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Do solar PV panels generate power in cold, snowy weather?

Learn how solar PV panels can thrive in winter climates – even when it’s cloudy, cold, and snowing.

A common myth is that solar photovoltaic (PV) panels do not work during the winter, as the technology is often mistakenly associated only with sunny, warm climates. However, some of the most popular regions for solar adoption have cold, snowy winters. According to SEIA/GTM research through Q3 of 2019, some of the snowiest, coldest states in the U.S. – New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York – are consistently among the top 10 states for cumulative installed solar electric capacity.

On a global scale, look at Germany – one of the most active solar markets on the planet. Despite brutal winters, the country has set a goal to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable power sources, including solar, by 2050.

How are these territories leading in the adoption of solar power, despite their winter weather?

How winter clouds affect solar panel performance

The basic mechanics behind solar PV technology are simple. Solar PV panels capture direct sunlight and convert this 100% renewable energy into clean electricity. The panels harness both visible light and infrared light in order to generate electricity. Even on the grayest of winter days, visible light still gets through freezing rain, snow and clouds. Infrared light gets through even more easily, because it has longer wavelengths than the visible spectrum does.

In addition, if there is snow on the ground, the white snow can reflect light, providing an additional light source for the solar PV panels to capture and convert into energy.

How cold temperatures affect solar PV panel performance

Since solar PV panels require light – not heat – to generate power, freezing temperatures are even less of a concern for solar PV performance. Modern solar PV panels are incredibly durable and can withstand even the harshest elements. In addition, they are backed by manufacturer warranties for added peace of mind. In fact, solar PV panel output is inversely proportional to temperature. Cold temperatures can actually enable your solar PV system to work more efficiently.

What is a concern during freezing temperatures? Extreme weather that results in increased energy demand supply – causing market prices for electricity to usually increase – or supply disruptions that could have catastrophic business consequences. Investing in solar energy and pairing it with battery storage can boost the sustainability of your business, enabling you to manage the reliability and continuity of your energy supply – and insulate your business from volatile energy costs created by weather events like extreme cold weather.

How snow affects solar PV panel performance

How snow affects solar PV panel performance

When solar PV panels are completely covered with snow, it is true that they cannot produce electricity, as heavy snow cover would block out sunlight. However, modern solar PV panels do an excellent job of absorbing heat. Taking also into consideration the fact that most solar PV systems are designed with the panels pitched at an angle to capture the maximum amount of sunshine, panels tend to shed snow very well. Therefore, excessive accumulation of snow for a long period of time is quite rare and usually not a concern.

Even though snow could temporarily impact production, it’s helpful to remember that solar is a solid 25-year investment whose value is measured in annual output.

  • Some days, your solar PV panels will produce more energy than you can use – which you can monetize by either leveraging net metering programs or storing the excess solar energy in a battery storage system to shave peak demand costs or provide a continuous energy supply that supports your sustainability initiatives.
  • Other days, energy production will go down.

Still worried you get too much snow to go solar?

Remember that winter only last three months of the year, so your days of decreased sunlight and heavy snow are limited. While you may generate slightly less solar energy during each precious hour of light during these months, you can make up for it when there is more sunshine during the longer days of summer. You should focus on the total savings that your solar PV installation delivers throughout the year. Even if your solar PV panels are installed in the snowiest regions of the continental United States, a solar PV system offers guaranteed savings over its 25-year lifespan.

At Centrica Business Solutions, we help people go solar all over the country – including countless customers in regions like upstate New York and Massachusetts. They accumulate a lot of snow during the winter. However, with their investment in solar, they also accumulate energy savings and continue to generate returns throughout the entire year. That’s because our design team accounts for snow and other weather conditions when creating their production estimates.

If you’d like to learn more about how snow affects solar panel performance, schedule a free consultation with our expert installation team. We can answer any questions you might have regarding investing in solar power and maximizing your energy production throughout the year. We can even help you build a strategy around the resilience of your energy supply by combining solar PV and battery storage.

And yes, our solar professionals install solar throughout the snowy winter months.