How Do Solar Panels Work in Colorado’s Winter Months?

Snowfall in Colorado

One of the top concerns surrounding solar energy is its effectiveness during the cold winter months. It’s a common misconception that once the sky darkens and the snow starts to fall, the solar panels aren’t effective or they even stop working altogether.

We’re here to dispel this myth and reassure you that solar panels can work perfectly well in winter, even when it’s snowing.

In fact, Colorado’s cold, sunny climate presents some of the best conditions for solar energy.

Here’s why and how.

In a Nutshell

  • Solar panels will work in the winter months as long as they have access to sunlight.
  • Snow won’t have a significant effect on your panels. In most cases, the snow will slide off your panels.
  • Shorter days and increased cloud coverage will mean your solar panels are not as effective in winter as they are in summer.
  • Colorado’s cool and sunny climate makes it the perfect place to have solar installed.
  • Solar panels are more effective in colder temperatures – another reason why Colorado is so ideal.

Do Solar Panels Work During the Winter Months?

Snow covered solar panels

Solar panels definitely work during winter. To understand this, you only have to look at the existence of solar farms in some of the coldest places on Earth. 

In Antarctica, The Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station is host to 284 solar panels which produce 420kWh daily. Over in Alaska – a state that enjoys winter temperatures of up to -30°F – we will also find the 1.2 megawatt Willow solar farm and the Golden Valley Electric Association 563 kWh Solar Farm.

Essentially, solar panels will continue to work as long as there’s sunlight available. It doesn’t matter what the outside temperature is, it’s the access to sunlight that matters. 

The main issue with the winter period is that the shorter days and potential for snow mean there is generally less sunlight available. So, while the solar panels will still be effective, they generally have less sunlight to work with, which results in less energy harvested.

As far as Colorado is concerned, although it’s one of the cooler states, its residents enjoy over 300 days worth of sunshine or partial sunshine each year. This makes it the perfect place to install solar energy.

Does Snow and Ice Stop Solar Panels From Working?

Snow covered solar panels

Snow coverage on solar panels will prevent them from accessing sunlight, so if there are periods of heavy and sustained snowfall, this may hinder the productivity of the panels.

However, solar panels are tilted at a specific angle. This is mainly to maximize their exposure to direct sunlight, but it has the added benefit of making it tougher for snow to cling onto. On a standard ground mount array, the tilt is 20 degrees, ideally facing south to the sun. 

Like a pitched roof on a house, the snow quickly slides off, revealing the panel’s surface and enabling it to continue with its energy harvesting. 

If you’re worried about the weight of the snow damaging the solar panels, fret not. The panels and racking are super tough and can withstand up to 20 lbs of snow per cubic foot.

Due to Colorado’s elevation, the state does receive a lot of snow between the end of October and April. However, keep in mind that the majority of snow is seen in the mountainous regions, and although you’re likely to experience a few inches of snow, the fall is significantly less in the regions where farmland is situated. 

Overall, Colorado’s snow coverage is unlikely to have a significant impact on your energy production.

What About Heavy Clouds?

Solar panels beneath heavy clouds

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about heavy clouds. On bad days, the coverage can diminish a solar panel’s efficiency down to around 20 – 25%. 

It’s worth mentioning here that not all cloud coverage affects solar panels in this way. Clouds that are situated high up in the atmosphere don’t reflect much light, meaning it can easily pass through the clouds and down to the solar panels.

Clouds that hang low in the atmosphere are the real problem. These reflect the most light and heat away from Earth and back up into space. The light that does pass through is greatly reduced, which means the solar panels are unable to be as efficient.

Colorado’s elevation gives it a special advantage. Sunshine is plentiful across the entire state, and the sunny days vastly outnumber the cloudy days. Therefore, heavy cloud cover is not as much of a concern as it is in other states.

Do Solar Panels Work When It Rains?

It only rains when it’s cloudy, so as we outlined above, the effectiveness of the solar panels is directly related to how much cloud coverage there is rather than the amount of rainfall Colorado receives.

The rain itself has no effect on solar panels. They’re built to withstand all types of weather, and since they’re sloped, the rain slides right off and onto the ground. The rain can even be beneficial. If your farm has kicked up a lot of dust lately, the rain will do a great job of cleaning it off the panels for you!

