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Do Solar Panels Work in the Rain? [What About Other Conditions?]

Tim Carter
Written by Tim Carter Last Updated: June 5, 2022

With solar power being one of the best renewable energy sources that are becoming increasingly available to everyone, we have many questions before deciding to install solar panels. For example, do solar panels generate energy during the winter or rainy days? Do solar panels still produce energy as the temperatures drop and the skies darken?

Solar panels work in the winter, even in colder northern countries with rainy climates. Solar power can be a dependable and resilient source of renewable energy everywhere.

Therefore, a solar panel can charge solar lights charge on cloudy days. Yet, there’s a reduced supply of energy.

You can’t use a solar system to power your home at night if there isn’t enough light in the sky that reaches solar panels.

It is important to understand how solar panels work to know why they can still be effective in the winter or during rainy days.

However, you don’t have to rely solely on your solar system because you have two sources of electricity in an on-grid solar system, one generated via your solar panels and the other from your electricity provider.

So let’s see whether a solar panel works as well in the rain as on a sunny day and whether weather affects solar panel efficiency at all.

Table of Contents

How Do Solar Panels Work?

There are three main types of solar panels made of silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells.

PV cells contain electrons that generate energy light particles (known as photons) reach their surface.

Then photovoltaic cells convert this energy into usable electric current. And that’s how a solar energy system works!

Solar panels rely on the sun’s light rather than the sun’s heat.

Solar cells, like most electrical appliances, perform best in cooler temperatures.

Excessive heat can reduce cell efficiency.

A cold sunny day will generate more power from solar cells than a hot sunny day.

This is because of the energy difference between photons from sunlight and electrons in the solar cell.

The greater the energy difference between the two sets of particles, the greater the power.

How Does Weather Affect Solar Panel Performance?

Solar panels rely on sunlight to generate power, so weather can impact the performance of a solar system.

Sunny days are best for solar panels, as they provide the most direct sunlight. However, too much sun can actually be a problem, as excessive heat can damage the panel’s cells.

Shade can also reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the panel, lowering its output.

So sunny days are obviously ideal, but what about those cloudy days? Or what if it’s raining or snowing?

Cloudy weather cuts down on the amount of sunlight that reaches the panels, but it doesn’t affect their performance as much as you might think. In fact, most solar panels are designed to still work even when it’s cloudy outside.

Rain and snow can actually help to keep your solar panels clean, which can improve their performance.

Of course, if there’s a lot of debris on the panels (such as leaves or branches), that can impede their ability to absorb sunlight.

In general, though, the weather shouldn’t have a significant impact on your solar panel’s performance.

Do Solar Panels Work in Snow?

There is a potential disadvantage for solar panels in frosty weather. A thick layer of snow prevents the sun’s rays from reaching the solar cells and solar panels from working most efficiently.

Yet, snow doesn’t adhere to solar panels as it does to other materials because they should face the sun.

Heavy snowfall and long winters are uncommon in most urban areas and shouldn’t have a significant impact on the output of a solar panel.

When snow covers a solar panel, solar panel efficiency greatly reduces.

But solar panels still work, even when covered in snow.

However, solar arrays shed snow fairly well because the panels absorb both the sun’s heat and light, and they are frequently on a slope. Besides, snow doesn’t stick to solar panels as it does on rooftops.

Even in much colder climates, as the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology discovered, solar panels without snow produced only 1% to 5% more than those that were not maintained and were covered in snow.

Although panels should face the sun, short days during the winter months represent a challenge.

Even if there is sunshine on a winter day, it will last for a shorter period in climates farther from the equator.

On a clear day, less direct sunlight will reach the panels because of fewer sunshine hours and the sun is lower in the sky.

Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?

Unfortunately, the advantages of lower temperatures for solar panels end there because there’s less sunlight in the winter.

For instance, the United Kingdom only receives 30% of the maximum amount of sunshine possible in a year, and even less during the winter months. So, does the density of the clouds affect the output of solar panels?

