• RenewSys India

Solar Panels for Cold Climates - Do Solar panels work in Snow and during Winter

As long as the sun is hitting a solar panel, the solar panel will generate electricity - no matter how cold it is. In fact, PV solar works most efficiently in colder temperatures. A cold, sunny environment is the optimal operating condition for solar panels. Counterintuitively, it's heat that actually reduces solar efficiency.



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Do solar panels work in the snow?


Snowfall certainly affects the performance of the solar panel. In some cases positively and in some cases negatively. It is quite interesting to note that if the weather is windy during the snowfall, snowfall helps power generation. When snowflakes are present in the atmosphere, they reflect the light and help the scattering of light and hence photons on the panels. The wind ensures that the snowflakes falling on the panels are cleared off. So, as long as they are not deposited on the panels, snowflakes will actually aid the solar power generation.



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When snowfall is little to moderate, two factors come into the picture allowing solar panels to function satisfactorily. The first factor is sunlight. Moderate depositions on the melt away as soon as the panels are exposed to sunlight. Once the snowflakes melt away, the panels function properly.


Solar Panel Performance in Snow:


Another advantage of little or moderate snowfall is, any dust particles, which are present on the panels, will get carried away along with the molten snowflakes. This will clean the panel surface and increase the panel performance.


When the snowfall is heavy, the panels are completely under the snow. Under such circumstances, their performance can either completely stop or can be at a minimum level depending on the availability of sunlight.


Such heavy snowfall will also lead to added weight on the panels. If the mounting structures are not strong enough, they might collapse under this increased weight.


Operation and Maintenance Tips for Solar Panels in Cold Climates?



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Here are some tips which help ensure better performance of PV panels during snow:

  • Panel Angle: In the places where snowfall is heavy, raising the panels by increasing the angle of mounting will ensure that the snowflakes slide off the panels. Once the snowflakes are off the panels, the panels will function to their full capacity.

  • Cleaning, Panels with a Broom or a Rake: If the snowfall is very heavy, the snow will completely cover the modules. Once this happens, the panel performance will go down. In such cases, the snow can be shoveled off the panels with the help of a broom or a rake. One must take absolute precautions not to damage oneself or the panels while cleaning the panels. If the snowfall is too heavy, cleaning is also essential for the safety of the mounting structures.

It is debatable whether cleaning panels is a viable option. In many parts of the world, during heavy snowfall, sunlight is not available for days or if available, then only for a short window of a couple of hours. At such places, it is recommended to keep the panels as they are under the snow as cleaning them would anyway not lead to any energy generation from them and cleaning might impose a risk to the personnel as well as the panels.

To summarise, little or moderate snowfall will have no adverse effect on the panels or panel performance. Heavy snowfall certainly affects the panel performance. In such cases, cleaning panels with a broom or a roof rake could help panels start generating electricity.


Do Solar Panels Work in the Winter?


Solar panels are functional, but they function even better as long as the sky is clear and the sun is available. In winter, since the sun rays come at a low angle, the amount of solar radiation is limited which leads to lesser power generation. Also, in winters if the sky is cloudy, solar panels will generate less amount of energy. Many types of research show that except for the extremely cloudy days, solar panels generate a substantial amount of energy even in winters.


Solar panel productivity in winter:


Three things affect solar panel productivity: temperature, cleanliness of the panels, and the amount of available light. Let's look at how winter conditions affect these factors.


  • Temperature: Believe it or not, solar panels work better in the cold. Heat tends to increase electrical resistance, so the colder your panels are, the more efficiently they will operate.

  • Light availability: Here is where your solar panels operate at a major disadvantage in winter. There are fewer daylight hours on a winter day than in the summer. The angle of the sun is also much steeper in the winter, which is less favorable for the typical installation.

  • Panel cleanliness: Anything that obstructs your panels will affect their efficiency. This includes dust, dirt, and snow. We usually think of snow as clean, but if snow and ice build-up on your panels they can shut down your power production. However, this is not usually a problem, since snow generally slides off them quickly (especially with south-facing panels).

One last thing to note is that temperature swings can cause panel components to expand and contract. This is a major cause of damage to cheap, poorly made panels and can severely shorten the life expectancy of a panel.


Maintaining solar panels for optimal winter production:


The beauty of solar panels is that they require no maintenance under normal conditions (Standard STC conditions). However, to reap the full advantages of solar energy, there are two things you can do to improve panel efficiency during winter.


The first is to adjust the angle of your panels to take advantage of the lower winter sun angle. This requires a special, adjustable rack. Most people don't consider the hassle of adjusting panels twice a year to be worth it, but if you are determined to get the best possible return on your solar investment, it is an option.


The second is to be vigilant about removing any accumulated snow or ice. You will probably be surprised at how fast snowmelt off panels after a snowstorm without having to lift a finger. Though if you do notice a persistent accumulation, and your panels are safely accessible, you can remove it with a push broom or a windshield ice scraper. Don't put yourself at risk, though. The little extra power you gain is not worth an injury from falling off the roof. This activity is best reserved for ground-mounted panels.


Data Credits: https://www.revisionenergy.com/

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Image Credits: https://www.revisionenergy.com/

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