We’re not sure about the rest of you, but those of us in Iowa and Illinois are still reeling from what is being hailed as “The Great Blizzard of 2011”. And while we’re still struggling to find someplace to put all the snow, we thought some of you may be wondering how solar energy would work in a climate like ours.
On first thought, one might be quick to assume that during the winter months solar collection would see depleted results, or that all that wintry precipitation impairs solar cell performance. In reality, colder weather can sometimes even improve photovoltaic output as colder temperatures reduce electrical resistance, therefore increasing efficiency.
As we referenced on Facebook the other day, sunlight isn’t effective at melting large, fresh snow piles in cold weather because the snow is so bright that it reflects the light. While the science behind melting snow may be hard on our backs when we think about having to shovel all of that, the same premise produces positive results for solar.
The snow doesn’t melt because the bright snow reflects the sunlight, which can actually improve solar readings and capacity. The panels are not only processing the light directly from the sun, they are scooping up the reflecting light as well.
While we’ve mentioned periodically the flexibility that a product like POWERSHED has compared to modules placed on the rooftops, winter months are another good example of this. This is because the modules are mounted closer to the ground as opposed to being on the roof and the angle of the modules can be adjusted.
This combination of being ground mounted and adjustable has two winter benefits:
- In the winter months the sun sits lower in the sky, so the solar wings can be adjusted to a steeper slope to best complement the sun’s lower position and this steeper slope also helps the snow slide off the modules easier.
- When large winter storm accumulations make it necessary to manually remove the snow from the modules, being mounted closer to the ground makes it easier and safer to clear them with a long pole and a squeegee.
Lastly, in solar energy systems that are inter-connected with one large inverter, the total output of the photovoltaic array can be drastically affected if a module were to become damaged or inoperable due to snow coverage. In a micro-inverter based system, each module’s output is independent of the modules around it, allowing for an increased opportunity that the array will be collecting efficiently.
All these factors allow for total solar energy production in winter months to be similar to collection rates in the summer months, provided your solar array has the specifications noted above.
Just because the weather outside may be frightful, it doesn’t mean your energy bills have to be too!