Where Does Solar Energy Work Best? Everywhere
If you’re considering installing a solar energy system for your home, you already know about the cost-effective, energy-efficient, and eco-friendly benefits it offers. But does that mean solar energy is the right choice for you, given where you live? Discover why solar energy systems are a smart choice all across the nation, and learn whether climate, clouds, and temperature affect their performance.
The Basics of Solar Energy Systems
Solar energy systems rely on a few key components to draw energy from the sun. A typical system includes a number of solar panels, also known as photovoltaic (PV) panels, along with an inverter, wiring, batteries, and a framework.
The solar panels, which consist of PV cells, absorb sunlight throughout the day and convert particles of sunlight, known as photons, into direct current (DC) electricity. The inverter transforms DC power into alternating current (AC) electricity, which is compatible with most household appliances and devices.
Depending on your system configuration, batteries may store additional power for your household’s eventual use. If your system allows for it, your batteries may hold extra electricity so you can sell it back to your utility provider.
In most cases, your solar system can meet most of the energy needs for your household or business. That’s because solar systems can generally be as small or as large as you need them to be. PV systems require unobstructed sunlight, which means solar panels can be on a roof, on a wall, or on a freestanding structure.
Do Solar Systems Work on Cloudy Days?
All solar energy systems are designed to produce the most energy on bright, sunny days. That doesn’t mean they can’t generate energy on cloudy or rainy days, though. Clouds impact the amount of energy a PV system can generate, but cloud cover doesn’t prevent a solar energy system from working altogether.
A map from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reveals the amount of PV solar energy available throughout the United States. Areas known for being sunny and hot, such as California, Arizona, and New Mexico, are home to the nation’s most extensive solar resources. In contrast, areas known for being cloudy and chilly, such as the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, have more limited PV resources. Since the areas with the greatest solar resources also tend to be the places that use the most energy for cooling, the overall amount of available energy balances out.
If you’re concerned that frequent cloudy weather might prevent your PV solar system from generating the amount of energy you need, rest assured that you can take a few steps to optimize your setup. First, consider installing a larger array of solar panels, which have demonstrated that they can provide more even energy production, without substantial highs or lows.
Next, try using one or more batteries to store the excess energy that your system generates on particularly sunny days. On less productive days, your home can draw on that energy reserve without missing a beat.
Finally, talk with a solar energy expert about designing a PV system that relies on microinverters or power optimizers instead of string inverters. Microinverters and power optimizers typically offer better efficiency and improved power generation on cloudy days.
Do Solar Energy Systems Work at Night?
Solar panels only produce electricity when the sun shines on them directly. That means once the sun goes down for the evening, the panels stop producing electricity until the sun rises again. That doesn’t mean the PV system stops working overnight, though.
During the day, most PV systems generate more energy than your household can use. Instead of simply throwing the excess energy away, many systems store the extra energy in a battery. At night, the PV system draws on the battery to power your home.
In some cases, solar energy systems transfer excess energy directly to the utility grid, known as net metering. At night, your home draws on the grid, but the extra daytime energy offsets your overall usage.
Does Temperature Affect Solar Energy Systems?
Temperature does impact PV solar systems, but it might not happen in the way you’d think. In fact, high temperatures can have a negative impact on solar panels, since extended heat exposure can damage the solar cells over time.
High temperatures can also affect the efficiency of solar energy systems, especially when the mercury rises significantly. Once the panel temperature exceeds 42 Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit), most systems decrease peak output by 1.1 percent for every degree the temperature continues to increase. Solar panels tend to be much hotter than the ambient air temperature, so this gradual decrease in efficiency starts when the outdoor temperature reaches about 32 degrees Celsius, or 90 Fahrenheit.
In contrast, solar panels tend to work most efficiently in cooler weather. The ideal setting for an ultra-efficient PV solar system would be a cool, sunny area, but most parts of the country offer a combination of sunny weather and occasional hot or cold days with weaker sunshine.
Do Solar Systems Work in All Seasons?
PV solar systems are designed to be year-round solutions, so they can power your home or business no matter the season. Since the angle of the sun and the number of hours of light in the day change with the seasons, however, total energy production fluctuates predictably throughout the year.
Most solar energy systems produce by far the most energy in the summer, since the days are much longer and the sun tends to be more intense. This is also the season when most households and businesses use the most energy for cooling.
Energy production may decrease as the days shorten in the winter, but your system will still continue to generate electricity. Be sure to remove accumulated snow to help your system generate as much power as possible. With a sufficient battery backup, your system can draw on enough reserves to stay powered through the cool season.
Ultimately, solar panels work well no matter where you live or what type of climate you typically experience. With efficient design and carefully considered installation, solar energy systems are a smart choice all across the nation, from the cool and cloudy Pacific Northwest to the warm and sunny Southeast.