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Do Solar Panels Work in Winter? Your Guide To Snow & Solar Panels

Do Solar Panels Work in Winter? Your Guide To Snow & Solar Panels

Do Solar Panels Work in Winter?

  • Panels must be exposed to light to produce. Keep snow clear from the face of your panels.
  • Colder temperatures increase voltage, which means your system is more efficient when it’s cold & sunny.
  • However, there are fewer sun hours during the day in the winter, leading to an overall drop in production.
  • Take steps to conserve energy to get the most out of your system in the winter.

Wondering if you can still go solar in cold climates? Good news: snow and solar panels are not mutually exclusive.

This is a question we commonly hear from people who live in colder climates that get heavy snow in the winter. Do solar panels work in winter? Does heavy snow on solar panels affect their output?

It’s a reasonable question since solar panels capture their energy from the sun, and there’s less sunlight to go around in the winter…

But the answer to this question is fairly simple: yes, solar panels work in the winter. You just have to take precautions not to let snow build up on the panels.

It’s true that there are fewer sun hours in the day during winter, which means a shorter window for production.

But that drawback is somewhat offset by the fact that your system gets more efficient in the winter. As temperatures fall, panel voltage increases, which leads to higher production in colder temperatures. If it’s cold and sunny, your system works at extremely high efficiency.

If snow builds up on panels and blocks light from reaching the cells, that will prevent those cells from producing. But the easy fix is to simply remove snow from the panels.

All things considered, we estimate your system’s production will drop around 15-45% below its average output in the dead of winter. The production gap gets wider the further you are from the Equator. Plug your ZIP code into the PVWatts calculator to get monthly production estimates for your location.

With that in mind, here are a few quick tips to get the most out of your solar panels in the winter months.

Pole Mounts Help With Snow Removal

We recommend fixed roof or ground mounts for most standard solar builds because they are the most cost-effective solutions.

However, if heavy snow is a concern in your area, you might want to look at a pole mount for your panels.

Recommended product: General Specialties Pole Mount

A pole mount is exactly what it sounds like: a tall pole that you can mount your panels on. They’re designed to allow you to adjust the tilt of your panels as you see fit.

Pole mounts accomplish two important things.

The first benefit of pole mounts is that they lift your array higher off the ground. When it snows, there’s room under your array for the snow bank to build up without obstructing the panels. With a fixed ground mount setup, the bottom of your array could potentially get buried in snow buildup.

The second benefit is that pole mounts are usually set at a steeper tilt angle. If enough snow builds up on the panels, gravity takes over and the snow slides off under its own weight. You may get temporary buildup, but pole mounts are designed to shed snow and keep your panels clear.

Pole mounts are a great option for snowy climates, but they do cost a bit more than fixed mounts. It’s not necessary to buy a pole mount for your array, especially if you don’t mind doing a bit of maintenance during the winter.

Maintenance Tips For Getting the Most Out Of Your Solar Panels in the Winter

1. Clear snow off your panels

If you don’t have a pole mount (or even if you do), it’s wise to brush excess snow off your panels so that it doesn’t block the solar cells and limit production.

If possible, opt for a broom or brush with soft bristles. The face of your panels is made out of glass. They’re going to be fairly sturdy, but you don’t want to use abrasive materials that could scratch the glass.

Be careful climbing on to your roof to clean your panels if you have a roof-mounted system. The ice buildup combined with the slope of the roof presents hazardous conditions. If you attempt to clear snow off your roof-mounted array, please take the necessary safety precautions, like wearing heavy-grip shoes and a secure harness.

If you live in an area where it snows regularly, we strongly recommend opting for a ground mount system. They are much more accessible and safer to maintain because you don’t have to climb on your roof to access your panels.

2. If Possible, Adjust Your Array’s Tilt Angle

Solar panels produce the most energy when they face directly into the sun. The position of the sun in the sky changes throughout the year, and it takes a much lower path during winter months.

Fixed mounts can’t be adjusted, but if you opt for a pole mount, you can adjust to a more optimal angle during the winter.

