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Solar is Changing The Way We Power Our Nation

Solar panels seem like their made for the Sunbelt. Yet, solar panels perform well across the country. Even in cold, northern latitudes and rainy climates, solar power is a reliable and resilient energy source.

A solar installation generates clean, renewable energy—year round. Solar panels actually produce electricity more efficiently in cold weather. In winter months, solar panels will brighten your day and your home. Now is a great time to go solar. It’s your home, use your own energy.

More households nationwide are investing in solar systems every year. In fact, the International Energy Agency states that over half a million solar panels were installed every day in 2018, around the world from Alaska to the Antarctic.5 And, Sunrun is the leading installer of rooftop residential solar systems in the U.S., from the Northeast to Hawaii.13

Solar is the best sustainable energy resource in cold climates. Be prepared for the next polar vortex.12 Solar power makes your home and community healthier, safer places that are less reliant on fossil fuel and the grid.14

At Sunrun, we know there is a better way. The solar revolution is here for you and future generations—during summer sun and winter cold.

Do Solar Panels Work in the Winter?

The most powerful energy resource available in the world is right above your head. Even in the most frigid weather, solar panels turn sunlight into electricity. Solar panels create energy from our sun’s abundant light—not the sun’s heat. So, how do solar panels work?15 Briefly, when sunlight photon particles hit solar panel photovoltaic cells, electrons in the silicon are put into motion.

This motion directly converts into an electric current. Then, the current is sent to your home’s electric distribution box to power your essential items. And, with a solar storage battery, it can light your nights.

Thus, even in winter months, if sunlight is hitting a solar panel, it will generate electricity. Cold climates are actually optimal for solar panel efficiency.5

Contrary to what some may think, heat actually diminishes solar panel electricity production. Research has demonstrated that panels begin losing efficiency around 77ºF.17

Some naysayers of renewable energy may hold that solar panels simply shut off in a polar vortex. Yet, that is far from the actual science behind solar technology. Solar is a reliable, cost-effective way to power your home during winter weather.

Solar panels supply dependable electricity to homes in cold climates, extreme weather and outages. Plus, the more energy efficient a home is, the fewer solar panels may be needed. Finally, in a truly resilient home, batteries can store solar power even if winter weather may have gotten the best of you.16

Solar power protects you and your home from winter conditions. Cold temperatures increase solar electricity production and it can be stored for future use.5 Plus, on a cold, clear day, there is as much sunlight as the day is long.

Pros and Cons of Solar Panels in the Winter

The efficiency and energy production of solar panels diminish somewhat in winter conditions. Yet, the cons are primarily due to infrequent heavy snows and the shorter days. On the other hand, the efficiency and energy production of solar panels is typically enhanced by cold temperatures.

Here’s a few pros and cons to help explain solar panels in cold weather.

Pros and Cons of Solar Panels in Cold Weather

Pros Cons
Solar panels create electricity from the sun’s light not the sun’s heat. The angle of panels may need adjustment to a higher angle in winter to capture more light.
Colder temperatures enhance energy production efficiency, increasing the daily amount of electricity produced despite fewer daylight hours. The amount of electricity generated during winter is less dependable than the summer, potentially increasing use of energy from grid.
Sunlight can still navigate to the solar panels through lighter snow cover and maintain energy production. It’s important to install extra durable solar panels rated to handle the weight loads from heavy snow, which may increase cost.
Solar panels are installed at an angle which allows most snow to slide off and let the sun shine in, increasing your peace of mind. You may need to clear heavy snow if it is completely covering the panels and blocking transmission of all sunlight.
Many cities and states in northern regions with cold climates are instituting very favorable incentives for installing solar. Shorter winter days, snow cover, clouds and a lower angle of the sun all reduce the amount of sunlight solar panels can harvest.4

Solar can’t change the weather, but it can help you ride it out. The following will help you better understand how solar panels produce electricity in the cold and snow.

What’s the Science behind Solar Panels and Temperature?

Producing electricity in solar cells is  more efficient when it’s colder. While this may not seem intuitive, you don’t need to be an engineer to understand solar technology.

