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winter weather and solar PV panel performance

Winter weather and solar PV panel performance

Do solar PV panels still produce power in cold, snowy weather? It may surprise you to hear that your business doesn’t have to reside in California or Arizona to benefit from solar energy during winter months.

The basic mechanics behind solar photovoltaic (PV) technology are simple. Your solar PV panels capture direct sunlight and convert this 100% renewable energy into clean electricity to power your business operations. But what happens during the winter when it’s cloudy, cold, and snowing?

A common myth is that solar PV panels do not work during the winter. However, some of the most popular states for solar have cold, snowy winters. According to SEIA/GTM research, some of the snowiest, coldest states are among the top 10 states for cumulative installed solar electric capacity in 2018: New Jersey (#5), Massachusetts (#7), and New York (#10).

How are these states among the top 10 states for solar, despite their winter weather? Let’s take a look.

Winter clouds and solar panel performance

Solar PV 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 cloud cover. 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 and help improve solar PV performance.

Given these facts, your solar PV installation can still generate plenty of clean electricity to power your business during the winter, so there is no need to be too concerned about cloud cover.

Cold temperatures and 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 – 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? Energy prices. When extreme weather is in the forecast and the demand for energy increases and supply decreases, market prices for electricity usually increase. Investing in solar energy – and pairing it with battery storage – can allow you to manage the reliability and continuity of your energy supply, insulating your business from volatile energy costs created by weather events like extreme cold weather.

snow cover and solar PV panel performance

Snow cover and solar PV panel performance

Snow cover could potentially impact solar production if your PV panels are completely covered in heavy snow. This would block out sunlight, making it harder for your system to generate electricity.

So what should you do? There are several different options, but we recommend the “no worry solution”:

Modern solar PV panels do an excellent job of absorbing heat, so excessive accumulation of snow for a period of time is actually quite rare. But if snow does accumulate in large quantities, you can just ignore it. Snow is not heavy enough to cause any issues with the weight limits on solar PV panels, and most systems are designed with the PV panels pitched at an angle to capture the maximum amount of sunshine – so, in many cases, snow will just slide off of the system. This is accelerated as the solar PV panels heat up.

When snow is covering your PV panels, their energy output won’t be great. In fact, electricity generation might temporarily drop to zero. But solar is a 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 during power outages.
  • Other days, energy production will go down.

In other words, 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.

Still not convinced?

Just look at Germany – one of the most active solar markets on the planet. Despite brutal winters, the country is on track to generate 100% of its electricity from green power sources by 2050.

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.

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.