Can you really use solar power for heating?
Doesn’t the arrival of winter make solar power impossible to use?
Many think that your solar panels will work best in the summer. They envision the need for a blazing hot sun to power the panels. And when the winter comes, they assume they’ll need to rely on traditional suppliers for their energy needs.
That’s a myth.
Solar panels in Australia are effective all year round. The truth is that you can maintain high solar output in winter.
Does Solar Power Work in Winter?
The simple answer is yes. The common mistake many people make is to think that solar panels convert the heat from the sun’s rays into electricity. That’s not how solar panels get energy.
Solar panels get energy from the light rays, not from the heat of the sun. So it doesn’t matter how hot the day is, what matters is the amount of time you get direct sunlight. Australia, in particular, is lucky in that we are amongst the countries with the most natural sunlight in the world year-round.
So you don’t need to worry about the drop in temperatures affecting performance. In fact, a freezing cold winter day will produce plenty of energy so long as there aren’t too many clouds blocking the sun.
Winter vs. Summer – The Key Differences
While there is a drop in production in winter, the differences are less significant than you’d imagine, especially if the system is sized up correctly.
The key differences in generation from winter vs summer are the strength of the sun’s rays (which are, of course, much weaker in winter) and because the days in winter are shorter.
Here is the typical average daily output of a 10kW solar system across the year in Sydney:
Darker, cloudy days, will also have an impact. There may be more cloud cover between the sun and your panels during the winter days. If this is the case, your panels may not generate as much electricity as they would on a clear day.
However, the good news is that most modern systems can still produce enough solar power to cover the base load of your house, and possibly even some heating as well, as long as it is during the daytime rather than after you come home from work. So, solar power does still work during the winter. And for the average consumer, a properly sized solar power system should still generate enough power for your needs.
We can’t speak for other installers but here at Solaray, we account for your winter usage when we quote your system size. Our solar experts can help you size up a system that will account for the drop in generation during the winter months, which will often give you excess solar power in summer to help power air conditioning, pool pumps and the like.
If you want to get an opinion on solar system sizing for winter, the team here at Solaray can help you (without any of the high-pressure sales tactics).
Maximising Solar Output In Winter
There are some things that you can do to improve solar output in winter. Here are a couple of tips to get you started.
Tip #1 – Keep the Panels Clear
You want to ensure that your panels are as exposed to the sun as much as possible. This means you need to do whatever you can to keep them clear.
Autumn, in particular, is a time where if you have a lot of trees in your garden, it’s possible that falling leaves could land on your panels. As these collect over time, they’ll block the sun’s rays from reaching the panels.
If the rain doesn’t wash them off after a period of time, it might be worth clearing any leaves from your panels to ensure they achieve their peak efficiency. Just make sure you do it safely.
Tip #2 – Reduce Your Energy Consumption
The average household in Australia predominantly uses solar power for heating in the winter.
A tip that always works for maintaining the same electricity costs is to reduce your consumption in other areas. You can insulate your home simply by keeping windows closed, door snakes for the crack under the door and having your curtains floor to ceiling closed to create a pocket of air as insulation.
The done-to-death advice (which we’ll tell you one more time) is to use energy-efficient appliances and bulbs wherever possible. You may also be able to take advantage of solar-powered lights for your garden.
The less known, but more interesting advice is that electric blankets cost less than a bar heater. Bar heaters can be really expensive to use.
It is worth mentioning that clothes and blankets are free heating. We recommend a nice snug thermal vest, or layer up in the home before thinking about over-doing it with the heater. If you have heard of a Slanket, google it now for months of warm comfort at home.
Being just a little more aware of your consumption can help you to stretch your winter energy production further.
Prepare for Winter
So, does solar power work in winter?
It does. And you can help your system to be even more efficient as the days get shorter. Remember that it’s light, rather than heat that keeps your system working. So if you’re considering solar, don’t let winter get you in the way of a sunny new solar system.
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