How snow affects Solar Panels?

How snow affects Solar Panels?

Introduction

As you might have understood by now, the efficiency of solar panels plays an important role in power generation. But certain factors and situations like storms, heat, trees, snow, etc. affect the efficiency of solar panels.

Today we will be highlighting one such factor i.e. snow. Many of us believe that snow affects the panels adversely and could be a potential reason for the bad functioning of the panels. Solar power functioning may indeed be interrupted by heavy snow, but that interruption is not long-term. 

Solar panels are designed in a way so that electricity can be generated during the whole year irrespective of the ongoing season. Weather changes might affect their efficiency but they won’t be permanently damaged until and unless they reach their maximum lifespan (now-a-days lifespans of solar panels are 30+ years). We have to understand the production of solar panels in different conditions and not get stressed when the weather changes suddenly! 

For now, this blog post will help you to understand how solar panels work during winter seasons and the effect of snow on their efficiency.

Can snow affect the efficiency of your Solar Panels?

Certainly yes, but don’t panic, as stated earlier the impact will last not more than two or three days. No permanent damage is caused by snow. In fact, snow on your solar panels can sometimes increase their efficiency as well. This means that snow can affect the solar panels in both good and bad ways.

Adverse impacts of Snow on Solar Panels.

First, let’s take a look at some of the negative impacts that snow and the winter season can have on solar panels.

  • Reduced Energy Production 

If you know the science behind solar panels, you must already be familiar that sunlight and efficiency matter the most for good energy production. Winter seasons can sometimes be a hindrance to this.

The weather is cloudy during snowfall and proper sunlight is not available for solar panels. Thus, solar panels become unable to capture sufficient sunlight thus production is reduced due to this.  

Snowfall leaves behind accumulated snow on the panels. This accumulated snow covers up the panels and causes a reduction in their efficiency for a certain period. Thus, winter seasons in general can cause a certain amount of reduction in energy production.      

Removed overstressing the structure as we always due engineering to ensure snow loading is not a concern.

  • Blocks the key ingredient 

The 'Key Ingredient’ of solar power is sunlight that we receive and use for free. Without it, the process of generating electricity through sunlight is impossible! Blocking and shading by snow can reduce solar panel production. 

Snow when accumulated on the panels blocks the sunlight and refrains them from generating sufficient amounts of electricity. Wondering how? Because the PV cells inside the panels are responsible for capturing and converting the sunlight into electricity. When snow covers up these cells how will they perform their task? Due to this, their efficiency level lingers at the lower levels. 

In the most northern and southern hemisphere locations of the world the compensatory factor is that in the spring, summer, and fall seasons there are longer sun hour days. These longer sun hour days are occurring when there is no snowfall. This offsets the reduction during the winter months as winter is always shorter sun hour days and when the snowfall occurs.

Favorable Impacts of Snow on Solar Panels.

Going through the adverse impacts, you might feel that solar panels face difficulties in maintaining their efficiency during winter seasons. Winters indeed affect the solar panels in both positive and negative ways. Although these positive impacts usually get missed due to the downsides of snows impact on solar, still they aren’t worth ignoring.  

Under this section, we are going to highlight some of those points and see how winter can be a helpful to solar:

  • Free Services.

Snowfall in winter can provide a helpful and free service for solar panels. When the lingering snow on the panels melts and starts sliding away, it takes away all the debris, dirt, and dust layered on the panel’s surface. 

These layers on the solar panels cover the PV Cells reducing their efficiency but melting snow takes all of them with it. It’s pretty much obvious that snow will melt away within 2-3 days and you won’t have to think about cleaning the snow and panels as well. 

Debris on solar panels, hindering sunlight absorption.
  • Temperature Maintenance.

Snow, we all know, is cold. When snow remains on the panels for a long time it can reduce their temperature to a certain level. Snow provides a cooling effect to the panels which helps to increase their efficiency.

Due to the cooling effect of snow, the temperature that went high due to heat is brought down. Low temperatures improve the working of solar panels and make them more efficient. Sometimes very low temperatures can reduce efficiency but the cell technology is always improving and able to maintain higher efficiency level even in extreme cold scenarios.

  • Credits get used. 

During the spring, summer and fall, solar panels usually produce energy more than is required. This excess energy can either be stored or can be sold back to the utilities. Sending excess electricity to the grid earns bankable kWh credits as the utility is able to sell your solar production to the next customer. This credit accounting system is a universal concept and is called Net Metering.

Winter seasons require less energy generation compared to spring, summer and fall days, so there remains no extensive pressure on the panels for production during the winter. The available sunlight is enough to meet day-to-day electricity needs due to Net Metering policy. This meaning you can use the utility-generated electricity for free. How? The credit points that you received earlier will pay for your utilization. 

In this way, your electricity needs could be met in a cost-free way and your credits could be used during winter seasons. 

How can you avoid the effect of adverse impacts?

As we know that the negative points are more effective than the positive ones, some potential mitigation strategies are required. Without them, the adverse impacts can cause more harm than they actually should. 

Usually, most of these strategies are technicality-based and used in designing panels, but some strategies include manual labor as well. A good understanding of all these strategies can help people to reduce the effect of the negative points to a degree. 

Some of those strategies are mentioned below for your help, let’s dive into them: 

  • Correct Panel Angle. 

Installing solar panels at a particular angle can help you to get rid of accumulated snow as soon as possible. Usually, it is advised to place your panels at an angle that enables them to slide away all the debris, dirt, and snow. 

When positioned at a tilted angle, some part of the accumulated snow slides off easily, and at the time of snowfall less amount of snow gets stuck onto the panels’ surface. Therefore, solar panels should always be placed in a tilted position. 

  • Using Heat. 

Heat can play a significant role in the removal of snow from the panels and when incorporated with the correct angle, they can help you get rid of the snow real quick. Generally, the solar panels are positioned in a way that they are directly hit by the sunlight for better functioning. This direct sunlight helps to melt the snow when it accumulates on the surface. 

Other than this, many heating elements are used to prepare these panels. One such element is the silicone (PV) cells. These cells are responsible for absorbing sunlight. During winters, a single ray of sun can prove to be helpful. Even a ray that falls upon those cells can spread the heat throughout the panels. This heat helps to melt the snow as well. 

  • Monitoring and Maintenance.

This strategy can be broken down into two: Monitor and Maintenance. Proper tracking of energy production should be done by using sensors and tracking systems during winter. Regular updates and checks should be made on snow coverage to know approximately how long it can take to get rid of them and If needed, what kind of further strategies have to be developed.

When talking about maintenance, regular maintenance if done, will help you to keep your panels in a good working condition. When nature throws the worst at them, they will be able to survive only if they were in better condition before, or else their work might be affected in the long term.

These are some of the basic strategies that can be helpful to you. We would recommend you explore more and more strategies so that you can plan a strategy according to your location and situation. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, snow affects solar panels negatively by influencing their energy production capacity. Although it does show some positive impacts as well, certainly they are surmounted by the negatives. This situation can only be handled with the adoption of different strategies. Solar Panels remain one of the sustainable renewable energy sources even in extreme weather conditions with little to no maintenance. 

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