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The Impact Of Snow On Solar Panels

Here in the UK we are in the midst of winter with temperatures well below freezing at times, frost is a feature and snow has fallen in some parts of the country. So, how does the snow impact on the performance of solar panels which, bearing in mind many of the panels are located on our roofs, are occasionally going to be fully covered by that white substance?

Snow covered roofs
(image credit: erix!)

Joshua Pearce is a scientist at Michigan Technological University who is of the opinion that solar panels are still worth having installed even if you live in a location susceptible to wintry conditions.

Yes, it is correct that a covering of snow can lead to a temporary blackout of the solar cell’s performance but solar panels don’t usually stay covered in heavy snow for too long.

Apparently snow can in fact sometimes assist solar cells due to what is known as the “albedo effect”. This is where the sunlight actually reflects off the covering of snow resulting in an increased amount of electricity being generated by the solar panels which is a similar effect to that of skiers who get sunburnt during the winter when out on the ski slopes in sunny weather.

Joshua Pearce, accompanied by a number of researchers based at St. Lawrence College and Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario, together with the support of 20 industry partners carefully monitored the effects of snow at the Open Solar Outdoors Test Field. The team developed a computer model that was able to estimate the decline of generated power dependent upon different volumes of snow on a variety of solar module types positioned at different angles ranging from being pitched very steeply to lying flat. They were then able to use a huge amount of data from numerous large commercial solar farms in Ontario to validate their model.

Mr Pearce commented: “In most cases power losses are minimal, even in snowy Canada.”

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