Of course, solar energy output depends on the density of the clouds. The less sunlight that reaches the solar panels, the denser the clouds.

Even on a cloudy day, solar cells can generate extra power because solar cells can use either direct or diffuse light.

Cold Cloudy Days

Direct light travels directly from the sun to the earth, but diffuse light comes from the scattered particles of light in the atmosphere, such as in rain clouds.

A cloudy country such as the United Kingdom receives about 8 hours of daylight, but during the summer, there are very long days of sunlight.

This can compensate for low solar panel output months during the winter.

In short, solar panels work in the winter and on cloudy days.

Although solar panels cannot produce as much energy during the cold winter months and cloudy days as in the summer, it is still enough to make solar energy a viable source of renewable energy.

So, your solar panels produce sufficient energy to power your lights or gadgets even on cold cloudy days.

Solar panels can withstand severe weather and snowdrifts. So there is no need to scrape the snow off your roof.

Do Solar Panels Work When It Rains?

Much like Pacific Northwest winter climates, some places like Georgia, Texas, and Southern California have a cooler rainy season.

The sun still delivers daylight to solar panels through the rain and clouds.

Although solar panels are most productive in direct sunlight, they can still use diffuse or indirect sunlight (radiation) to generate energy.

Though energy production of solar panels decreases with dense cloud cover, solar panels continue working to a greater capacity than one may expect.

Rain also helps wash away dust on panels to keep them operating efficiently.

Because we cannot always count on having direct access to sunlight, a four-hour charge cycle can provide enough power for at least 6 to 8 hours of use.

Short summer nights typically require 6-8 hours of direct sunlight to generate electricity that can last throughout the night. However, four hours of charge time is possible if you cannot place your solar panels in direct sunlight.

Direct Solar Light Vs Diffuse Light

Rainy days and clouds cause diffuse light. But what’s the difference?

Direct light is solar radiation traveling in a straight line from the sun down to the earth’s surface.

Diffuse light is sunlight scattered throughout the atmosphere. This light still reaches the earth.

Thus, the amount of electricity generated depends on the density of the cloud cover.

Nonetheless, solar panels work well with diffuse light as well, which is why they can generate power even on cloudy and rainy days.

What Is Important: Sunlight or Daylight? [Is Direct Sunlight Necessary?]

Solar energy consumers worry about the weather because it is not always sunny.

You should not expect your solar lights to illuminate your home all night on days when sunlight is not strong enough to show its usual vibrancy.

Experts recommend placing your solar panels in an area that is free of dirt, vegetation, and thick shade that blocks sunlight.

You will know if your solar lights have a sufficient charge because they should keep running all night.

Cloudy Days

The sun cannot get through the thick atmosphere when it is cloudy. Although solar panels work on cloudy days, they are not as efficient as during sunny weather.

So, on cloudy days, you will notice that your solar energy production is lower and lights go out faster.

Because solar lights rely on the photovoltaic effect, they must have enough sunlight to charge sufficiently for nighttime use.

The sun doesn’t have to be fully visible for solar cells to work.

Monitoring your solar power system on sunny days can help you become familiar with how much electricity your system generates on those days, which will help you determine how much the clouds affect your system’s performance.

The output of your system may then be easily compared to its typical output to determine how much its performance has been impacted.

Remember that the performance of your solar system will change with the seasons.

Final Thoughts

You should be careful if you are doing the solar panel installation on your own; it can be a challenge. Place your solar power system in an area with the most sunlight.

The roof is a common choice, but what if your solar panels don’t receive enough sunlight?

Worry little because your solar lights will continue to function properly both under direct or indirect sunlight.

A solar panel works in all weather, albeit not as efficiently as when exposed to direct sunlight.

They still will need sufficient exposure to UV rays, which they can only get if they are not shielded from them.

It is important to get rid of any shade, such as thick tree branches, vegetation, or debris if you plan to install solar panels.


Tim Carter
Tim Carter

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