Snow On Solar Panels – What You Should Know
4 - Minute Read
Jun 28, 2022
Not every homeowner considering solar panels lives in a perpetually warm climate. For this reason, many homeowners have questions about snow on solar installations.
But, thankfully, snowfall and cold weather don’t interfere with solar energy production as much as you might expect. In fact, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts – some of the country’s snowiest states – are among the top 10 solar states. Home solar power works even on winter days.
Let’s take a closer look at life as a homeowner with solar panels in a cold, snowy location.
Do Solar Panels Work In The Winter?
Electronic devices work their best when they’re not overheating. Consider smartphones: Some even shut down if they get too hot.
Likewise, solar arrays actually function better in cooler temperatures. As solar cells grow warmer, studies show they can lose 10 – 25% of their output. When this happens, wind can cool them off to improve their production.
You can count on solar panels to reliably generate electricity in cold weather.
Do Solar Panels Work With Snow On Them?
While cold temperatures won’t reduce the output from your solar panels, snow covering the panels can impede it. Photovoltaic (PV) arrays need sunlight to produce electricity, and snow can block light from reaching the panels.
Still, the disruption is minimal. A study by the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology found that snowfall results in only a 3% average energy loss. Also, a light dusting of snow still allows light to get through.
The same study also revealed that solar panels mounted at a 45-degree angle were most effective at preventing snow accumulation. As the snow begins to melt, it usually slides right off the PV array.
Solar panels are usually a dark color that makes them warmer than the ambient temperature. This speeds the process of melting accumulated snow – you might notice the same effect on a blacktop driveway.
Melting snow also helps keep solar panels clean by removing dust and other potential obstructions. As a result, solar panels can produce renewable energy more efficiently.
Do I Need To Clean Snow From My Solar Panels?
If you’re experiencing light snowfall, you may not even need to worry about cleaning your PV array. As the snow melts in direct sunlight, it should slide off the panels.
Heavy snow is an altogether different matter. The added weight when the panels are covered in snow can put a strain on your roof, your panel-mounting hardware and your solar panels themselves.
If snow accumulates on solar panels, your best option is to hire a professional for snow removal – especially if you have roof-mounted solar panels. Walking around on a roof in the winter can be dangerous because the surface is slippery and more brittle. Some attention from a professional can also tell you whether you should have any concerns about your PV array’s lifespan.
Is Removing Snow From Solar Panels A DIY Job?
Cleaning snow from solar panels can be a DIY job. One method is using a “roof rake,” which is specially designed to remove snow from solar panels. This type of rake can extend to more than 20 feet. One of the most effective approaches is to clean snow from the lower parts of the panels, which can make it easier for the snow higher on the panels to slide off.
Whatever you do, be certain not to use an actual rake or even a brush with stiff bristles. These tools have the potential to damage your solar modules. Also avoid using any sharp tools.
Be sure to check your warranty before you try cleaning your panels. Under some circumstances, cleaning snow from your solar panels could void a warranty.
If you wait a bit, snow will eventually slide off solar panels without any help. In cases of extreme snowfall, you might need to clean them, but this should be the exception rather than the rule.
Should I Be Worried About Producing Less Power In The Winter?
There’s probably little reason to worry about producing less power in the winter. If your home is grid tied, it can always pull power from the grid to keep your home and its appliances running. You may need to pay a bit more during the winter months if your utility uses net metering, but you’ll likely make up for it during the sunny days of summer when your system is producing for several more hours each day.
If you have an off-grid home, you might have some cause for concern, however. In this case, you’ll need a significantly larger system that’s also equipped with at least one backup solar battery.
Other Winter Tips For Solar Panels
The major downside to solar panel systems in the winter is that they have fewer hours of daylight to collect sunshine. The good news is that you don’t have to worry too much about solar panel maintenance related to winter weather. All factors considered, it’s worth reviewing the following tips for making the most of your winter solar production.
Adjust The Panel Angle
Not all homeowners have solar panels with adjustable angles. If you can change the angle on yours, you’ll have two advantages: A steeper angle will allow snow to slide off sooner and will catch more sunlight when the sun doesn’t rise as high.
Solar panel mounting with adjustable angles is likely to be more expensive, however, so you can expect a tradeoff: more production but a higher upfront system cost.
If you’re still concerned about producing less power during the winter, consider a few energy-efficiency tune-ups. Switching from CFL bulbs to LEDs is an inexpensive way to make your home more efficient.
Updating your insulation, opting for energy-efficient appliances and cleaning your ducts can also have a big impact on your energy efficiency.
Check Your App
Many solar homeowners love technology and data. If you want to see what’s happening with your PV array during the winter, there’s likely an app that can help. Most of the popular solar panel manufacturers have apps capable of supplying an array of data about your system’s production – from hourly updates to yearly comparisons. You might be able to see data like “CO2 Emissions Saves” and “Equivalent Trees Planted.”
Information like this will let you know whether your system is working properly.
The Bottom Line: Solar Panels Can Work Well In Snow And Cold Weather
Solar panels can thrive in cold weather, and snow won’t slow their production much. Cleaning snow from your PV array isn’t necessary unless there’s extremely heavy snowfall. The main challenge in winter is the shorter periods of sunlight, but cold weather shouldn’t be an obstacle if you’re thinking about installing solar panels.
Want to know more about maintaining solar panels on a home? It’s really pretty simple, as you’ll see in our article about solar panel cleaning.