So, how do solar panels more efficiently produce electricity in cold weather? Let’s quickly review a little science. To make a somewhat complex process more concise, the Materials Research Lab at University of California explains the basics.3

Remember how electrons move around atoms? Electrons are at rest (low energy) in cooler temperatures. When these electrons are activated by increasing sunlight (high energy), a greater difference in voltage is attained by a solar panel—creating more energy. 15

Inversely, the primary effect of heat on solar panels is reducing the electrons’ efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity. Warmer temperatures in the summer raise the overall energy levels of electrons, thereby decreasing the energy differential that can be gained and producing less energy. This high energy state interferes with solar cell electricity production since some energy transfers into heat instead of electricity.

The temperature outside doesn’t affect the amount of sunlight a solar panel receives. Yet, the temperature outside does impact how much power is produced inside the solar cells. As panels get hotter, they create less energy—even with the same amount of daylight.

Yet, the energy generation doesn’t stop. And, this diminished efficiency doesn’t generally occur during winter months. Additionally, the summer’s lower electricity production due to heat balances out with longer days of sunlight.

In the solar industry, manufacturers rate their solar panels for peak temperature.18 This temperature is the point at which solar panels operate most efficiently.

Once their temperature rises above that peak temperature, the panel’s efficiency for creating electricity decreases. In the winter, it’s less likely for solar panels to reach their peak temperature. Thus, the electron reactions occur at a greater rate.

At lower temperatures, solar panels absorb more energy from the sun to more efficiently generate electricity. So, there’s a bit of science behind solar panels but it’s not totally daunting. If you’d like to understand more, we’re here to help.

Do Solar Panels Work in Snow?

Besides the cold, there are other worthy questions about solar panels in the winter. What happens when it snows? Will I get enough electricity? Snow days are great for kids. But, what about snow on solar panels?

Some households in northern climates may wonder about solar panel performance during snowy conditions. Yet, it’s not as large a concern as some may think. The truth is: even when covered with snow, they can still generate electricity.1

Sunlight still reaches solar panels through snow and keeps solar cells producing energy. Also, a light dusting of snow is likely to blow off or disappear rapidly. Solar panels’ dark glass accelerates snow’s ability to melt and slide off before it hampers performance.

Furthermore, the installation racks are typically tilted up at 30 to 45 degrees, which also keeps snow from accumulating (to a point).1 Even if snow only exposes a small portion of a Sunrun solar panel, it will be working for you.

Solar power is as reliable as the sun. While snow may reduce sunlight penetration, it doesn’t necessarily prevent solar panels from working. Sunlight can still navigate through snow and reach your panels to produce more electricity than anticipated.

On cold, clear days when there’s a brilliant carpet of snow, it reflects extra daylight onto solar panels. The smooth white surface of snow reflects light, almost like a mirror. This albedo effect of snow enables panels to produce even more electricity in the cold.5

Solar Panel Maintenance in Cold Weather

Sunshine is abundant on clear, brisk winter days enabling your panels to efficiently create energy with every ray of sun. Solar panel concerns with snow are typically minimal, however, there may be intermittent maintenance.

Sunrun will give you peace of mind with your solar installation, in the winter and throughout the year. Our service package includes daily system monitoring, quick response time, free maintenance and repairs—for 25 years.

Your panels are our panels and we’ll take care of them for you. But the energy—it’s all yours. Feel secure with the Sunrun guarantee.

Snow is generally light and fluffy. And, solar panel construction meets pressure tests to handle a certain weight load while maintaining durability. Yet, durability for handling heavy snow may vary.

In the U.S., solar panels are required to handle a snow load between 20 to 40 pounds per square foot. Check out this map to find the snow load where you live.

After a big winter storm, you may wish to remove snow from panels, so they generate a typical daily amount of energy. Also, if your panels are completely covered in wet, heavy snow that doesn’t slide off or melt soon enough, you can use a roof rake. Just be careful on the roof. Or, call a professional to wipe off the snow.

In the winter months, the sun is lower in the sky. So, to accommodate the sunlight’s change in angle, it is common to adjust solar panels to a higher angle. This adjustment enables panels to catch the most rays and generate a maximum amount of energy during shorter days.5

Solar panels seldom stop producing electricity during the daytime. And, another bonus is snow will clean off any dust that may have accumulated on your panels. So, they’re clean and shiny, ready to take in more sunshine.