Read our article on finding the optimal solar panel tilt angle for advice on setting your panels in the right position to get the most production out of them.

3. Take Steps to Conserve Energy

Less daylight means less solar production, so it helps to reduce energy consumption in your home to account for this. Some quick tips:

Turn off lights and other appliances when not in use.

Replace high-wattage light bulbs with energy-efficient ones. You can go from 60W to 15W bulbs and save 75% of consumption.

Unplug appliances from your wall if possible. Plugged-in appliances still draw a small amount of power even when they are not turned on. These are called “ghost loads.” TVs, laptops, phone chargers, microwaves, stereos, and so on—these can all be unplugged to save energy when not in use.

Consider adding more insulation and sealing leaks around your doors/windows to retain more heat in your home. You can also insulate your water heater to retain heat.

Set the thermostat to a cooler temperature and use blankets and/or layers to keep warm. A smart thermostat can help you schedule temperature changes to keep your home cooler while you’re out and warm it up by the time you come home.

These are just a few ideas. Check out our article on lowering energy use and conserving energy for more tips!

Battery Maintenance Tips For Off-Grid Systems

If you live off the grid, properly maintaining your battery bank is crucial to keeping the lights on.

Extreme cold temperatures can be very hard on your deep cycle batteries, so it’s important to take care of them properly.

Make sure your batteries are installed indoors. If they are outdoors, make sure that the compartment is properly insulated.

Lead-acid batteries freeze at below-zero temperatures, which will permanently destroy them. Lithium-ion batteries have a specific temperature operating range and often can’t be operated at extremely cold temperatures.

Always keep diagnostic tools at your disposal. This includes a digital multimeter and a handheld battery refractometer.

If continuous power supply is crucial, make sure that you have a backup generator ready and tested for functionality in advance. Generators must be regularly exercised to keep them tuned up and functioning properly.

In the winter, the exercise cycle needs to be longer to melt any snow or ice that has blown into the engine. For example, the Kohler generators we sell need be exercised weekly for 20 minutes in the summer and 30 minutes in the winter.

Recommended Product: Kohler 14kW Generator

For flooded lead-acid battery banks, keep a stock of distilled water for your batteries. The battery electrolyte level should be checked regularly. Check the battery manual to determine the appropriate fill level. Add distilled water to keep the fluid levels where they need to be.

Battery capacity is impacted by cold temperatures, because the chemical reaction inside the batteries slows down. Lead acid batteries are going to lose a significant amount of their capacity as temperatures drop.

Flooded lead-acid batteries should receive an equalize battery charge from a high capacity battery charger about once every 3-4 months to keep the plates free of sulfate buildup.

Most batteries do not fail instantaneously, but degrade over time. That degradation is accelerated if you don’t take proper care of your battery bank. Set a regular battery maintenance schedule and adhere to it diligently to ensure they work properly throughout the winter.

Download our free solar panel buying guide!
Do Solar Panels Increase Home Value?

Do Solar Panels Increase Home Value?

Do Solar Panels Increase Property Value?

A recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concludes that solar panels increase home value by $14,329 on average. Homes equipped with solar power systems sell for 3.74% more than comparable non-solar properties.

One of the strongest arguments for solar energy is that it’s an investment that pays for itself. Any upfront costs are paid back in the reduction (or elimination) of energy bills, and solar customers can reasonably expect to see a return of at least 2-3 times their initial investment over the life of the system.

But those numbers assume you live in the same house for the full duration of the warranty – which often isn’t the case. And one of the reservations holding a lot of people back switching to solar is the fear that they might not live in their house long enough for the significant up-front investment to pay off.

If you own your home, this research should assuage those fears. Outfitting your home with a grid-tied solar energy system drives up property values and offers an enticing selling point for real estate agents to market a listing.

To figure out how much you could save by going solar, check out our guide to calculating the ROI of your solar electric system in our resource center.

Even if you don’t live in your home long enough to break even on energy costs, the premium that home buyers are willing to pay to move into your solar-ready home will be more than enough to cover the investment.

