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Do Solar Panels Work in Winter?

  • Panels must be exposed to light to produce. Keep snow clear from the face of your panels.
  • Colder temperatures increase voltage, which means your system is more efficient when it’s cold & sunny.
  • However, there are fewer sun hours during the day in the winter, leading to an overall drop in production.
  • Take steps to conserve energy to get the most out of your system in the winter.

Wondering if you can still go solar in cold climates? Good news: snow and solar panels are not mutually exclusive.

This is a question we commonly hear from people who live in colder climates that get heavy snow in the winter. Do solar panels work in winter? Does heavy snow on solar panels affect their output?

It’s a reasonable question since solar panels capture their energy from the sun, and there’s less sunlight to go around in the winter…

But the answer to this question is fairly simple: yes, solar panels work in the winter. You just have to take precautions not to let snow build up on the panels.

It’s true that there are fewer sun hours in the day during winter, which means a shorter window for production.

But that drawback is somewhat offset by the fact that your system gets more efficient in the winter. As temperatures fall, panel voltage increases, which leads to higher production in colder temperatures. If it’s cold and sunny, your system works at extremely high efficiency.

If snow builds up on panels and blocks light from reaching the cells, that will prevent those cells from producing. But the easy fix is to simply remove snow from the panels.

All things considered, we estimate your system’s production will drop around 15-45% below its average output in the dead of winter. The production gap gets wider the further you are from the Equator. Plug your ZIP code into the PVWatts calculator to get monthly production estimates for your location.

With that in mind, here are a few quick tips to get the most out of your solar panels in the winter months.

Pole Mounts Help With Snow Removal

We recommend fixed roof or ground mounts for most standard solar builds because they are the most cost-effective solutions.

However, if heavy snow is a concern in your area, you might want to look at a pole mount for your panels.

Recommended product: General Specialties Pole Mount

FREE Solar Racking Guide

A pole mount is exactly what it sounds like: a tall pole that you can mount your panels on. They’re designed to allow you to adjust the tilt of your panels as you see fit.

Pole mounts accomplish two important things.

The first benefit of pole mounts is that they lift your array higher off the ground. When it snows, there’s room under your array for the snow bank to build up without obstructing the panels. With a fixed ground mount setup, the bottom of your array could potentially get buried in snow buildup.

The second benefit is that pole mounts are usually set at a steeper tilt angle. If enough snow builds up on the panels, gravity takes over and the snow slides off under its own weight. You may get temporary buildup, but pole mounts are designed to shed snow and keep your panels clear.

Pole mounts are a great option for snowy climates, but they do cost a bit more than fixed mounts. It’s not necessary to buy a pole mount for your array, especially if you don’t mind doing a bit of maintenance during the winter.

Maintenance Tips For Getting the Most Out Of Your Solar Panels in the Winter

1. Clear snow off your panels

If you don’t have a pole mount (or even if you do), it’s wise to brush excess snow off your panels so that it doesn’t block the solar cells and limit production.

If possible, opt for a broom or brush with soft bristles. The face of your panels is made out of glass. They’re going to be fairly sturdy, but you don’t want to use abrasive materials that could scratch the glass.

Be careful climbing on to your roof to clean your panels if you have a roof-mounted system. The ice buildup combined with the slope of the roof presents hazardous conditions. If you attempt to clear snow off your roof-mounted array, please take the necessary safety precautions, like wearing heavy-grip shoes and a secure harness.

If you live in an area where it snows regularly, we strongly recommend opting for a ground mount system. They are much more accessible and safer to maintain because you don’t have to climb on your roof to access your panels.

2. If Possible, Adjust Your Array’s Tilt Angle

Solar panels produce the most energy when they face directly into the sun. The position of the sun in the sky changes throughout the year, and it takes a much lower path during winter months.

Fixed mounts can’t be adjusted, but if you opt for a pole mount, you can adjust to a more optimal angle during the winter.

Read our article on finding the optimal solar panel tilt angle for advice on setting your panels in the right position to get the most production out of them.

3. Take Steps to Conserve Energy

Less daylight means less solar production, so it helps to reduce energy consumption in your home to account for this. Some quick tips:

Turn off lights and other appliances when not in use.

Replace high-wattage light bulbs with energy-efficient ones. You can go from 60W to 15W bulbs and save 75% of consumption.

Unplug appliances from your wall if possible. Plugged-in appliances still draw a small amount of power even when they are not turned on. These are called “ghost loads.” TVs, laptops, phone chargers, microwaves, stereos, and so on—these can all be unplugged to save energy when not in use.

Consider adding more insulation and sealing leaks around your doors/windows to retain more heat in your home. You can also insulate your water heater to retain heat.

Set the thermostat to a cooler temperature and use blankets and/or layers to keep warm. A smart thermostat can help you schedule temperature changes to keep your home cooler while you’re out and warm it up by the time you come home.

Battery Maintenance Tips For Off-Grid Systems

If you live off the grid, properly maintaining your battery bank is crucial to keeping the lights on.

Extreme cold temperatures can be very hard on your deep cycle batteries, so it’s important to take care of them properly.

Make sure your batteries are installed indoors. If they are outdoors, make sure that the compartment is properly insulated.

Lead-acid batteries freeze at below-zero temperatures, which will permanently destroy them. Lithium-ion batteries have a specific temperature operating range and often can’t be operated at extremely cold temperatures.

Always keep diagnostic tools at your disposal. This includes a digital multimeter and a handheld battery refractometer.

If continuous power supply is crucial, make sure that you have a backup generator ready and tested for functionality in advance. Generators must be regularly exercised to keep them tuned up and functioning properly.

In the winter, the exercise cycle needs to be longer to melt any snow or ice that has blown into the engine. For example, the Kohler generators we sell need be exercised weekly for 20 minutes in the summer and 30 minutes in the winter.

Recommended Product: Kohler 14kW Generator

For flooded lead-acid battery banks, keep a stock of distilled water for your batteries. The battery electrolyte level should be checked regularly. Check the battery manual to determine the appropriate fill level. Add distilled water to keep the fluid levels where they need to be.

Battery capacity is impacted by cold temperatures, because the chemical reaction inside the batteries slows down. Lead acid batteries are going to lose a significant amount of their capacity as temperatures drop.

Flooded lead-acid batteries should receive an equalize battery charge from a high capacity battery charger about once every 3-4 months to keep the plates free of sulfate buildup.

Most batteries do not fail instantaneously, but degrade over time. That degradation is accelerated if you don’t take proper care of your battery bank. Set a regular battery maintenance schedule and adhere to it diligently to ensure they work properly throughout the winter.

Download our free solar panel buying guide!

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