Will Snow Freeze Out Solar? Addressing a Myth

Kenneth Wilson

For people living in a colder climate who are considering making the investment in solar, one concern that we often hear is the potential for snow to negatively impact power generation from solar. The good news is that snow tends to have a minimal effect on solar panels. However, there is a lot of information to consider when trying to understand how solar panels interact with snowy weather. Let’s take a look at some of the important issues.

How Snow Affects Power Generation

This actually varies a bit depending upon the amount of snow. A dusting of snow will have a relatively small effect on the ability of solar panels to generate power. Meanwhile, a thicker coating of snow will prevent a lot of sunlight from penetrating and significantly reduce power generation.

However, this is not a major concern to owners of solar panels. In fact, the value of solar panels in an area already takes into account typical weather panels and is based on the average number of daylight hours in a year.

In fact, solar power saves homeowners a lot of money even in areas like Minnesota–which receive a lot of snow. In fact, Minnesota has announced a plan to become run completely by renewable power by 2050 with solar panels serving as a significant source of power generation under that plan.

Additionally, solar panels are able to utilize all rays of the sun, including those reflecting back onto them from snow on the ground. Thus, when snow is on the ground but the panels remain snow-free, this gives a bit of a boost of energy production

Will Snow Cause Panels to Generate Less Power in Winter?

Yes, snowfall will lead to lower power generation during the winter; however, this is not a problem. Why is that? Solar panels generally provide far greater output in summer than they do in winter because there are simply more daylight hours.

Thus, solar panels in the summer typically generate more power than is used by a home on a given day. This extra power is typically sent back to the grid. In most states, homeowners are able to make use of something called net metering.

What is net metering? It’s a process where the amount of extra energy production sent from your solar panels back to the grid is tracked. You will then receive credits towards your utility bills as a form of payment for this extra energy that you produce. In the summer, solar panels tend to produce excess energy, meaning that these credits can build up to help cover your winter utility bills for days when your panels do not produce enough and you have to supplement with power from the grid.

Net metering is something that has greatly increased the cost savings from solar panels by allowing homeowners to fully take advantage of the excess energy generated by their solar panels.

Do I Need to Clean Snow Off of Panels?

This is one of the most common questions that we hear. The truth is that you can clean snow off of solar panels in order to improve production on snowy days; however, it generally is not recommended.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, the energy production lost to snowfall is fairly small compared to the risk of injury. Being on top of a snowy or icy roof can be very dangerous as you can risk a fall. Additionally, while solar panels are very durable, there is always the potential of causing damage to the panels, particularly if you use the wrong thing(like a metal brush) to clean the panels.

Additionally, it is important to consider the manner in which solar panels are installed. Solar are typically installed at an angle in order to capture the maximum amount of sunlight. This varies a bit by location in relation to the sun, but it is why we typically see solar panels angled.

This angle helps facilitate self-clearing of snow. Solar panels may sit for a day or two with snow on them. But when the sun comes back out, the panels will typically shed the snow on their own. This also provides an additional benefit in that it serves as a self-cleaning mechanism for solar panels.

When snow melts and slides off panels, it takes away accumulated dust and dirt, leaving the panels clean and better performing. In fact, homeowners in snowy climates have to clean their panels less frequently than those in warmer climates because of this.

Are There Other Cold Weather Concerns Besides Snow?

Many people naturally wonder if there are other cold weather-related issues to solar power production aside from snow. We typically associate winter with less sunlight because it is colder. However, the reality is that solar panels are actually most efficient in cold weather.

This is because heat decreases the conductivity of electrical equipment while cold weather boosts it. This added efficiency in the winter means that the decrease in power generated due to fewer hours of direct sunlight is likely going to be less than you would expect to see.

While cold weather and the sun are not necessarily things that are often associated with one another, cold weather and solar production do go hand in hand.

Final Thoughts

It is normal to wonder how snow will affect the use of solar power on your home. The good news is that the impact of snow on solar panels is rather minimal. It is even recommended that owners of solar panels do not try to clean the snow off of them as it will typically remove itself, serving as somewhat of a self-cleaning mechanism in the process.

Additionally, for people living in states that have net metering policies, the extra power your panels generate in the summer will provide you with credits to your utility bills which will then help pay for any power you need to use from the grid during the winter. Overall, solar panels function quite well even in areas with significant snowfall.

Kenneth Wilson
March 15, 2021

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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