As you gingerly slice the electric bill envelope open, you cringe when you see yet another astronomical ‘amount due’ staring back at you. Time to go solar? Is solar reliable enough in all weather? What if it is cloudy; will solar power still work if the sun isn’t shining brightly?
Solar panels will work when it is cloudy or raining; however, they do not work at full capacity. Depending on how dense the rain and clouds are, it can reduce the level of power it generates to about 10-25% compared to a bright sunny day.
If you are sick and tired of paying outrageous electric bills month after month and are ready for the electric company to start paying you instead, continue reading this article for tips on getting solar power to work for you, rain or shine.
The Connection Between Solar Power and the Sun
You know “solar” is closely connected to the sun, but you may wonder exactly how solar power can capture the sunlight and convert it into usable power.
Photovoltaics are devices that use materials that naturally can trap and convert the sun’s energy and generate electricity from its power. Contrary to popular belief, solar panels work from absorbing visible light rays from the sun, not from the heat produced by the sun.
Dark Skies are Not a Deal Breaker for Solar Power
Many people are under the impression that if they live in a climate that is not sunny or warm all of the time, they cannot benefit from solar power, but that is not the case.
Unless you live in a cave, solar power will most likely work wherever you live.
That is not to say that the sun doesn’t help. When it is cloudy or raining, the power generated by the solar panels is reduced to about 10-25%, depending on how thick the clouds and rain are that days. Despite popular belief, solar radiation can still penetrate through clouds. That is why you can get a sunburn on a cloudy day just as badly as a bright sunny day.
How Solar Panels are Affected by Cloudy Days
As mentioned before, even if you live in an area that does not have bright sunshine all day, every day, you can still use solar power. Solar panels work by absorbing the visible light rays from the sun, so even though it may be cloudy, if it is light out, your solar panels will be converting the energy they get from the visible light rays into usable power. They will store this just the same way they store energy from fully sunny days.
Limitations Clouds Put on Creating Energy
Although solar panels will still work and generate energy for you when it is cloudy, they are not working at their full capacity. Most homes that are using solar power are on-grid systems, so in instances when their solar power system is not generating enough energy they can fall back on traditional electricity.
If it’s cloudy for days on end, your solar panels will still work for you. Just in the same way your solar panels fill your battery with solar energy for nighttime, they’ll power you through a string of cloudy days.
You may be wondering what happens if traditional electricity fails and there is a blackout for days or even longer? Can you still rely on your solar power system?
Have a Backup Battery for Real Outages
In most cases, no, you can’t rely on solar power to carry you through an extended blackout. This is because on-grid solar power systems work off of the electrical grid. If it goes down, so does your solar power.
To remedy this problem, you can invest in a backup battery system. Most people that have on-grid solar power systems do not have a battery backup, due largely to the fact that they are so expensive. When installing standard on-grid solar power systems, there are specific fittings and additional wiring that needs to be used if you plan on also having the battery backup.
For more information on the different types of solar power systems and energy storage options, continue reading.
Solar Panels and the Affects of the Weather
Solar panels are exceptionally durable. They can withstand just about any kind of weather that you can throw at them, even hail. Temperature is the main weather factor that can affect how a solar panel functions.
You may think that climates that are warmer would be the best place for solar panels; however, that is not the case. The higher the temperature, the less effective solar panels are due to the increased level of excited electrons produced by the high heat.
Adversely, when the weather is cold, solar panels work their best. They are more efficient, and if you live in a snowy area, they can also absorb the light that reflects off of the snow. A downside to snowy climates is that you need to be sure the panels are free of snow, or they will not work.
Other Things to Consider Before Going Solar
You have decided that you want to take to the skies and go with solar power. That is great. Now you need to do a few things before running out and purchasing the first kit you find. Before you can so solar, you need to prepare your home and yourself for what needs to be done.
Know Your Usage
Before doing anything, check with your electric company or look back at your past statements to get an idea of how much energy you use on an annual basis. It is imperative that you know this information in order to get a system that can handle the amount of energy you are consuming.
Stick with the Professionals
Many areas require that you have a licensed professional to install your solar-powered system. Check your local laws to see what the requirements are for your area. It is not uncommon for an individual to install their own solar array, but it is a job best left to the professionals for the most effective results.
