WRITTEN BY CASSANDRA GATTON
What happens when you rely on solar energy to keep your home running in winter? If you are considering installing a solar power system, or are already solar, winter months can be daunting. Prepare your home for winter by learning how and when to remove large accumulations of snow, and adjusting your panels are great ways to prepare for the upcoming cold season.
Preparing for Winter
Winter is known for drastic changes in temperatures above and below freezing. It is important to inspect your panels and roof before winter weather arrives. Hiring a pro is the safest option when it comes to inspecting roof-mounted solar panels according to HomeAdvisor. Making sure your roof is in good shape and that there is no damage to the panels will allow them to reach their highest electrical output in the winter months.
Functionality in Cold & Darkness
Many think that overcast, winter days have a negative impact on their solar panel performance. However, cold weather can improve the performance of your panels. Though the hours of sunlight in winter are shorter, the cold weather allows for a higher absorption capacity. Electronics often run more efficiently in cooler temperatures, and as solar panels get warmer they produce less power with the same amount of sunlight. The highly-reflective white snow can also improve the performance of your solar panels.
Snow Accumulation & Removal
A dusting of snow will have little impact on power performance because wind will blow it off. If you live in an area that gets more than two inches of accumulating snow at a time, you will need to remove any accumulation to ensure the panels are receiving enough sunlight to generate electricity. Panel efficiency begins to be effected when light cannot penetrate through the snow. Performance is all dependent on how quickly you remove accumulated snow. If light cannot reach your panels for one hour due to snowfall that is one hour missed of electricity generation.
Solar panels are rated with impact and pressure tests so that they can withstand the weight of snow. Your contractor will inform you how much your panels can withstand. The safest option is to remove snow as it begins to accumulate.
Because panels are mounted at an angle, snow is likely to slide off eventually. There are tools such as a snow rake specially designed to safely remove snow from solar panels. The average cost for a solar snow removal rake is $40 to $115. Hiring a pro to remove snow from solar panels is always recommended.
Angle Affects Efficiency
The sun is lower in the sky during the winter months. This means that changing the angle can greatly improve the performance of your cells. By adjusting your cells to face south and increasing the tilt of the panels your cells will be able to create more electricity. By changing the tilt of a panel from 0 to 20 or 30 degrees you can increase the output by up to 20%. Calling a professional to adjust your panels is the best option. They will be able to calculate the optimal angle required based on the exact location of your home.
If you are in an area that has a high accumulation of snow you might consider some power storage options. For those in homes that are run completely on solar power, ice and fast-falling snow may be difficult to remove in harsh conditions, so a battery is recommended. A battery will store electricity from the cells and use it when the cells have below optimal outputs. Installing a battery can cost about $5,000 to $7,000, and may be a good option for those off-grid.
Effects of Ice and Freezing Rain
Ice and freezing rain are often overlooked. The accumulation of ice on your panels is less likely to cause interference than snow. The fact that ice is more translucent than snow allows your panels to absorb sunlight. This translucence will also make melting time faster so you will not have to scrape anything off of the panels.
This winter may be cold, but your home will be warm with your new or pre-existing solar power system keeping the lights on.