Solar Panels in the Snow?

A friend of mine recently noted how he has installed solar panels on his new house, and how he hopes to really cut back on his energy bills due to his investment in this “green” technology.  I hope he does (and I hope he took advantage of the available solar panel rebate out there)!  But as I sit here, looking out my window at the first snowflakes of the season, I wonder how effective the panels will be in our area.

I remember back  when I was living in Hawaii (decades ago) when we first had solar panels (hot water panels) installed on the house.  It was a relatively new technology to me, and I wondered how they worked.  In our case, water cycled up to the roof where it was heated by the sun, and then sent into the house for internal use.  Since Hawaii is warm and sunny most of the year, it was a practical application.  I’m sure if we had electrical panels, it would have performed very well.

In electrical panels, the “power” of the sunlight is captured in a different way.  Solar electric panels are made up of photovoltaic cells which are grouped together to create a solar panel.  When the sunlight hits the solar panel, the light-energy is absorbed by the semiconductors within the photovoltaic cells.  This causes electrons to be freed, and in turn, converted into electrical current.  This process of solar power generation is considered a “green” energy source since there is no pollution associated with the creation of the energy (that is, if you don’t take into account the pollution associated with creating the solar panels initially).

But how well do they work up here where it can snow?  Obviously, electrical output is dependent upon the amount of sun it receives.  In the winter, the days are short (about 3.8 hours of “good sun”) and the weather can be brutal.  However, there are also plenty of days where the sky is crisp and clear – ideal for energy generation.  You won’t generate enough energy in the winter to be energy independent, especially if your home is heated by electrical heat pumps, but you will save more money in the other seasons.  So it will still be cost effective over the length of the year. If you are interested in this, I would recommend you take some time to research not only the tax incentives available, but also the performance levels of solar panels in your region.  You need to make sure that you don’t end up spending more money in the long run on a system that is suppose to save you money (and the environment).

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