When you buy solar panels, you might think your home gets plenty of direct sunlight. Your photovoltaic (PV) panels capture that sunlight, and your solar power system converts it to electricity, reducing your carbon footprint and saving you money on your electric bill simultaneously. You may not immediately consider the impact snow can have on this process. During the winter, though, snow buildup can become a concern.
Snow-covered panels won’t receive the sunlight they need to operate at peak efficiency. Fortunately, you can limit the impact snow, and other winter precipitation has on your solar performance and still get the most return on your investment. With proper care and maintenance, you should not experience any significant drop in your solar electricity generation due to snow.
Introduction to Solar Panels
Solar power systems convert sunlight into electricity. To do so, they begin by absorbing sunlight into the photovoltaic (PV) cells within solar panels. The panels then generate power from those cells. That energy, generated as direct current (DC) energy, gets converted to alternating current (AC) by your balance of system to power your home. Any excess electricity gets stored in a solar battery or, in a grid-tied solar installation, sent back to the grid.
Off-grid solar power systems include a solar battery for storing the electricity you generate in excess of your consumption. Depending on the hours of peak sunlight you receive, you may generate more electricity than you need to use immediately. Depending on the storage capacity of your solar battery or portable power station, you can keep any additional power you generate to use during nighttime hours or inclement weather.
Your portable power station or solar generator converts the energy captured by your solar panels into household electricity. Depending on your setup, the portable power station or solar generator will kick in when you experience a power loss (or when you switch it on) and provide electricity for either a few appliances or your whole house, depending on the output and storage capacity of the unit you choose.
If you rely on solar panels to generate off-grid electricity, sunlight must reach the panels. Snow cover can prevent your solar panels from operating at maximum efficiency; in some cases, they may be unable to gather any power at all. Clearing snow buildup from your PV panels is critical to getting the most from your solar power system.
How Snow Affects Solar Panels
A snowy winter doesn’t keep your solar power system from being able to offset your reliance on the aging electrical grid and your utility bills. In fact, a light dusting of snow across your panels will have almost no impact. However, an abundance of snow—like that comes as a blizzard—can completely cover the panels and prevent sunlight from getting to them.
Allowing a significant amount of snow to remain on your solar panels will reduce your system’s efficiency and the amount of power your solar array can capture.
Having a plan to remove snow buildup from your solar panels—and executing it—helps your entire system operate more efficiently.
How Snow Can Reduce the Efficiency of Solar Panels
Your solar array depends on light hitting the PV cells in each panel. If you have a rooftop system of rigid solar panels, leaving snow and ice covering the panel for too long prevents them from receiving as much sunlight and capturing as much of the sun’s energy.
An inch or two of snowfall might not have an immediate impact, but accumulated snowfall from multiple winter storms will significantly lower your energy output. The snowier the winter, the less efficient your system becomes if not correctly maintained. While angling your panels during installation will help snow slide down and maximize the amount of direct sunlight the panels receive, you sometimes need to step in to ensure your system operates at optimal efficiency.
Besides the reduced sunlight, the snow’s weight can damage or weaken your panels. If you have significant debris and buildup on your panels, the panel’s ability to generate electricity is diminished. Over time, this can have a significant negative impact on your energy production—one that you can mitigate by removing snow before it builds up.
Winter is already harder on your solar power system because there are typically few hours of peak sunlight in winter than in summer. If you don’t keep your panels as clear as possible, your efficiency will drop even more.
Potential Consequences of Reduced Efficiency
As your solar panel efficiency drops, you may have to rely more on electricity from the grid. In a grid-tied solar power system, you may balance that out by sending excess electricity back to the grid in the summer. If you’re eligible for net metering, the credits you receive may offset your costs if your energy production drops during the winter.
Any dip in your solar power system’s efficiency can become problematic if you’re off-grid and relying exclusively on solar energy to power your home. Invest in a whole-house off-grid power solution like EcoFlow’s Smart Home Ecosystem to account for this. Having enough solar power to get you through the winter may require additional DELTA portable power stations, solar panels, extra batteries, and dual-fuel generators to ensure you have sufficient electricity for appliances and devices in the event of a major snowstorm.
Make sure you check for federal and local tax breaks and incentives that can help significantly offset any additional investment.
Ways to Prevent Snow From Impacting Solar Panels
Switching to solar requires a substantial upfront investment that is meant to deliver on your energy needs for a long time. You can prolong the lifespan of your solar array with regular inspection and maintenance of your panels and keeping them clear of snow and other obstruction whenever possible.
