It’s the dream of many preppers and off-gridders to install the perfect solar power system and enjoy endless supplies of electricity for cooling, heating and air conditioning. Sadly, this does not happen. Or at least, very rarely.
Not only is solar output uneven across a normal day, but it also varies a lot between the seasons. Intuitively, you might think that Summer gives the best solar electricity, then Spring, Autumn, with Winter coming in a poor last! It isn’t really like that either, as it’s also very dependent on location irradiance. In some places, winter has a lot of sunshine and on others, it’s very cloudy, completely crushing power output.
As a general rule solar panels work in winter but their output cannot be guaranteed. Insolation levels vary across the weeks and instant irradiance levels can be very different. Typically, the average solar power installation in the Winter can expect to generate 10% to 20% of the watts produced in Summer.
Can solar panels freeze?
The solar cells inside solar panels can’t actually freeze, not can any of the materials used to encapsulate them. However, the glass cover and EVA could become very brittle, which happens at very low temperatures.
Tempered glass (think auto window) shatters easily when below freezing, so best not to handle solar panels at such low temperatures. However, they still operate. In fact, they are more efficient at lower temperatures – it’s just that there’s less irradiance to be efficient with in winter-time!
A bigger problem is cloudy weather in the winter, which is basically a sun-blocker.
What do you do if you’re living in an area that has periods of time where it’s pretty cloudy? This would be in most locations in the winter time and especially in locations up further to the north.
The North has a couple of strikes going against it in the winter time and that would be that the days are shorter the further north you go in the winter time.
Do solar panels work well in winter?
So what do you do in that kind of situation? Is solar even a possibility if you are in a cloudy climate or if you’re further to the north?
Well I say yes. I think that solar is feasible almost anywhere, unless you were to take it to extremes like the Arctic Circle or something like that, where you’re going to have very little to any daylight in the winter time.
Remember even in locations like that solar could be an excellent option during the summer time but let’s just think about how we’re going to handle the winter time, and let’s just take for example the continental United States, the lower 48 states. In that kind of a situation I would say that there are three main options for dealing with winter or cloudy weather.
When you are using a solar system as your primary power source, these are going to vary some. If you do a combination like a hybrid system, where you’re combining solar and you know, hydro or wind, or what-have-you, but where Solar is your primary option.
Option one would be to buy as large a system as it takes to get you through the winter and yes, you’re right, that’s going to cost some bucks, depending upon your winter, depending upon your weather, how far north you are, all kinds of factors like this.
Your power consumption as well, but as a general rule this is going to be the most expensive of these three options because it’s going to entail that you size your system for the worst possible conditions.
That’s going to be winter time so you’re sizing your system to where your solar system should as a general rule be able to provide you enough power even during those dark winter months.
While this is going to be the goal, the ultimate goal of most folks that are setting up a solar system because we want to become energy independent. This is the goal but it may not be feasible for everyone right up front at the very beginning, to set up a solar system that’s large enough to do that.
Especially if you’re not very energy conservative and if you’re living in a pretty cloudy, northern climate. That’s going to take a fair bit of money to set up, so just be aware that’s the ultimate goal. If you have the money go straight to that and be done with it.
Do solar panels work better in cold weather?
Option 2 is where we size for spring/summer/fall so we size our solar system to take us through the majority of the year, hopefully eight or nine months out of the year.
We size it to where it will handle that on its own without any help and then during the winter time we can reduce our power usage.
The theory is that during three or four months where we’re not producing enough power to meet our needs, we reduce our power usage to the level at which we are able to produce with those solar panels. That may sound like a good option in theory but in reality it’s easier said than done.
For instance, there’s certain things that are going to use more power in the winter time than in the summer. For example, lighting.
When your days are shortened dramatically, or evening where you’re needing lighting in the house, then that’s going to be an extra draw on your power system. Depending upon what your heat source is, if it’s a wood stove, then it’s not going to make any difference.