Solar Homes Sell For $14,329 More On Average

The study evaluated the sale price of 22,822 homes across 6 states to determine what effect solar power systems have on home resale value. The study compares the sale price of 3,951 PV Homes (homes equipped with photovoltaic systems – a.k.a., solar-powered homes) to 18,871 Non-PV Homes.

The research finds that, on average, solar panels increase home value by $14,329 – or 3.74% more than their non-PV counterparts.

Since the average system costs $10,000-$18,000 in materials, homeowners can reasonably expect to recoup the cost of the hardware when they choose to sell their home. That’s on top of the expected savings from reduced energy bills and tax incentives, which can already pay for the system 2-3 times over the life of the warranty.

As a bonus incentive, some states don’t count PV systems toward the value of your home when calculating property taxes. Adding a $15,000 kitchen will raise your property taxes, but a $15,000 PV system might be exempt. This comes down to local regulations, though, and certainly isn’t true everywhere in the U.S.

Digging Deeper Into the Data

Of course, real estate is a complex market, with countless factors influencing the valuation of a property. National averages will never tell the whole story. So let’s take a closer look at the data and see if we can uncover some more specific information.

Diminishing Returns on Larger PV Systems

One conclusion the authors of the study draw is the existence of a “green cachet” for homes equipped with PV systems. Solar-equipped homes sell at a significant premium, regardless of the wattage output of the system. The sale price of homes with more powerful PV systems did not increase proportionally to the installation cost of the system.

This suggests that homebuyers are prepared to pay more for the distinction of owning a “solar home,” regardless of the efficiency of the system, or its ability to fully cover their expected energy usage. They will pay marginally more for larger systems, but not in proportion to what the system is actually worth.

For sellers, that means it might make sense to install a modest grid tie system that relies on stored solar energy most of the year, but pulls from the electric grid during heavier usage periods, like when the A/C runs on full blast during the dog days of summer.

This may afford you the flexibility of marketing your listing as a solar home, while keeping installation costs down and turning a profit on the system when the sale goes through.

Of course, taking on an extra project like this adds time, labor costs and risk to the sale process. It may not be worth the investment, especially because…

Solar Homes May Take Longer to Sell

The study also found that, on average, solar-equipped homes take slightly longer to sell than their counterparts. Solar homes spend an extra 8 days on the market before they sell, as demonstrated by the chart below.

Solar homes spend slightly longer on the market before they sell. Source (p. 29)

Note that there is quite a bit of fluctuation in the data on a state by state basis. This could be attributed to a couple factors:

Small sample size in some states

The data from CA is much more robust than other states in this study, which may explain why its numbers come closest to the national average.

Incentives vary by state

Some states offer stronger incentives for buying a solar home, while others offer nothing at all. Solar homes may languish on the market for much longer when there is no incentive for owning a solar-enabled home. For example, some states offer a break on property taxes if you own a solar home. It might be more enticing to buy a solar home in those areas.

We strongly recommend exploring our guide to State Solar Incentives if you’re in the market to understand how the dynamics might change based on your location.

Local perception of solar

Solar power has been more broadly adopted in places like CA and FL, where sunshine is plentiful and there are strong tax benefits for going solar. Other states lag behind in adoption and education on the topic.

In areas with lower electricity costs and poor benefits for solar adoption, the awareness of solar as an viable energy source tends to be quite low. Buyers may hesitate to buy a solar-powered home because they aren’t convinced the system is reliable. They also may not understand the long-term benefits, making solar homes a harder sell.

Solar education in lower adoption states can be a major stumbling block. In many cases, buyers don’t understand the difference between grid-tie and off-grid systems. They tend to assume all solar energy systems are off-grid, which rely on panels to generate 100% of their energy and run entirely on a battery storage system. The fear is that they’ll be stuck without power if the solar array goes out and they don’t know how to fix it.

In reality, most systems are grid-tied. They generate their own energy, but still hook into the public utility grid. The solar panels don’t need to generate 100% of your home’s electricity — the grid can pick up the slack in periods of heavy usage. And if the power goes out, it’s on public utility workers to fix the issue and get things back up and running as soon as possible.