Regardless of snow covering solar panels, it doesn’t hinder their output as much as one may think.5

Solar Panels and Cold Weather States

Solar has no fear in frozen weather—on or off the grid. Today, solar panels are found high atop the blustery, snow-covered Rocky Mountains generating electricity for cozy cabins.

And, solar panels are a critical energy source in remote polar tundra regions. Solar supports hardy communities in Alaska and U.S. facilities like McMurdo Station in Antarctica.19

Such solar installations clearly demonstrate that panels can produce electricity in cold, snowy regions. Based on research across winter locations, solar is a proven economic energy solution in northern climates.1

Store your sunny days for a stormy one with Sunrun solar and Brightbox battery. Solar power is also the winner when serious cold snaps hit northern regions and shut down the grid.

The Midwest and Chicago have recently experienced large electrical outages with myriad ramifications. These electrical impacts from winter conditions affected the welfare of thousands of people left in the cold and dark.

Solar panels clearly and consistently demonstrate that they can generate electricity in snow and extreme cold climates. Energy production only significantly drops if solar panels are completely covered with heavy snow.

So, your home doesn’t need to be in California, Arizona or Florida to make the most out of solar. In fact, Massachusetts and New Jersey were in the top 10 states with solar installations in 2018.10 And, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) ranked New York in the top 10 states for solar installations in 2019.2

Take note, Germany only receives about as much sunshine as Alaska. Yet, this European nation has been on the forefront worldwide for using solar as a primary energy source.2

Their reliance on solar panels for everyday electricity is excellent proof that cold climates don’t hinder performance.5Every winter day, is another day to take pride in your decision to go solar.

Another parameter for the success of solar in colder climates is industry growth. Minnesota ranked 16th in solar jobs nationwide in 2017 according to the Solar Foundation’s “Solar Jobs Census.” Northeastern states like Vermont also have robust markets despite solar limitations in northern latitudes versus the Sunbelt.4

Finally, cities and states in northern regions with cold climates are instituting strong incentives for installing solar systems. Local and state governments know that solar panels continue producing energy despite the fluffiest snow and deepest freeze.

For greater energy efficiency and economy, California and New York are developing their own grids to encourage residential solar development.21 And, some locations are even pursuing alternative community grids.20

Visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) for comprehensive information on financial incentives by state. You can lock in great incentives and install solar before next winter.

Even if you haven’t retired to San Diego or South Carolina, the worst of winter lasts only a few months when the sun is low and snow blows. Plus, the farther north you live, the longer your summer days. This geographic benefit evens out winter’s lower energy performance with extended summer daylight and greater energy production.

Solar Panels and Wind Chill

It’s proven, solar panels produce more voltage at lower temperatures. Wind chill lowers ambient temperatures. Plus, people in northern latitudes know it can feel significantly colder with a wind chill.

So, the winds in that coming winter storm will not reduce your electricity production. The chilling effect from wind carries away heat and enables panels to perform better. Another reason solar panels work better in wind is there are often fewer lingering clouds.

One limited impact of wind on solar panels could be the occasional dust storm in arid western states. Unpredictable dust storms are caused when gusts of wind or cold fronts blow in picking up sand and debris. Dust storms are typically short lived. However, they can be heavy enough to reduce atmospheric visibility and create the effect of clouds reducing sunlight.

Yet, fear not about your panels blowing away. Solar professionals are highly trained in securing solar installation to rooftops. And, Sunrun has some of the best installers across the country.

If you’re still worried about the wind, step out of your snow boots for a minute. In the Southeast and Puerto Rico, solar rooftop installations are actually increasing due to hurricanes. Households in Florida and other coastal states want backup power during outages caused by gale force and hurricane strength winds.

With frequent hurricanes and extreme weather conditions, many U.S. communities are facing wind forces of 75 to 150 mph or higher.23 Yet, rooftop solar installations hold tight. And, they are making these homes and neighborhoods safer for the long-term with reliable, renewable energy.

