If you live outside of the sunny Southwest, the weather can bring sudden changes this time of year. Many parts of the country have already seen snow, and the polar vortex has extended far enough south that even our nation’s capital has experienced a few deep chills.
Although at first blush it may seem that solar power is ideal for the summer, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels actually produce useful power throughout all four seasons. Tackling weather-related challenges is one reason why the SunShot Initiative funds Regional Test Centers, where solar panel performance can be time-tested in widely varying climates.
Researchers at the test centers have shown that solar can still successfully generate electricity in snowy areas and other harsh environments. A dusting of snow has little impact on solar panels because the wind can easily blow it off. Light is able to forward scatter through a sparse coating, reaching the panel to produce electricity.
- It’s a different story when heavy snow accumulates, which prevents PV panels from generating power.
- Once the snow starts to slide, though, even if it only slightly exposes the panel, power generation is able to occur again.
- Heavy snowfall can present a problem when the weight of the snow places stress on a PV system’s support structure.
The majority of PV panels in the field today have frames, which tend to create localized stresses at the mounting points. At the Vermont Test Center, researchers are characterizing impacts such as microcracks formed by the non-uniform load of the snow.
As can be seen in the photo, the absence of a frame allows the snow to slide off. This research has the potential to make solar a more economic option for energy generation in northern climates. With or without frames, though, it’s important to note that snow can actually help clean a PV module as it melts away.
It’s similar to what happens to a car’s windshield: if the snow is allowed to melt off, the windshield is left without a speck of debris. That’s because any dirt on the glass will bond with the snow, washing it away when the sun melts it off. The anti-soiling properties of snow inherently make solar panels cleaner and able to reach higher efficiencies.
SunShot is exploring other ways to help PV panels withstand the elements of winter through our support of the DuraMat Consortium, led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. DuraMat researchers are investigating how a variety of materials used in the packaging and mounting of PV components perform in different climates.
These studies will allow lower cost, more reliable, and more predictable new products to find their way to mass production. DuraMat is also investigating approaches that optimize frameless modules and make them more readily adaptable to outdoor extremes. Charlie Gay Dr. Charlie Gay is the former Solar Energy Technologies Office Director for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.Dr. Charlie Gay is the former Solar Energy Technologies Office Director for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. more by this author
Can solar panels generate power when covered by snow?
When a solar panel is covered by a thick layer of snow, it’s blocked from sunlight and can’t generate energy. However, in the larger picture of your energy savings, snow has an insignificant effect on your solar production. Winter days are significantly less important than summer days when considering overall energy generation.
Are your DIY solar panels affected by snow?
Solar panels need sunlight to produce power, so if your solar panels are covered in snow, they will not generate electricity. Most panels are tilted at an angle, so snow will slide off on its own
What should I do about snow on my solar panels?
What Can I do About the Snow? – There are several options for homeowners who have snow on their solar panels. Wait for the snow to melt. Most solar panels are installed at an angle and face the sun, which helps the panels to absorb solar energy. This also means that when the sun rises, the snow can easily melt and slide off.
- This is the easiest and safest solution, although it can take time for the weather to warm up enough to melt snow.
- You can clear the area beneath the panels so that the snow will have a place to slide when the temperatures rise again.
- The light reflecting from the snow on the ground will also boost energy production slightly, which will make up for lost time.
Hire a professional. If you can’t wait for the snow to melt off, or if you’re concerned about the weight of the snow on your array, consider hiring a professional to clear your roof. Plenty of local snow removal companies offer rooftop clearing services.
- They’ll be able to get the job done quickly and safely.
- Use a roof rake.
- A with a rubber head can help you clear snow from your solar panels without damaging them.
- Roof rakes are available at most hardware stores.
- While this method is the fastest and the most direct, there are also several risks involved — you may void the warranty on your panels, and it can be quite dangerous to climb out onto your snowy roof.
This solution is best suited for emergencies.
Does snow have any damaging impact on solar panels?
What impact does snow have on solar panels? – A quick answer is yes, there are side effects. Snow is one of the worst weather conditions affecting photovoltaic solar panels, because it accumulates on the main face of the panel and prevents the sun’s rays from passing through. As we have commented in previous posts, solar panels have certain disadvantages, which, above all, are related to weather conditions, such as cloud formations or, in this case, snow.
Bifacial solar panels: By installing bifacial solar panels, you ensure that at least one of the two sides still works even if the top part is completely covered by snow. In addition, the snow becomes a reflective mirror of the sunrays making the backside of the bifacial panel operate at 100% of its performance, a situation not usually achieved under normal conditions. Mobile structure panels: There are different types of structures for solar panels: Those that are fixed to the ground, mobile, ballasted, floating, and others. The most commonly used structure is fixed to the ground but it is the least effective in these cases. Mobile structures are the most complex, expensive and difficult to see, but thanks to the mobility of their structure they can rotate on themselves depending on the movement of the sun, which also prevents snow from accumulating and hindering its operation.
What happens if we have solar panels in our homes and snow accumulates on them? The first thing we need to know is that we should not try to remove the accumulated snow or ice with a shovel or rake ourselves, since by doing so, we could damage the panels in the attempt.