Blog Post Thursday 25 July 2019
As the name suggests, we typically associate solar panels with, well - the sun! So what happens during those cold winter months, when the sun is barely visible through cloud cover, rain, and even snow? While solar panels work best in direct sunlight, they still produce energy during the cold and cloudy days. Of course, the output won’t be as high as during those summer months where direct light is more frequent and extended, but you can still make your solar panels work for you even in the coldest of winter months.
How do solar panels work in the winter?
There’s a misconception that solar panels and solar energy needs heat to produce power when, in actuality, solar panels are powered by light - especially ultraviolet (UV) light. When sunlight hits solar panels, a direct current of energy is created. This energy is converted into alternating current (AC) through the inverter, which produces the AC we use in our homes. Since solar panels are powered by light and not heat, they will continue fuelling power to your home even if temperatures are freezing cold. Just as long as they are getting sunlight, you can expect solar panels to continue serving your home with energy throughout winter.
Challenges winter poses for solar panels
It’s important to remember that the majority of direct sunlight is generated during the summer months, where the sun is more directed and concentrated. During the winter months, the sun is lower in the sky and the days are shorter, meaning there’s a limited amount of sun exposure which results in a bigger drop in energy generated. While you will experience a drop in energy produced during winter, it isn’t always a huge drop.
Solar energy levels during winter
Solar panel performance can drop during the winter months, depending on your geographical location and the placement of your solar panels. In Australia’s alpine regions of New South Wales and Victoria, the snowfall months of June to September can see a reduction in the amount of energy output produced. In these snowy areas, there’s always the chance that snow can pack on the panels and obstruct any light from hitting the surface. This obviously impacts the performance of the panels by reducing the amount of energy output for the entire system. However, most well-equipped solar panels are positioned with some degree of tilt, making it easier for snow to fall off the panels, reducing this risk. And since solar panels rely on sunlight, any sun that does hit the panels will melt remaining snow away.
Winter solar power is still viable
Since solar panels rely on light, the cooler months can, in fact, be more viable for solar energy production. A clear-sky winter’s day can see some excellent levels of power production on an hourly basis, even compared to the more warmer summer months. For instance, these graphs into solar irradiation levels between summer and winter in Melbourne show that despite Melbourne's lack of sunny days over winter, there’s still enough viable sunlight for solar panels to work comfortably.
Solar panels are tested at 25 degrees Celsius, and for every temperature above that, the panel’s output efficiency is reduced. In this regard, the colder winter weather can carry some advantage over summer. Even on cloudy days, solar panels can still receive the optimum energy they need. Since panels rely mostly on UV light, cloudy days can still provide an optimum environment for energy production and conversion. This is because UV light can still penetrate clouds. The average solar panel can still produce 10% to 25% of its rated capacity, depending on cloud density. Homeowners can help to further offset the impact of shorter days and the effects of clouds and wintry elements on solar panels by keeping on top of their solar usage in winter and tending to their panels for optimum performance.
How to get the most out of your solar panels during winter
While you can’t control the elements and shorter daylight hours during winter, you can do a few things to help get the most out of your solar panels and offset the reduction in energy over those months.
The autumn months are a prime time to perform an inspection of your solar panels in the lead-up to winter. You should give your solar panels a good clean and scrub off any dirt or debris. This can be done using warm water and a soft brush. If cleaning your own panels isn’t an option, you can contact your supplier or installer to put you onto a professional contractor to safely clean your panels for you. If you live in alpine or snow-prone areas, you may want to invest in a special snow removal brush or tool to move snow buildup from your panels. Since the sun is lower in the sky over winter, you may want to clip back overhanging bushes or trees that may be obstructing sunlight from reaching your panels.
Most solar energy systems come with a monitoring system allowing you to have an overview of your panels' performance during winter. Note down the times when you have available power and use your electrical appliances accordingly.
Your panels should be getting as much sun as possible from dawn to dusk for optimum performance. Since the sun is lower in the sky during winter and the daylight is shorter, you can help manipulate this by changing the angle of your solar panels if yours are adjustable. Since the sun hits at a different angle in winter than it does during summer, you can easily increase your energy output with this single adjustment.
Make the most of your solar panels this winter
If you’ve got solar panels on your roof, you deserve the right choice of solar plan. Get the most out of your solar panels by switching to a leading retailer like Click Energy.