Do Your Research
Take your time with this step. Finding the right solar power contractor and set-up that works best for your home and personal needs is not something to be rushed. Meet with multiple contractors to get different opinions before spending thousands of dollars on something that may not be best for your situation.
Get Your Finances in Order
There are incentives and rebates available to qualifying homeowners. The government has programs that you may qualify for that offer a rebate on your taxes; these programs change from year to year, so be sure to do your research first.
Don’t Let Things Come Crashing Down
Solar panels can be quite a load to carry. Be sure that you have a building inspector check the structural soundness of your roof and home to ensure that it can maintain the weight of your new solar power system.
If you don’t make the necessary repairs prior to installing the solar array, you will have to completely remove them when you do repair your roof, so it’s best to bite the bullet and make any needed repairs before installing.
Plan for Maximum Energy Efficiency
Installing a solar power system won’t do any good if your home is not equally as energy-efficient. Check the following things before installing:
- Add insulation to areas of your home that need it.
- Check all windows and doors for broken seals or cracks to be sure they are secure and free of leaks.
- Check roof and attic for leaks.
- Install energy-saving thermostats.
- Replace air filters on heating/cooling systems and appliances.
- Replace old light bulbs with new energy-efficient versions.
- See that all of your appliances and electronic devices are listed as energy efficient.
Minimize Shade Where You Can
Another way to maximize the absorption of light to your panels is to be sure that you have trimmed any trees/limbs that may be blocking the light. Anything you can do to reduce the amount of shade that hits the panels will ultimately help the system work more efficiently.
Have Your Paperwork in Order
Once you have decided which contractor will be installing the solar array, you need to check with your local department about getting the necessary permits for installing solar power.
Contact Your Local Electric Company
You will need to be in touch with your local electric company in order to secure the correct paperwork for setting up the reverse power on the meter if you are going with an on-grid solar power system.
The electric company will install a production meter that measures the usage. At the end of the year, you will get a check in the mail for any extra power that you may have generated.
Ground or Roof Mount Solar Panels– Which is Best?
Here we come to yet another fork in the road. If you live in a place that gets a lot of cloudy weather, should you use a roof-mounted rack system or a ground-mounted rack system? There are pros and cons to both.
The following table describes the differences between the two:
|Ground Mount Rack System
|Cooler panel temperature means higher energy output
|Installation is more costly
|Don’t need to remove panels if the roof needs repairing
|Installation requires more labor
|Easier to troubleshoot
|Not aesthetically pleasing to some people
|Easy to access
|Requires more parts/pieces
|Easy to clean
|Takes up more ground space
|Not confined to the size of the roof
|The permitting process is more costly
|Stronger tracking system
|Does not require as many materials to install
|Harder to access, especially if it has a steep roof or if the weather is bad.
|Easier and less costly to get permits
|Harder to troubleshoot errors
|Installation/labor is less costly
|Have to remove the whole system if need to replace or repair the roof.
|Higher panel temperature means less energy output
|Uses space that is out of the way.
|Putting holes in your roof could cause leaks/damage
|Space is restricted to the size of the roof.
As shown in the table above, the greatest benefit of using the ground mount rack system when you live in a cloudy climate is that you can position it much easier than a roof-mounted rack system.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, it is best to aim your panels toward the south for maximum light absorption.
Which Mount Is Best for Locations Without Much Sun?
Whichever route you choose to take, they both ultimately work the same way. Both systems work best when directed in a way that absorbs the maximum amount of sunlight.
If you live in an area where there tend to be more clouds than the sun, then using the ground mount rack system will most likely work best for you, provided you have enough land to set up the array.
You may not have the luxury of having extra land to mount a large ground system on. If that is the case, no worries. Go to the roof. There may be more planning involved depending on the pitch and direction of your roof, but it is still a feasible option. No matter where you live, you can benefit from solar power.
On-Grid vs. Off-Grid Solar – What’s Best for Cloudy Places?
Something else to consider when going solar is your geographic location. Do you live in an urban area, or are you out in the country? What is your weather like? Do you have more cloudy days than sunny? These are all questions to ask yourself because the answer will direct you to the best solar solution for your situation.
Many people who live in rural areas will go with off-grid solar systems. In most cases, rural areas do not require a permit to install solar power. Check with your local department before making any decisions.