The most vulnerable part of today’s electric grid during strong wind events is exposed power lines and equipment transporting electricity to neighborhoods. Moreover, a clean energy expert from the Rocky Mountain Institute said, we’ve been aware of this national infrastructure weakness for decades.7 However, there’s very little progress on updating our aging grid system.

Grids go down, but the sun comes up every day. A solar rooftop installation is resilient in the wind. It’s there for you providing daily backup power during tropical storms and winter extremes.

Winter Benefits of Net Metering and Battery Storage

Installing a grid-connectedrooftop solar panel system with battery storage pretty much guarantees electricity in cold climates. So, in winter conditions, rest easy about your solar panel performance in the cold and wind. Even when your system may produce less power, you likely won’t run out of electricity.

If you have net metering, energy generated by your solar panels helps offset grid use.6 Net metering can be advantageous throughout the winter months, when your electricity production is somewhat lower due to shorter days and variable weather.8

Additionally, a solar battery is always good backup for bad weather. It reduces the amount of electricity you may draw from the grid in winter. Battery storage saves electricity generated by your solar panels to keep your household running strong despite clouds, rain, and snow.

Overall though, don’t anticipate producing more electricity during cold months than in the summer. Winter days are shorter with fewer hours of available sunlight. Yet, the sun rises every day no matter how cold it is. And, sunlight will reach your solar panels producing significant energy.

Save sunshine in a storage battery for the next winter day. With solar panels on your roof and a Brightbox battery in your home, you’ll control your own electricity, avoid outages, help the environment, all while taking control over your energy costs. The power is in your hands.

Do Solar Panels Work when it Rains?

Planning for a brighter tomorrow starts at home today. In the winter, it isn’t always fun in the sun in Sunbelt.

Some places like Georgia, Texas and Southern California experience a cooler rainy season when clouds and overcast skies extend for multiple days, much like northern climates may see throughout the year.

Yet, our reliable sun still rises every day and delivers daylight to solar panels through the rain and clouds. The amount of electricity generated is dependent on the density of cloud cover.8

Though energy production lessens, panels continue working to a greater capacity than one may expect. Rain even helps wash away dust on panels to keep them operating efficiently.

Solar panels can use diffuse or indirect sunlight (radiation) to generate energy, though they’re most productive in direct sunlight.6 Rainy days and clouds cause diffuse light. Here’s an explanation of the difference:

Direct light is solar radiation traveling in a straight line from the sun down to the earth’s surface. Diffuse light is sunlight that has been scattered by particles in the atmosphere yet still reaches the earth.22

As shown in rainy regions from Seattle to Syracuse, their increasing number of solar panel installations still work well with diffuse light that is reflected or partially blocked by rain clouds.

Two of the cloudiest and rainiest American cities are Seattle and Portland. Yet, residential solar systems are more and more popular in those regions as well.

Seattle is quickly becoming one of the best cities for solar in America thanks to Washington’s great payback incentive and net-metering policy. And, Portland is the 17th best U.S. city in terms of solar capacity.9

Adding battery storage to your solar power system is a wise decision. It enables you to use stored energy during less productive periods like rainy days. With a solar battery, you’ll use more of the power you generate, instead of sending it to the grid through net metering.8

So, don’t let some rain dampen your solar spirits. The sun is still right there above your head, helping you produce and use your own electricity.

Take control of your energy use in the winter, whether there’s rain, snow or dark of night. Sunrun is the easiest, smartest way for you to join the solar energy revolution.

Don’t Wait, The Time Go Solar is Now

Sunlight is our most abundant renewable resource. Solar is the best way to generate renewable energy in northern latitudes during the winter—and across the country all year round. Minor issues like snow blockage and cloudy skies don’t count significantly over the long-term.5 The time for solar is now. Consider that after selecting a custom solar system and signing a contract, the actual rooftop installation may not be finished—and producing electricity—for 60 to 90 days.11

So, start now. You’ll have a jump on the solar power market and be ready for the long days of summer—when you’re thinking more about keeping cool than staying warm. When you want to talk about solar for your home, the Sunrun team is here for you.

Despite winter cold and snow, solar panels keep producing electricity to serve your home and family. So, take control of your own energy and keep powered through extreme weather conditions. Together, we’ll change the way we power our lives. See if you qualify today.

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