2 Dec

The Pros and Cons of Solar Energy During the Winter

In light of the recent snowfall in the Northeast, I thought it important to highlight the effects of snow and cold weather on solar panels. When it comes to those who live with the four seasons, the pros and cons of solar energy are very important. Solar panels work throughout the majority of the year but what happens when a huge snowstorm comes and threatens your panels with snow and ice? Can the panels stand up to the frigid temperatures and snowfall? Like all good things, there are several pros and cons of solar energy.

While it is true that major snowfall will significantly decrease the output of your solar panels, there are several ways to remedy that. One option is to let the sun melt the snow away which is recommended by most operation and maintenance (O&M) companies. Another option is to contract with your O&M provider to remove the snow regularly. Thirdly, you can purchase a specific roof rake that will allow you to brush off the snow without harming the panels. However, this option will only work if you have access to your roof and the solar array. The tilt of the panels, usually calculated based on the latitude of the location, can also determine how much snow will stick. If the tilt is high enough, the snow may be able to slide right off rather than accumulating on top of the panels.

Although snow can mean decreased energy output, interestingly enough cold weather means the opposite. Solar panels function best in cold but sunny environments. On those especially cold yet sunny days remember that your solar panels might just be producing more energy than they ever have before. Even though those cold, sunny days generally aren’t without clouds, the good news is that there are still sunrays coming through that provide power to your panels. While thick clouds may decrease output, it is nowhere near as decreased as when the panels are covered with snow.

Another important factor in analyzing the pros and cons of solar energy in the winter is the type of inverter used. Inverters range in size from micro to string to central. A micro inverter is attached to each solar panel and converts direct current to alternating current at the panel level. A string inverter is for a whole line, or string, of panels. A central inverter is for the whole array. With a micro inverter, if one panel is covered with snow only that panel will have a decreased energy output. With the string and central inverters, if one panel is covered by snow, the rest of the panels (either in the string or the array) will be affected, whether or not they are covered with snow. However, it is important to note that generally when it snows, it snows everywhere and one could assume that all panels would be covered.

Overall, when comparing the pros and cons of solar energy, a major con is that snowfall significantly decreases the output of the solar panel. However, in the absence of snow, a pro is that panels function magnificently in cold temperatures.

For more detailed information on the pros and cons of solar energy as they relate to snow and wind load requirements, check out our blog: Mother Nature and the Cost of Solar Panels.

Eliza Porter

Eliza Porter

Eliza is the Chief Learning Officer for Clean Footprint. As the Chief Learning Officer, she is responsible for writing and editing blogs, e-books, videos and white papers as well as other learning content created for Clean Footprint’s developer partners and clients. Eliza attended New York University in Paris, France and studied Global Liberal Studies before moving to Florida and joining the Clean Footprint team. She also studied Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of Central Florida.