Will I Need to Clean Snow Off My Solar Panels?

sunlight warming a snowy mountain

It’s not necessary or even recommended to clean snow off your solar panels. The panels are pretty tough. After all, they spend all day, every day, facing everything the elements throw at them. A bit of snow isn’t going to do anything except make them temporarily less effective.

Cleaning your panels can actually damage them if proper care isn’t taken, especially if you can’t see the surface due to the snow coverage. We’re sure the last thing you want is to scratch or break your primary source of energy, so it’s best to leave them be.

You’ll generally find that the sloped tilt of the panels won’t cause snow to stick around for long, and any snowfall that does linger will soon be taken care of once the sun makes an appearance.

Do Cold Temperatures Affect Solar Panels?

A thermometer on a tree with squirrel

A popular misconception is that solar panels are more effective on hot days when, in fact, the opposite is true.

Solar panels are actually more effective in cooler temperatures. This is yet another reason why Colorado is such a perfect candidate for solar installations. Its mild summers and cold winters mean it generally doesn’t get hot enough to affect a solar panel’s performance adversely.

How is this so? Well, solar panels work by capturing all the energy that is produced by electrons. In colder temperatures, the electrons are “at rest,” and when it is warmer, they become agitated. 

If an electron is entirely at rest, it will absorb 100% of the energy generated, but if it’s already agitated, it’s unable to absorb as much energy. Therefore, the colder it is, the more at rest the electrons are and the more energy they can absorb.

Solar Panel Winter Maintenance Tips

Colorado springs landscape in snow

You will be pleased to hear there is very little maintenance involved with keeping your solar panels in tip-top condition. They’re built to withstand harsh weather conditions, including strong winds of up to 120 mph.

However, there are a few things you can do during the winter months to look after your solar installation:

  • Before winter closes in, check your panels and remove any build-up of dirt and debris. Since the winter months typically harvest less energy, you don’t want to diminish this further with a dirty panel surface.
  • Monitor how much power your panels are generating. A sudden dip in efficiency likely means something is wrong and needs to be addressed.
  • After any extreme weather events, inspect your panels. Although it’s unlikely they will have sustained damage, it never hurts to check.

Final Thoughts

Colorado has some of the best weather conditions to enable solar to be as efficient as possible. An abundance of sunlight and its nice chilly temperatures mean that the panels will continue to work perfectly well for most days of the year. While adverse weather will slow down a solar panel’s efficiency, it generally won’t be for long.

Hopefully, this article has addressed your concerns about how winter will affect a solar system. We’re sure you have other questions about solar energy, so we welcome you to get in touch with our team at 8760. Our professional and friendly team will be more than happy to answer them.

If you’re ready to go solar, 8760 Solar will run a thorough analysis of your farm and discuss the best setup for your needs. We’ll also provide you with a no-obligation, bespoke quote.

To get started, text “READY” to 719 470-0254 or get in touch via email: sales@8760solar.com

Frequently Asked Questions

At What Temperature Do Solar Panels Stop Working?

Solar panels require sunlight, not heat, to work efficiently. While the optimum temperature for a solar panel is 77°F, it will also work just as well in sub-freezing temperatures.

However, if a solar panel gets too hot, its efficiency will greatly diminish. Once a panel’s surface reaches 149°F+, it will become mostly ineffective.

How Efficient Are Solar Panels in Winter?

The shorter days, potential snow coverage, and heavy clouds all work to reduce the number of hours the panels have access to sunlight. This is why they tend to be less efficient in the winter.

Overall, on days where access to sunlight is severely restricted, you can see a drop in efficiency of between 40 – 60%.

How Do You Maintain Solar Panels in the Winter?

There is very little maintenance required for solar panels during winter. Do not clean off snow – it’s best to wait for it to fall off or melt. Inspect your solar system for damage following extreme weather events and monitor its energy generation. A sudden dip in efficiency could mean something needs fixing.

Can Solar Panels Be Left Out in Winter?

Solar panels are designed to be left outside and, therefore, don’t need to be moved. They are super tough and durable and can withstand most extreme weather conditions, including hail, snow, and winds of up to 140 mph.

Do Solar Panels Need Sunlight or Just Daylight?

Solar panels are at their most efficient when exposed to direct sunlight, but they don’t need direct sunlight in order to work. While they won’t work at maximum efficiency, solar panels can also work perfectly well in indirect sunlight and in partial shade, including on cloudy days.

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