A great thing about off-grid solar power is the panels are designed for maximum light absorption per square inch.
With on-grid systems, you have the option of using solar power when grid peak times are high and using traditional electricity during non-peak times or times when it is cloudy, and your system is not generating as much power.
Some people use on-grid systems with extra batteries, so they don’t have to use the grid at all, but that can be costly. They only pay the service fee of being hooked to the electric grid; just in case something goes wrong, or they are not generating enough power, they will have a backup.
Off-grid systems are not connected to the grid at all. They store the sun’s energy in batteries for continuous power and recharge as needed.
Off-grid systems are great for those who live in areas that don’t have as much sun.
The major downside and main reason most people stick to on-grid solar power systems is the cost. Are you sitting down? A typical off-grid system can start at around $40,000.00 and go up to $75,000.00 and higher depending on how large your home is and how much power you consume.
Going Off-Grid Will Cost You
The reason the cost is so much higher is that more equipment is required for setting up and maintaining the system. The thing that costs the most in these off-grid systems is the batteries. Most off-grid systems use a Tesla™ Powerwall, which is made up of a bunch of rechargeable batteries.
These battery systems are extremely expensive, but in the long run, they are well worth the money and effort that it took to install them. The power walls come with a 10-year warranty. Using off-grid solar power is not only a great way to save money and be energy efficient, but it is also a positive lifestyle change.
Tesla Solar Glass Roof Tiles
Another new option for solar power in your home is the Tesla Solar Glass Tiles. A luxurious and stylish way to add energy efficiency to your home. The tiles look like a traditional shingle roof but work like solar panels to absorb and convert the sun’s energy into usable power.
Due to their simple design and competitive cost, the manufacturers expect solar glass tiles to become the norm for homes around the world. If you are considering replacing your roof anyway, this may be a good option for you.
Tesla roof tiles will work in cloudy weather, but they can have the same issue that any solar panel has. They will not work if they are covered in snow.
Manufacturers are remedying this issue by installing warmers in the tiles that will melt any snow that has accumulated, so those of you who live in wintery climates will still be able to enjoy the benefits of solar power.
Myths About Solar Going Solar
Not only do you not need endless sunny days for solar power, but there are a lot of other often-cited myths out there we would like to bust.
|Going solar means that you must rely only upon the sun
|Whether you choose an on-grid or off-grid system, you still have other power options. If you are using an on-grid solar system, you still have your ‘old-fashioned’ electricity to rely on. When using an off-grid solar system, you have a wall of batteries to back you up on days when the sun isn’t shining so brightly.
|Having a solar power system makes it harder to sell your home.
|Studies have shown that having energy-efficient systems in a home will increase the value and help it to sell faster, so get those panels installed!
|If the power goes out, I can still use my on-grid solar system for electricity
|If you are using an on-grid solar power system, your electricity will go out just the same as if you weren’t using one. The reason for this is because your inverter will recognize that the grid is down and shut off for safety reasons. If blackouts are a common issue in your area, then it may be a good idea to invest in a backup battery system as well. Having battery backup is especially important for those who have medical issues and require equipment to be running at all times.
|Installing a solar power system is difficult and requires a lot of maintenance.
|Not true if…
|…you are using a reputable contractor to install your system. And most systems require little to no maintenance during the year.
|Installing solar power systems is a great weekend project
|Unless you are extremely knowledgeable in the area of electricity and solar power, it’s best left to the professionals. There is a lot that goes into planning and executing the installation of your system. Many areas require special permits before you can install your solar power system.
|Solar energy only works well in a warmer climate
|Solar power can work anywhere as it does not depend on the temperature to work but rather the amount of light absorbed.
|Solar panels are always better on a roof.
|This is totally dependent on your geographic location and how much space you have to set up your solar power system.
|Solar panels are expensive and not cost-effective.
|While it’s true that solar panels are not cheap by any means, they are definitely worth the money in the long run. Since solar power has become much more popular in the past few years, it is becoming easier to afford these systems as prices continue to drop.
When It Comes to Solar Power, Clouds Have a Silver Lining
Now that you know you can benefit from solar power, whether you live in a cloudy climate or the sunniest place on Earth, you can make a truly educated decision on whether or not you are going to use solar power and which option will work best for your situation.