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Do Solar Panels Work On Cloudy Days?

Solar panels work by absorbing photons, which are small particles of energy that make up sunlight. The more photons a solar panel absorbs, the higher the amount of energy it can produce. This is why we typically put solar panels on our rooftops, where they have the greatest access to direct sunlight.

A common concern amongst home and business owners is whether solar panels can work efficiently in the climate they operate in. Solar panels are more efficient the more sunlight is incident on them. However, cloudy weather and long winters do not stop solar panels from being able to generate electricity, despite common misconceptions saying otherwise. There are still year-round benefits to owning solar panels.

Do Solar Panels Work on a Cloudy Day?


Solar panels work by absorbing photons of visible light and converting this to electricity. That means that if there is enough light for you to see outside, there is enough visible light for solar panels to absorb and produce electricity.

Clouds do, however, reduce how effective solar panels are. The denser the cloud coverage, the less photons that can reach the panel, meaning less electricity will be generated.

Do solar panels work on cloudy days? Energy generated by solar panels vs. cloud coverage in the UK in 2023
Energy generated by solar panels (line) vs. cloud coverage in the UK throughout 2023 (bar data). Data from PV Live by Sheffield Solar

In the UK, the cloudiest month of 2023 (March) produced 59% less solar power than the sunniest month (June), however it was still not the lowest energy-producing month of the year.

If you live in an area that is often overcast, high efficiency solar panels such as monocrystalline panels will help to improve the amount of electricity produced during cloudy weather. In monocrystalline solar panels, each solar cell is made from a single silicon crystal rather than many smaller fragments melded together. This allows electrons from the generated current to move around more freely, resulting in a higher electrical output.

Do Solar Panels Work in Winter?


Do Solar Panels Work in Winter? Energy generated by solar panels per season in the UK in 2023.
Energy generated by solar panels per season in the UK in 2023. Data from PV Live by Sheffield Solar

Solar panels typically work best in the summer when there are more hours of direct sunlight to collect energy from. However, solar panels continue to work year-round, including during the winter.

Solar panels do generally produce less power during winter months. During winter, the days are shorter and the sun sits lower in the sky which reduces the number of photons that will reach a solar panel.

Energy generated by solar panels in UK on the shortest vs. longest day.
Energy generated by solar panels in UK on the shortest vs. longest day. Data from PV Live by Sheffield Solar

More frequent cloud coverage and rainy days will further decrease how effective solar panels are during winter.

However, the rain itself is not an issue. Solar panels are completely waterproof and will benefit from rain washing away dirt and dirt particles that block sunlight.

In the UK, a country famous for its rainy weather, solar panel installations are at a record high. As of 2023, there were over 1.7 million solar panel installations across the UK, with that number set to increase.

Although thick snow can block sunlight from reaching solar panels, it also shouldn't be of concern to you. Solar panels are fitted at an angle to allow snow to slide off of their surfaces. Any snow that remains will typically melt quickly due to the residual heat produced by the solar panels.

Can Solar Panels Work in the Cold?

Solar panels rely on the sun's light to produce electricity, not the sun's heat. Because of this, solar panels continue to work during cold weather.

Interestingly, colder temperatures can be beneficial to solar panels. Like most electrical equipment, solar panels perform better and are more efficient when they are at a lower temperature.

Before being hit with sunlight, the electrons within a solar panel have a low energy. The colder the temperature, the lower the energy of the electrons. Once sunlight reaches the solar panel, the electrons gain energy and a voltage is generated. A greater difference in the energy of the electrons before and after will result in a higher voltage, and therefore more electricity generated. This means solar panels are more efficient at colder temperatures.

Do Solar Panels Work At Night?


Solar panels are not able to generate electricity during the night. The night is, by definition, a period where there is no sunlight. Solar panels will continue to run at night, but they will not generate electricity because there are no photons from the sun to allow them to do so.

How Is It Possible To Use Solar Energy From Solar Panels At Night?

Although solar panels do not generate new electricity at night, the system they are connected to will continue to run and be of use to you.

During the day, it is possible that your solar panels will generate more energy than you use. Many modern solar panel systems include a rechargeable solar battery, which can store this excess energy for later use.

This stored energy can be used at anytime in the day, including at night.

How Much Energy is Lost During A Solar Eclipse?


During a solar eclipse, the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. This causes a temporary reduction in sunlight during daylight hours by blocking some of the sun's rays. As a result, fewer photons are able to reach solar panels and therefore less electricity is generated. The extent of this reductions varies depending on the position on the solar panel relative to the sun at the time of the eclipse.

Solar panels that are within the 'zone of totality' experience a complete loss of sunlight during this phase of the eclipse. This mimics night time, resulting in a 100% drop in electricity generation. This period only lasts for a few minutes, but the transition in and out of it can span several hours.

Some solar panels may only experience a partial blockage of sunlight during a solar eclipse. This also leads to a decrease in electricity generated. The April 2024 solar eclipse in the U.S is thought to have caused a loss of 35.3 gigawatt hours of solar energy across the country - equivalent to 30 nuclear reactors.

Solar eclipses are rare events and can be accurately predicted in advance, so there's no need to be concerned about their impact on day-to-day electricity generation. Utility companies that rely on solar energy can plan ahead to minimise disruption to consumers during these temporary periods of reduced solar power.

Contributors


Written by

Caitlin Ryan

Scientific Writer

Diagram by

Sam Force

Graphic Designer

 

Data

Data for graphs on this page from PV Live by Sheffield Solar is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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