Solar power is hotter than ever. With more and more people looking to get off the non-renewable electrical grid, drawing energy from the sun is becoming increasingly popular.
But for homeowners who live in areas with heavy winter storms or frequent days of little to no sunlight, one concern is: Do solar generators work in the winter?
This quick guide will answer your question, including how solar generators work in the winter and the factors affecting their efficiency. You’ll also learn tips on the best ways to optimize your energy generation so that you can have solar power even on the cloudiest, snowiest days.
Do Solar Generators Work in the Winter?
In the wintertime, the sun’s rays are weaker due to the cloud cover, the Earth’s distance from the sun, and the tilt of the Earth’s axis.
You might think that during the summer months, the reason your location is hotter is because it’s closest to the sun. But that’s incorrect. When the Earth is farthest from the sun in July is when it’s hottest in the Northern hemisphere. It all has to do with the tilt of the Earth’s axis. When it faces the sun, that’s the season we call summer. As the Earth revolves around the sun in winter, it spins on its axis and tilts away from the great ball of light.
Unless you live somewhere the sun only comes out once or twice a month during the winter, your solar panels will still capture the sun’s energy and generate power to store in the generator.
Even in sub-zero temperatures, solar generators still catch sunlight and turn it into power. The sun’s light is always bearing down on us, even if we may not feel it. The surprising thing about solar generators is that you can get as much power from the sun on a cold and cloudy day as you can in the extreme, cloudless heat.
All that solar panels need to collect solar power is exposure to the sun. The photovoltaic cells convert this sunlight into electricity, even if it’s a small amount. Solar generators aren’t like fires that only generate heat as long as they burn. Months after PV cells have converted solar energy and stored it in the generator’s battery, you can continue to dip into the energy reserve.
It is less likely in the winter that your PV panels will have exposure to the same sunlight that you get in the summer. But even in rain and clouds, you can still absorb the sun’s energy with your solar power generator.
How to Utilize Solar Power in the Winter
The primary way you can use your solar generator in the winter is by storing electricity in a battery. The generator is essentially a giant battery with solar panels attached. It draws its energy from the sun rather than a traditional power source like a wall outlet.
Solar generators typically gather less energy during the winter than in the summer, but power outages happen more in the summer. When temperatures increase, you run a higher risk of transformers bursting and power outages that shut down entire neighborhoods. Then again, surging winter storms can snatch the power from homes and entire neighborhoods for the same reasons. In either case, you can participate in community solar to keep the lights on during summer or winter.
Community solar is a program rolled out by the US Department of Energy. Any solar project in a defined area where the energy generated flows to multiple users, households, and businesses can be part of a community solar program.
Community solar, in other words, is when multiple residences buy or lease a portion of solar panels in a local array and receive an electric bill for their share of use. The rates users pay are drastically lower than what they would pay to use electricity from non-renewable resources.
Though there are still issues to smooth out with community solar, about a third of states have now launched pilot programs.
Besides joining a community solar program in your state, you can also optimize energy efficiency in winter by purchasing a reliable solar-powered generator.
Portable Solar Panels
Portable power stations alone aren’t enough to generate electricity. For that, you need solar panels to draw energy from the sun.
Can Snow Ruin Solar Generators?
The durability and weather resistance of solar panels has vastly improved in recent years. Inclement weather like snow will not ruin your solar power system. However, it might affect the efficiency rating.
You may have to regularly remove the snow from the surface of your solar panels. Blockages on the panels can hamper sun absorption. However, the dark, reflective glass covering the surface of solar panels gets warm quickly and accelerates snow melt.
The good news is that snow on the ground reflects light. Solar generators absorb the reflective power of the snow and convert it into electricity that you can use to power any of your electronic devices.
Do You Get Less Power in the Winter?
There may be a dip in power generation during the winter months, as there’s more cloud cover and less direct sunlight. Still, there’s no reason to fret. Sunlight still strikes the surface of the Earth constantly. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 173,000 terawatts of solar energy hit the Earth simultaneously, all the time.
For perspective, a regular electrical wall outlet generates 1800 watts, and a portable solar generator can produce up to 7,500 watts. That is a significant amount of energy to churn through.
Do You Need to Clean the Snow on Your Solar Panels?
You don’t need to clean light dustings of snow on your solar panels. The heat generated by the panels will melt the snow. The thermal cycle generates a significant amount of energy, so the surface of these panels can be hot to the touch, even in the coldest weather.
Plus, where there’s snow, there’s usually wind, which will blow snow straight off the slick surface of the panels. The only problem that you may run into is heavy snowfall. With more weight added to the panel’s support structure, there is a higher chance of structural damage.