Remember snow? Even here in the far reaches of sunny Southern California snow is much more than a distant memory. We are lucky enough to be able to drive from the beach sunshine in the middle of winter and end up standing in snow about 3 hours later in the Sierra’s.
So, to with solar PV. You can use the same solar on the beach at sea level as you can at 3,000 feet in snow country, and still have nearly the same production and energy security. Snow, sun, wind, rain, cold, solar can handle all of it.
A common myth is that solar panels do not work during winter, but in contrary, the cold temperature will typically improve solar panel output. The white snow can also reflect light and help improve PV performance. Light snow has little impact on solar panels because it easily slides off. While snow accumulation does block some light from reaching the cells, light is still able to move through the snow. Forward scattering (diffusion of light through snow crystals) brings more light to the solar cells than one might expect. So even when panels are completely covered, they can still generate electricity.
The US Energy Department, through its SunShot Initiative, funds regional test centers, where it tests solar panels in real world conditions rather than lab conditions. For instance, its Vermont facility helps the department understand how solar panels perform in northern climates with more extreme winters.
All solar panels are designed to bear a certain amount of weight – and snow will usually not be heavy enough to cause issues. All solar panels undergo pressure tests to assess durability and quality.
Most panels are installed with a fixed tilt that will cause snow to simply slide off on its own accord, but that can take time. You can take control of the situation by using a small broom or similar tool made for solar panel snow removal that won’t damage the panels.
Cold, sunny weather is great for solar panel energy production. In fact, solar panels function more efficiently in cold conditions than in overly hot. This means that your panels will produce more power for each hour of sunshine during the short days of winter than a long hot day of summer.
Sunny states are not the only places where solar makes sense. In fact, the top 10 states for high solar production in the U.S. aren’t the sunniest ones. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) ranks Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York in the top-10 for states with the highest amount of installed solar since energy prices are higher, and despite longer winters there is a considerable payoff for solar fighting the cost of heating a home in winter.
Need further proof? Consider Germany, whose sunshine levels are most like Alaska. For over a decade, this northern European country has led the world in solar panel installations.