In areas where solar energy is less popular, a little education may be necessary to convince buyers that a PV system is a reliable way to power their home.

Learn more about the difference between off-grid and grid tied systems with our Getting Started Guide.

Newer Systems Are Worth More

Okay, this one should be common sense – but just to be thorough, it’s worth pointing out that the data backs this up.

Newer PV systems are made from more efficient materials, have more years left on their warranty, and are less likely to be due for replacement parts (like a new inverter, which you can expect to replace about halfway through the life of a system). As PV systems age, their value depreciates, and they tend to be worth less when you put your home on the market.

Pretty simple – newer installations are a greater boon to property values, as you would reasonably expect.

Leased vs. Owned Systems

Finally, the premium only applies to homes with host-owned PV systems. If you agreed to a solar lease or PPA (Power Purchasing Agreement) with the developer who installed the system, you likely won’t see much—if any—of the higher sale price returned to you as profits. In these cases, buyers will request the previous owner pays off their lease or PPA agreement, which offsets the additional value built into the final sale price of the home.

The extra cash from the sale only goes into your pocket if you have purchased your PV system outright. That’s one of the reasons we strongly recommend buying your system instead of leasing it.

Related Article: Should You Buy, Lease or Loan Your Solar System?

A Few Caveats

As with all research studies, it’s important to pay close attention to the methodology used to make sure we’re drawing the proper conclusions. Here are some important pieces of information about how this study was conducted:

The data spans home sales from 2002-2013.

The LBNL study only evaluates homes sold between 2002 and 2013. But more recent advancements in solar technology have made installations quite a bit cheaper since then, which may have an impact on their appraisal value in more recent home sales.

The most recent report on the cost of PV systems from the NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) shows that in 2017, the cost to install a residential PV system in the U.S. is less than half of what it was in 2010. In fact, solar prices seem to have leveled off right around 2013 – the last year data was collected for the LBNL study.

As PV systems become more efficient to install, that may translate to a smaller impact on home resale values in the future. But since the premium on sale prices will likely shrink at the same rate as the installation costs, we still expect sellers to recoup the hardware cost of their system when they go to sell their home.

The research was conducted in 6 states: California, Oregon, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

According to this ranking of the solar-friendliness of all 50 states, 3 of these 6 states ranked among the top 12 in the nation, and the worst was still close to average – Florida, at #28. With that in mind, the data skews heavily toward states with higher-than-average solar adoption. The impact of solar panels on home resale value will certainly be a bit lower for states lower down the list. You may see a smaller impact on property values if you live in a less solar-friendly state.

It’s hard to say for sure – the research is still limited, and we don’t yet have reliable country-wide data to draw from.

The study examines homes much more expensive than the national average.

The mean sale price of homes examined for this study was $431,964, which more than doubles the median home value in the US. The highest-selling home it appraised went for $899,000.

It’s hard to say whether solar readiness remains a strong purchase motivator once you get into the territory of high-end homes. We can’t think of a reason these trends wouldn’t hold true for million-dollar homes, but the LBNL doesn’t cover that market segment in their study, so it’s worthwhile to consider the dynamics may change for high-value properties.

For more modest homes, the data is much clearer. Smaller properties need smaller systems to cover their electricity usage. As you spend more on a PV system, the premium on home resale value doesn’t scale to match the investment. Smaller systems for more modest homes ($150K-$300k) actually return a much higher margin on the investment when the home hits the real estate market.

The premium buyers are willing to pay for a solar-equipped home shrinks for increasingly large PV systems. Source (p. 29)

Final Thoughts

Any way you slice it, solar is a sound investment.

If you live in your home for the duration of the warranty, you can expect a grid tie system to pay for itself 2-3 times or more in tax breaks and energy savings.

Even if you decide to move before the warranty is up, you still come out ahead. The value of the system translates directly into a higher sale price when your home hits the market. And that premium is typically enough to cover the cost of the hardware, which means homeowners break even on their solar investment right from the start.

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