Will Solar Panels Work Without Direct Sunlight?


Not every day brings sunshine and roses, as a matter of fact some days bring snow, hail, rain, and clouds. Dealing with, and being conscious of the weather has never been as much of a concern as it is in the first little while of having your solar panels up.

Solar panels do not need direct sunlight to work, though it is what helps them produce the most energy. Even on cloudy days solar panels can generate electricity just at lower levels. Solar panels more properly run on daylight, not sunlight.

There are a variety of different weather conditions that would affect the productivity of your solar panels. Each of these poses different disadvantages, and ways to help. There are also a variety of different solar panels that work better or worse in certain conditions.

Solar Panels in Indirect Sunlight

Solar panels run on daylight, not sunlight, meaning that even when they are not in direct line with the suns rays, they are able to generate power. As a matter of fact, they are sometimes more productive without direct sunlight.

There are two important things we can learn that will help us better understand how solar panels work in indirect sunlight. First “solar panels absorb photons (light particles from the sun) that are radiated from sunlight and convert that into usable energy to power homes and commercial structures. These photons released from the sun will reach the solar panels even during indirect sunlight” source.

Secondly, solar panels primarily run on light, not heat. “It is light, not heat that generates electricity and too much heat can actually hinder the electricity making process” Source. Though some solar panels will generate thermal energy from heat as well. Once this is understood, you can now see why it is not essential to have a solar panel in direct sunlight, even though that does create the best results. If your solar panel is always in the direct light, and heats up, it can actually be detrimental to the process causing it to generate less electricity than if it was not hot.

Solar Panels in the Shade

Obviously, if solar panels are working with indirect sunlight, they would work with shade as well. Though shade is a little different and it is important to try and have as little shade covered solar panels as possible. Shade cover will lower the efficiency of the panels it is covering and sometimes the entire system, meaning less electricity. Older solar energy systems were connected to one power inverter, meaning that if one went out, they all went down.

Now days panels are each given there very own micro inverters so that when one panels is shaded, only its production suffers and not the other panels in the system. Most solar panels need about 4 hours of sunlight everyday, and in most places within the world that is achievable, whether it be in the morning before the storm or in between storms.

Solar Panels in Clouds

Even though the daylight is needed to generate energy, cloudy weather will still permit the solar panel to preform its function. The optimal weather for solar panels is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Much hotter and the solar panels will be hindered in their efficiency because of the heat, but get too cold and it is hindered as well. A cool and clear spring day will prove to be the best production days for your solar panels. There are currently many people trying to find new ways and technologies that help solar panels generate power regardless of cloudy weather, one such new technology is the one mentioned below.

“The fastest improving solar technology is called perovskites – named after Count Lev Alekseevich von Perovski, a 19th Century Russian mineralogist. These have a particular crystal structure that is good for solar absorption. Thin films, around 300 nanometres (much thinner than a human hair) can be made inexpensively from solutions – allowing them to be easily applied as a coating to buildings, cars or even clothing. Perovskites also work better than silicon at lower lighting intensities, on cloudy days or for indoors” source.

Another new technology is the following: “Researchers at the University of British Columbia have developed an inexpensive and sustainable way to build solar cells using a type of bacteria that is capable of converting light into energy. Initial testing shows that the cells can work efficiently both in dim and bright light. These cells can generate solar power even under cloudy skies. Moreover, the cells can generate a current that is stronger than any such instance recorded from a similar device” Source.

Solar Panels in Other Conditions

Luckily, solar panels are very versatile and can conform to any and all conditions for the most part. They will try to generate in shade and in direct sunlight, but what about other weather conditions like rain, snow, hail, thunder, lighting, and high winds? They are sitting right on the roof, the optimal place to experience all types of weather. Lets examine how each of these effects the solar panels.

  • Snow – When it is snowing outside, there is bound to be close to no real nice sunlight to help out your solar panels. While they definitely can still try to produce some energy, it will be greatly inhibited as snow falls. One thing to be aware of while snowing is the buildup that will happen on your solar panels. If it has snowed a little, the sun the next day or in later hours of the day will likely melt the snow for you, but if not, you may need to remove the snow from atop your solar panels. Most the time, snow will also slide off if your panels are angled toward the sun, once this happens and even part of the solar panels is exposed to the light it will generate power.
  • Rain – Rain can come in really handy, even for solar panels. The occasional cleaning that rain provides can keep your solar panels free of dust and debris and enhance there performance on sunny days. Despite being wet and rainy, they can still generate power from daylight, just at a lower rate. As a matter of fact new technology is coming out to help with rain and solar panels. Hybrid Solar Panels are an up and coming technology that works in more weather conditions, for example, “When rain falls, the solar panels continue to generate electricity from the force of the falling rain on their surface” source.
  • Thunder & Lightning – The general concern with these weather conditions is not necessarily centered around their production rate but around their overall well-being. Solar panels are electric and they do run the risk of being struck by lightning, but this can be prevented with proper grounding and prevention installed by a professional. All the solar panels should be grounded to reduce the chance of voltage surges. You can also look into upgrading panels to include a lightning protection system.
  • Hail – For the most part, even hail should not be a big problem for your solar panels. Most solar panels are structured to preform in all weather conditions and they can withstand different weather types. “Most manufacturers test and certify their solar panels to withstand hail up to one inch in diameter falling at 50 miles per hour” Source. A good example of their durability happened during a major hail storm in 2017; “Despite hailstones up to 2.75 inches in diameter being reported in the area only one of the facility‚Äôs 3,168 solar panels sustained damage” source.
  • Wind – Luckily, just as with hail “manufacturers need to obtain a certificate to prove that their solar panels can withstand wind speeds up to 140 miles/hour, which is equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane” source. The likelihood of your solar panels getting blown off your roof is pretty rare, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make sure they are properly installed and held down. Due to the wind, they have come up with new innovative products like Solar Flowers which sensor strong winds and are able to fold up when the wind is too strong.

Types of Solar Panels

There are multiple types of Solar Panels. Each of these panels will perform differently in different weather and circumstances. They vary in their productivity as well as their price.

  • Amorphous – these panels are not quite as overall effective and productive, but they do not need very much light to produce energy. In large amounts and overcast skies they will preform well. They are less rigid and more lightweight and work in all weather conditions. Sometimes these are considered the best type of solar panel on the market because they are versatile. They do, come at a much higher price though.
  • Polycrystalline – these panels also decrease in efficiency as temperatures rise and are rigid. They do the job but not as well as others.
  • Monocrystalline – these panels will slowly lower output in strong heat, and do not do well in shade, but they are very effective in the right conditions. They are more expensive, but higher producing.

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