Concerns about solar panels covered in snow, especially the further north you go, may be unwarranted, as a recent study notes. Scientist Joshua Pearce, of Michigan Technological University [MTU], conducted a study that suggests photovoltaic solar panels are not affected that much by snow cover.
True, excessive snow fall might lead to a temporary drop in solar panel generating capacity, but solar panels rarely stay snow covered for long, even in more extreme climates. Pearce, from MTU, and researchers from St. Lawrence College, Queens University, and twenty other industry partners studied the effect of snow cover on solar panels in the Open Solar Outdoors Test Field, in Ontario, Canada.
Measuring power output of solar panels under varying snow cover, varying panel pitch, and different panel types, the team was able to create a computer model to predict output under various real-world conditions. They were also able to validate their model with data from some of Ontario’s commercial solar farms.
“In most cases, power losses are minimal, even in snowy Canada. Sometimes snow actually helps solar cells,” says Pearce, referring to the albedo effect of sunlight reflecting and refracting in snow. Depending on the snow cover, solar panels can even generate more electricity than without.
The new computer model can be used to design solar installations that will function efficiently, even in northern climates where snow is a regular occurrence.