in winter, you beat the busy schedule of installers.

Once you install your panels, there might be a need for a few changes of apparatus or settings. Another benefit of installing panels in winter is being able to prepare your setup before the peak season.

How to take care of solar panels during the winter?

Taking proper care of solar in the winter season can be an overwhelming task. We understand you may have questions on mind. Following sections aim to get them covered. 

Can solar panels freeze?

Cheap and poor-quality solar panels can get affected by freezing conditions. Water freezes and expands over solar panels, which can crack them up. In addition, freezing can damage soldered joints and internal circuits of the photovoltaic cells.

Therefore it is best to purchase best quality solar panels for winter use which are weather-sealed and thoroughly tested. It will ensure that your money is utilized correctly and the setup functions for a prolonged period.

Do you need to shovel snow off solar panels?

Sunlight automatically melts the accumulated snow on the panels. Unless it is necessary, it’s best to leave the panels alone. If you decide to clean your solar panels, you can lightly remove the snow using a brush. You can also use a blower for cleaning.

It’s best to avoid scraping snow from the panels using a shovel because, while cleaning one can damage the solar panels. 

You can also outsource the service if you cannot or don’t want to clean your panels yourself.

Can I use winter cover for solar panels when not in use?

There are mainly two benefits of covering your solar panels in winter when not in use –

  • Protection from snow

Although solar panels work in winters, if it snows heavily, it might be an intelligent decision to cover them temporarily. 

snow sticking to solar panel during winter
Photo by Barnabas Davoti
  • Protection from algae

Snow is nothing but water which is frozen. If solar panels stay in contact with moisture, algae can develop. It can create a shadow over thermal panels and reduce performance by 30%.

Covering your panels will help to protect them from algae growth.

Should pool solar panels be shut off in winter?

Yes, it will be rational to shut off your pool solar panels during prolonged heavy snow conditions.

However before shutting down the pool panels, you must follow winterization steps to safeguard your investment.

Also read: Solar pool heaters

Concluding Remark

A lack of proper knowledge can easily create a misconception about the functioning of solar panels in winter. Now that you know about the pros and cons of solar panels in winter, it would be wise to follow the safety precautions to add more years to your valuable asset. 

Nevertheless, make sure you buy durable solar panels and install them in the right way for maximum panel efficiency.

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