Tuesday, November 27, 2018- Should you go solar in the winter? Most people would intuitively think that it’s a bad idea, as mentions of “sun” and “solar” bring to mind thoughts of warmer climates and summer weather. Given that, it’s also natural for us to think summer is also the best time to install a rooftop solar system. But what if we told you that it’s actually not a bad idea to go solar in cooler months?
Before we get into why it can actually be much more beneficial for homeowners to go solar in the winter time, let’s dispel some common misconceptions about how solar panels work.
Debunking Solar Energy Winter Myths
If you live in more northern states like Massachusetts and New Jersey, you might be interested to know that these cooler states are also part of thetop 10 solar states as ranked by the Solar Energy Industries Association. This seems like a real mismatch: not only do these states have shorter summers, but they have much harsher winters. Can snow and solar really mix?
If you don’t believe that a cooler climate and solar can cooperate, take a look at Germany.
In the first nine months of 2018, theyhad already produced 40 billion kWh—and are on track to finish off the year having generated just as many kWh as the whole of the United States combined in 2017. This for a country that receives approximately the same amount of sunshine annually as Alaska! (See the map below.)
Having said that, here are other common ideas people hold when it comes to the performance of solar panels in winter months (hint: these myths are all false).
Myth #1: Solar panels don’t work when it gets colder
Actually, the exact opposite can happen! People usually believe that solar panels work best in the summer, when it’s usually sunny. In reality, heat has nothing to do with the performance of solar panels.
Heat can actually decrease the performance of solar panels. Just like how your other electronic devices stop working as well or start overheating when the temperature gets too hot, your solar panels will generate less electricity when it’s sunny and hot out than when it’s sunny and cold. This might sound counter-intuitive at first, but the science checks out!
As a potential rooftop solar system owner, this means that you could actually benefit from a more productive array of solar panels in colder months.
Myth #2: Solar panels can malfunction because of snow and ice
If solar panels are covered with snow, it’s true that that can hinder the production of electricity. As we mentioned while debunking myth #1, solar panels need access to sunlight in order to be able to generate electricity. However, this is where we don’t give enough credit to the design and tenacity of solar panels.
When you take a look at solar system designs, you’ll notice that they are rarely flat as they are built to suit the tilt of each house’s roof. Additionally, solar panels in the United States are often installed to face the south, which increases the amount of sunlight that can reach the panels. With that kind of tilt and direction, snow and ice have an opportunity to slide off the panels once the sun comes up and the temperature increases over the course of the day. Ice that builds up on solar panels overnight will warm up and naturally melt away without requiring extra attention from you.
Solar panels are also built to withstand the weight of snow and ice, which means that you don’t have to be concerned about damage caused by additional weight. Treat it like an extension of your house—if that day’s weather hasn’t been extreme enough to consider potential damage to your exterior workings, then it’s likely that your solar panels will be fine. However, this is of course depending on the quality of the solar panels that you purchase, and whether they’ve been installed correctly.
One more reason to not be afraid of snow? The whiteness of snow causes light to bounce more, which leads to a brighter environment overall (ever heard of sunglasses for skiing or snowboarding?). As we’ve already learned, solar panels are more productive when there’s more sunlight, so sun on snow can actually work to your advantage in helping your solar system capture sunbeams and produce even more electricity!
Myth #3: Solar panels don’t work when the skies are cloudy
We’ve determined that exposure to sunlight is the biggest factor for how much electricity your solar panels can generate each day. Autumn, winter, and spring are bound to have some cloudy days. On those days, you can rest assured that your solar panels will still work, albeit at a lower capacity than usual. The amount of power generated cango down to 10-25%, but the sun’s rays are strong enough to be transmitted through clouds on overcast days.
There you have it—three of the biggest winter weather myths about solar panels debunked! Now that you know the truth about how solar panels function in the winter, let’s take a look at the main reasons why going solar in this chilly season can actually be a better investment for you.
Top 5 Reasons to Go Solar in the Winter
1. Start earlier to start saving earlier
One of the most popular reasons to go solar has to do with savings. Generating solar means that you can rely on your own source of renewable energy. It also means that you can pay a much lower utilities bill each month, as you’ll be able to use any electricity your solar system generates right away or store.
If you’ve been keeping an eye on your utility bill, you’ll notice that electricity rates are seeing an increase from year to year. Homeowners are starting to see a surge in the prices they pay for energy, and the U.S. Energy Information Association is predicting that it’ll go by 1% this winter compared to last year.
