Facility Dude

Is solar power still viable in winter?

By Kate Donnelly
Dec 04, 2015

Facilities Management, Energy Management

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Is solar power still viable in winter? With all the talk of sustainability and green energy percolating throughout the industry, you likely have several ideas for improving your facility's performance and efficiency. One major way to overhaul your power usage is to switch to solar power.

Solar power is completely clean and sustainable, harnessing the infinite energy of the sun rather than burning emissions-heavy fossil fuels. But what about those times when there isn't any sun? Cloudy days, rain storms or even throughout the entire winter? Can these instances render your new solar panels useless?

Surprisingly, the answer is no. Here's some information on why solar power is viable even in the dead of winter.

Will cloudy days cast a shadow on my solar power?

The old myth that a cloudy or gray day will prevent your solar panels from doing their job is, simply put, not true. According to solar power company SunPower, some cloud cover or overcast conditions aren't going to stop your solar panels from generating much-needed power. As long as there's sunlight, your panels will be soaking up rays and converting it to energy.

It's worth noting that the days are shorter in the winter, which means that the sun is out for less time. Subsequently, your solar panels will generate less power in the winter than they would in the summer. The exact discrepancy depends on a number of factors, primarily where you live - the farther away from the equator your facility is located, the less sun you'll get in the winter. However, there are few places in the world where solar panels are rendered completely useless in winter. As long as you stay south of the Arctic Circle, you should be fine.

Solar panels that are used in zero-net energy buildings are designed to not just generate, but also to store power, which can be useful for building up a reserve of power you can draw from in the winter.

What about snow?

When it comes to precipitation, the same rule mentioned above holds true: If light gets to your panels, you're fine. Snow can pose a problem in this regard, especially if it accumulates to be several inches thick on your panels.

However, solar panels aren't an "on" or "off" ordeal - even if a small portion of the photovoltaic panel is exposed, it will still generate some power - just not nearly as much as if the panel were free of snow.

"If snow is completely covering the panel, you are obviously only going to get the amount of energy out of the panel from the amount of light that is able to pass through the snow," Michigan Tech University associate professor Joshua Pearce told AccuWeather.

It turns out size does matter

Ultimately one of the most important factors determining how well your solar panels will perform in the winter is their size. Larger arrays have more panels on them, which increases the amount of power that can be generated. In other words, the bigger the panel, the more power you'll get. Keep in mind that solar panels only require sunlight, not heat - no matter how sub-zero the temperatures get, as long as there's sunlight they'll be doing their job.

But there's also another factor to consider - how efficient your array's wiring is. Once energy is collected by the panels, it has to be transmitted via wire to the rest of your grid. Believe it or not, this is where most power is lost. According to Clean Green Renewable Energy, you can expect about 30 percent of the power generated by solar panels to get lost in the grid system. Keep this in mind when deciding how many panels you need, and how big they should be.

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