How Well do Solar Panels Work in Winter – Tips on Solar
Summer is over, and autumn passes quickly on the march toward winter. As the days get shorter and colder, thoughts turn to coming snowstorms and indoor activities. To ensure that your home is warm, and your power-drawing indoor appliances and electronic equipment are running efficiently and smoothly, it’s time to consider your home energy system – particularly if yours is solar-powered. Wondering how to manage solar panels in winter? What can you do to make sure your solar setup is safely operating to meet the energy needs of your household?
According to a report of a recent study by Environment America Research & Policy Center, several of the top 25 U.S. cities for solar energy have snowy, cold winters – including Burlington, Vermont; Indianapolis, Indiana; Denver, Colorado and Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s evident both in this country and internationally that solar power systems are quite adaptable to winter conditions of snow and overcast skies. Depending on where you live and your individual solar scheme, attaining the greatest efficiency and cost benefits requires some simple but significant maintenance steps, starting with how to use solar panels in the wintertime:
1. Solar Panels and Snow: If snow is layered on top of your solar panels and does not slide off or melt on its own, you may want to intervene. Remove snow from solar panels using a broom or roof rake made of a non-abrasive material that will not scratch the panels’ tempered glass surface. Ground-level panel mounts are easy to access for brushing off snow, but if your panels are roof-mounted, you might simply wait for the snow to melt. The panels are dark-colored, coated with anti-reflective material and designed to absorb light and heat, so their higher-than-ambient temperature facilitates melting. If you decide to brush snow from rooftop units, however, exercise extreme caution. Use high-grip footwear and a harness if needed.
2. Adjusting Panel Angle: The optimal position of solar panels for photovoltaic production is directly facing the sun. Since the path of the sun changes according to season, adjusting the angle of your solar panels accordingly can increase energy production. Tweaking the panel angles, however, is only possible for pole-mounted panels or setups with adjustable panels. It will not work for fixed panels, the positioning of which has usually been strategized for maximal yearly sunlight by the installer.
3. Energy Conservation: Although an ideal practice at any time of year, conserving energy usage during the winter months is particularly advisable, since energy is at greatest demand during this period. The less energy is utilized, the less dependence you’ll have on supplemental energy provision from utility companies. Among the ways to cut down on electricity usage are the following:
- Use energy efficient lightbulbs such as halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Although energy-saving lightbulbs may initially be higher-priced, they more than make up for this due to their longer lifespan (energy-saving bulbs can last 3 to 25 times as long as regular incandescents) and high efficiency. Technology in this area has resulted in a broad array of choices. There is some type of energy-efficient bulb for every need, including ones that emit soft, warm tones of light.
- Turn off unneeded lights and appliances. Common sense tells us that an uninhabited room does not need to be lit, nor does the television or stereo need to be played if no one is paying attention to it. Setting lights and thermostats on timers or using smart thermostats can help synchronize energy use to when it is actually needed, cutting down on wasted energy and its related costs.
- Consider turning down your indoor thermostat slightly and using sweaters or blankets if extra warmth is desired.
- Check the condition of your home insulation, and reinforce thin areas. Seal any leaks around doors and windows, and consider insulating your water heater.
- To light outside areas such as walkways and gardens, use independent, solar-powered lamps.
- Unplug any appliances or devices that are not being used. Wall socket connection, even if the item is switched off, still draws a small amount of current, called “standby” electricity loss.
4. Off-Grid Systems Battery Maintenance: For those using an off-grid solar setup, batteries in your battery pack need to be checked and maintained properly. Your batteries are vital in their function of storing energy for when it’s needed. A key factor in battery maintenance is temperature, since all types have thermal ranges for optimal function. Temperature extremes, whether hot or cold, are detrimental to battery life and performance. It is suggested that battery packs be installed and/or stored either indoors or in an insulated, temperature-controlled area.
Required battery maintenance varies according to the type of battery being used. For flooded lead-acid batteries, distilled water needs to be added every two to four weeks, as these batteries lose water during the charge cycle. Also, battery state of charge should be checked periodically using a hydrometer (for reading specific gravity, which corresponds to the level of charge) or digital multimeter. It is suggested that flooded lead-acid battery equalization be performed via controlled overcharging every 60 to 90 days, to ensure each cell is equally charged. Furthermore, connections and terminals need to be cleaned to avoid corrosion.
Deep cycle 12V Lithium and AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) batteries are more practical and easier to use with off-grid solar setups because they require no maintenance other than recharging and cleaning. They can be efficiently monitored with a premium charge controller from The Inverter Store, in order to ensure the safety and efficiency of your off-grid solar system.
5. Back-Up Generator: Suggested discharge levels for solar batteries vary according to battery type and manufacturer specifications. The ideal level is considered to be 50% discharge, regardless of the battery type, because it ensures power supply on unavoidably high-use days. Nevertheless, to guarantee you always have power, it is wise to invest in a reliable back-up generator and have plenty of fuel on-hand. Our selection of CARB/EPA compliant generators will provide ultimate peace of mind. Remember, however, to ascertain the condition of your generator every few months, so it will be ready in case of winter storms.
Paying attention to the quality and functionality of your solar power equipment – from solar panels and charge controllers to inverters and battery packs – ensures your home will have sufficient and reliable power available during the winter. And when you actively get involved in energy-related maintenance, including reducing household energy waste, you provide a positive model of responsibility to all family members while lowering your individual energy costs.