Unless you have portable solar panels that you can break down and fold away when winter storms hit, you’ll need to schedule routine maintenance as you would for anything else your home relies on, such as the roof, heating system, or water heater.
A caveat applies here: you should check to see whether any steps you take to maintain your solar panels might void the warranty for your system. Depending on the language in your contract, some maintenance may require professional assistance. Make sure you understand the agreements you signed before attempting to clear the snow from your panels by yourself.
Regular Maintenance and Cleaning
Solar panels need to be cleaned and inspected regularly. For most systems, this means about once a year. Maintenance accomplishes two things: it keeps the panels clear of dirt, streaks, and debris, and it helps ensure that no cracking or other damage could allow water to penetrate the panel.
In some ways, snow can help with the cleaning process. When the snow melts or slides off of the panels, it also cleans them.
Still, if the snow isn’t sliding away on its own, you need to remove it to keep things running smoothly. So long as your inspections don’t identify cracking or other damage, this should keep your solar array running well for decades, even in the snowiest winter months.
A roof rake can help you get under the panels if the snow gets under the frame. A gentle brush is usually all you need or want for snow covering the panels themselves. Brush carefully, or hire an expert to handle the snow removal.
Also, exercise extreme caution when cleaning and maintaining your panels. Falls are the leading cause of injuries and fatalities during snow removal. Hiring a professional is a much safer option.
Use of Heaters or Snow Melting Systems
In many locations, snow will quickly melt away on its own. Solar panels generate heat as part of the conversion process from sunlight to electricity. For light snow cover, the panels may be virtually self-cleaning.
If you have too much snow or it isn’t melting away, you can set up heaters or a snow-melting system. So long as you are up to date on inspections, this should provide a safe, efficient option. You can apply heat slowly and evenly to melt the snow from the panels.
Some of these heaters come with systems that measure the weight of snow on a panel. The advantage here is that you don’t have to keep monitoring the snow; the system does it for you.
It’s worth noting that heaters are better for rigid solar panels. The intense heat may impact the adhesive used for flexible solar panels and their efficacy.
Snow Guards or Covers
One of the drawbacks of letting the snow melt naturally is that it tends to fall all at once. It can be dangerous for your gutters and landscaping—as well as for your solar panels. One possible solution for some roofs is snow guards, which let the snow fall off gradually. You can protect your house while simultaneously allowing the snow to come off the array.
A snow cover can also protect your solar panels. You need to get a translucent cover to let in sunlight. You may even find a heated cover to help the snow melt more quickly.
Either of these solutions can help mitigate the effects of the snow collecting on your solar panels. Make sure you set them up correctly or hire someone with the right expertise to do the job for you.
After heavy or repeated snowfalls, keeping your solar panels clear of buildup can help your solar power system to operate more efficiently.
Learn how to safely and effectively clear snow from the panels, or find a qualified professional to do it for you. Make sure you have enough solar panels and storage capacity to meet your family’s energy needs, even during an extended snowfall or blizzard. All-in-one solutions like EcoFlow Power Kits make generating the energy you need easy.
Frequently Asked Questions
When snow completely covers your solar panels, the cells can’t receive sunlight or gather energy. The longer the photovoltaic cells remain blocked, the less electricity your array produces. During installation, set the panels up at angles that help snow slide off and manually clear any accumulated snow to prevent it from blocking sunlight.
If panels are partially covered, they can still produce electricity. Even with light snow cover over the entire array, there’s a good chance they will work. Still, the more your panel is exposed, the more electricity it will produce. To optimize solar power production, you should clear solar panels regularly.
If you’ve mounted your panels at an angle, you may not have to remove the snow manually. If a panel remains covered for a significant amount of time, you’ll want to clear your panels with a gentle brush. Snow removal allows the PV cells to convert sunlight into solar energy and generate electricity.
You should install solar panels at an angle so that the snow can slide off the surfaces rather than accumulate on the panel. Also, conduct regular maintenance to check the panels for cracks. Don’t wait for the storm to find out whether your panels are ready for the snow.
The more snow cover you have, the less efficient the solar panels will be. The weight of the snow on your panels and snow cover blocking the sun will impact your system’s efficiency. You’ll need to inspect and maintain it regularly to continue to get the most from your solar array.