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Do solar panels work in winter in Alberta?

Solar panels are devices that convert the sun’s light to electricity that powers your home or sold back to the electrical grid. They are made up of photovoltaic cells that are able to generate electricity when they are exposed to sunlight.

What are Solar Panels and why are they used?

Solar panels are also known as photovoltaic panels. The amount of energy generated by these solar cells is proportional to the intensity of the light falling on them.

Solar panels work by converting sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity, which can then be stored in batteries or electrically connected to the grid through your home’s breaker panel. The electrical energy generated can be consumed by loads in the home and any excess will be sold to your local electric utility.

Some common uses of solar panel systems in Alberta include:

  • Charging batteries in an electric car.
  • Provide you with the electrical energy your home requires to function.
  • Generating power at remote sites such as mines, oil rigs and campsites.
  • For grid-connected PV systems, they are designed to provide you with all your needs over the course of a year. any excess energy generated that is not used by loads in your home will be sold to your electrical utility on a daily basis.
  • For off-grid homes with batteries, it should be designed to provide you with all of your daily electrical energy needs.

So how much does snow cover affect the output of solar panels? Not as much as you might think – as little as 3%.

Do solar panels work in winter?

Solar panels are all about capturing solar energy and converting it into electricity. They are typically used to power homes and commercial buildings in areas with high direct sunlight.

Solar panels turn sunlight, not heat, into electricity. That means even when the temperature is well below freezing, electrical energy is still generated. 

In fact, the cold temperature has been proving to improve the efficiency of solar panels.

Solar panels work in winter because there is at least some sun shining on them, even if not as much as in summer.

The reduced efficiency has been proven to be around 3-10%, rather than the 20% estimated before a study by NAIT.

Sunlight can also penetrate snow coverage of around a couple of inches. Also, with panels operating above ambient temperatures and a smooth surface, snow tends to melt faster than other surfaces.

Why do people thing solar panels don’t work when covered by snow?

The sun in summer provides stronger light than in winter, which does mean that solar panels will produce less energy in the colder months.

Though there is a minor loss of electrical generation, the loss due to snow coverage is minimal.

It’s easy to see why snow coverage makes people think wintertime in Canada makes solar panels obsolete, but that just isn’t the case. Apart from sunlight being able to make it through an inch of snow, the majority of electrical energy is produced in the longer days of summer and those credits roll over to improve the efficiency of the system in the colder months.

Looking at Alberta solar production long-term

While heavy snow cover does block cells from producing electricity slightly, there are reasons to focus on long-term production to illustrate the Return On Investment (ROI) solar can bring your home or business in Alberta.

The day-to-day production of electricity should take a backseat to the annual production of electrical energy a system generates.

In Alberta, the electrical retailer meters production and consumption of electricity and is credited on your bill – this is called ‘net billing’. If you generate more than you consume, this credit will roll over to your next bill.

This allows you to use your credit rather than paying for grid power when your system produces less in the winter.

Since the most sunlight hits panels from March to October when the days are long, summer production of your solar system will pick up any slack during the winter.

Do solar panels require maintenance in winter?

Solar panels work in all seasons, but they can require some maintenance, but studies by NAIT have shown a minimal improvement in the efficiency of 1-5%.

In saying that, it is important that anyone trying to clear solar panels of snow do so safely. Surfaces covered in snow can be as slippery as ice and falling from a roof might not look that far but cause serious injuries and can be fatal.

Also, be aware the method of cleaning solar panels may damage the surface. Only use a soft brush. Anything coarse, wire brushes, or sticks have the potential to scratch and damage cells.

Please contact us if you’re concerned your solar panels need to be cleared of snow and debris.

Want to know more about installing solar panels on your home or business in Alberta? Contact us today for a free estimate.