By investing in a rooftop solar system now as opposed to a year later, you’ll be able to lock in a certain electricity rate with your energy provider—and those are instant, tangible savings. It’s as simple as that.
2. You can minimize your utility bill in summer months
Autumn can often provide relief from hot summer weather, as well as high seasonal energy bills from leaving the air conditioning on and having the kids at home all day. This means homeowners can usually expect a lower energy bill in the fall, but (as we highlighted while debunking myth #1) also a higher production of electricity from their rooftop solar panels.
This is where a process callednet metering comes into play. Net metering is a structure that most states have in place. Long story short, this system enables you to collect credits when your rooftop solar system produces more electricity than you can consume and sends it into the grid. These credits usually do not expire until 12 months after they are first added to your utilities account, and can be applied to your monthly utility bill in order to bring down the total cost. Practically speaking, homeowners can save these credits up and then apply them during the months when energy consumption is high, thus helping them save on how much they spend on electricity each year.
If you want to take advantage of all the peak electricity production happening during the summer months, you should start the process to acquire a solar system in the autumn. This gives you ample time to complete the installation by the time summer arrives so that your solar system is ready to start generating electricity. That will help you save much more in the long run than if you begin the process in the spring—you don’t want to miss out on the best months for solar power production!
3. You can minimize your utility bill in winter months
Have you ever kept the heat running on low in the winter while you’re out, or tried to crank the thermostat higher to make the room warm up faster? These are just some of the many heating myths that most homeowners believe in, which they pay for in the form of higher electricity bills in the winter.
In order to offset the increased bill that comes with heating a home during the winter, get your rooftop solar system in place so that it can already start producing electricity for you. As we saw earlier, snow causes surroundings to be brighter thanks to the dispersion of sunlight, which helps make solar panels more productive. By being able to draw on electricity from your solar system, that directly translates to savings.
Like we mentioned in the previous point, summer is the prime time to generate electricity and accumulate credits through the net metering system. This means that future winters will hit your wallet a little less once you’re able to apply those credits towards future winter heating bills.
The result? You’re able to balance out the amount you spend on electricity over the course of the year instead of experiencing highs and lows as the seasons change—so start collecting those credits now!
4. You could get a solar system installed faster (and for cheaper)
Before reading this article, you might have thought (like many people) that winter is not a great time to go solar. Because of this common mentality, there are usually much less people requesting solar panel quotes around this time of year. Companies focused on helping consumers acquire solar systems are less busy, which can work out to your favor as their timelines will be more flexible. This reduces the need to wait as long for each step of the design and installation process.
Besides the flexibility, less competition on the market for installations can also lead to some of the lowest quotation prices during the year. Some solar providers and installers will try to mitigate these months of lower demand by offering incentives (like discounts or rebates) to those who schedule their installations during the winter months. If you take advantage of this offseason, this adds up to more financial savings for you and more consistent business for the installer—a win-win situation.
5. The solar process takes time
As with most home upgrades, acquiring your ideal rooftop solar system takes time. The process between making the decision to purchase a solar system to having your first kilowatt of electricity produced is not one that can happen overnight.
Some of the major steps that you will need to go through includeestimating your savings, researching for the right product, getting an accurate design, acquiring any financing required, finding a trusted installer, and more. How long it really takes varies from home to home, but a typicaltimeline for going solar is 4-6 months. Needless to say, it’s not a quick process but it will be worth it once you start seeing a return on your investment!
Knowing that it can take up to half a year to implement a solar system, kickstarting the process in the fall means that you’ll be ahead of the game by having solar panels up and running by the time summer rolls around. As a result, your solar system will be able to generate more electricity within its first year, providing you with a great return on investment and helping you save up net metering credits for the winter. Solar might not be top of mind for you once summer ends, but this can be one of the most lucrative times to start the acquisition process for your own rooftop solar system.
Most people think that winter is a bad time to go solar due to the weather conditions and the idea that solar panels aren’t as effective this time of year—but as you’ve read, that is simply not true.
If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it’s that going solar in the winter can benefit you for the year ahead. Summer may seem like a good time to install a solar system, but by having it ready before the season begins, you’ll be able to maximize the savings and electricity that you’ll be able to capture. Now that you’re armed with this little secret, start researching for your ideal rooftop solar system now before everyone else finds out!