If you have a heating system that has any kind of power requirements, then that’s going to be drawing more power and things like this.
There is the potential for there to be increased demand in the wintertime and so this is why I say it’s often easier said than done. It is possible to do and I’m sure that there are people that do it, but I’m just saying don’t bank on this until you’ve tried it.
One thing that could save you a significant amount of power in the wintertime is something that we discussed back in the appliances module and that is to move your refrigerator and/or freezer into a cool room during the wintertime, rather than keeping it inside your heated space, or your main home space where your temperature is in the 70s 24/7.
In the wintertime, why not move that into a room where the temperature is much lower, maybe the 40s or 50s or something like that. You could save yourself quite a bit of power. We’ve done that and found that our well insulated refrigerator cycles far less and uses far less power in that kind of situation.
Option 3 is going to be to size your system as large as possible. You know, as large as you are able to for your budget. I’m just going to say size to budget and hopefully this is going to be a large enough system.
We’re going to try and do everything we can to make this a large enough system to where we’re able to make it through eight or nine months out of the year with the solar system.
Then for those winter months where we’re not producing enough power with our solar system, we’re going to do a number a couple of different things. One is, we’re going to try and reduce our power.
There’s nothing wrong with that and I highly recommend it. If you’re on a budget and you’re not getting enough power out of your solar, definitely do whatever you can to reduce your power usage.
If that still isn’t good enough, then what you’re going to do is, you’re going to supplement your solar with something else.
Typically, that’s in the form of a fuel-powered generator and so when the Sun does come out a little more than normal in the winter time, then you’re not going to be needing to run your generator that week perhaps. But when you get some really dark cloudy weather, some snowy weather or whatever, you may need to run your generator.
If your system is sized properly it should work out where maybe you run your generator once a week, or something like that. That would be the worst case scenario. If you’re having to run your generator more often than once a week, then your system is not sized properly, but that would be that maximum.
It would not be uncommon for you to go two or three weeks without running your generator, especially during times when you’re getting the more Sun than you typically would in the winter.
Do solar panels generate electricity in winter?
That would be a excellent starting option to combine these two things – reducing your power as much as possible and then supplementing, if you have another power source that is independent that you could supplement your solar with in the wintertime. For instance, hydro – that’s an excellent dynamic duo, solar/hydro.
A lot of creeks they dry up or get very small in the summertime during the dry season. During the wintertime the creeks are doing well but the solar isn’t doing so well, and so those two can work very well together.
If you’re blessed with a suitable creek on your property, even if it’s a creek that only flows in the winter, that could take care of your wintertime dilemma, right there.
You’ve got options like that – wind, or wind and solar. If you’re in an area that does have considerable wind but it’s not just consistent enough, or it’s not enough to make wind your primary power source wind is not going to be suitable as your primary power source.
If you do have a good bit of wind, then you could certainly use it to supplement your solar and that can could be a help as well and realize that this third option is a great stepping stone to start out with a limited budget.
Our ultimate goal is to get there and so we can add on a little bit at a time. A little bit as we’re able to. Those would be the three main options for dealing with the winter and it is very feasible we do. We are living in a climate that gets very cloudy and with very short days in the winter time.
Do solar panels work better in summer or winter?
In general, solar panels work best in Summer, simply because there is more sunshine, or irradiance. However, in some locations Spring and Autumn can be very bright and generate good amounts of electricity. Solar panel efficiency goes down when they get hotter, losing 0.5% of output power for every degree C over 25 degrees.
Do solar panels work well in the winter?
Solar panels do not work as well in winter time. The exact output depends on the location, level of insolation and shade or cloud cover. The average solar installation operating in the Winter months may only deliver 15% of the power generated in the Summer.
Will solar panels work in winter?
As a general rule solar panels work in Winter as long as there is good direct sunshine, otherwise known as irradiance. The total amount of energy delivered over the Winter months depends on the insolation for that location, which is the amount of peak-sun-hours seen by the solar panels.