January 1, 2015
By AccuWeather Staff Writers
With a new year beginning, installing solar panels is a great way to fulfill environmentally-friendly resolutions.
However, for those living in wintry climates, snow accumulation may pose a problem.
Joshua Pearce, associate professor at Michigan Tech University (MTU), said, “If snow is completely covering the panel, you are obviously only going to get the amount of energy out of the panel from the amount of light that is able to pass through the snow.”
“Even having a relatively small amount of snow on top of a given panel can radically reduce the amount of energy output for your entire system,” he said.
Due to these issues, research is currently being conducted whether solar technology is useful in wintry climates.
The projected losses could affect energy costs for all homeowners using solar power, but only significantly for ones that rely entirely on solar power and are not connected to the traditional electrical grid.
For the vast majority of homes and businesses that still remain “on-the-grid,” the financial impacts are minimal but the energy losses still pose questions to enhance optimal usage.
Research being conducted in Michigan, Colorado and Washington by MTU and the engineering firm DNV GL is designed to test the energy output for solar panels with varying levels of snow coverage and other factors such as “racking” (the accumulation of snow at the bottom of a panel if the snow can’t slide off naturally) and the angle the panels are tilted.
When the study is completed, Pearce is confident that, “Everyone, both [solar panel] designers, people that are funding systems and everyday homeowners [should] have the ability to look at your weather data for your area and predict, with very good assurance, what your snow losses or snow gains would be.”