Do Solar Panels Work in Winter?

By:Martin DeBono

December 6, 2016

SunPower solar panels on two East Coast houses were still making electricity even during super storm Jonas last January.

Editor’s Note: In 2020, SunPower announced the completion of the strategic spin-off of its manufacturing division into a separate business named Maxeon Solar Technologies, Ltd. As a result, SunPower has expanded its offerings to drive future growth. The SunPower Equinox® system now offers multiple panel options, including front- and back-contact panels, all of which are responsibly and rigorously quality tested to provide the best energy solution for your home. For more information on the differences in panel technology, visit our Better Solar Panels page.

While the epic East Coast Winter Storm Jonas was dumping feet of snow across New York, Washington, D.C., and beyond last January, an intrepid customer of ours snapped this photo showing two homes with SunPower® solar that were still producing some electricity despite blizzard conditions.

Although we were impressed he was willing to brave the elements to photograph this snowy rooftop solar scene, we weren't too surprised because we know that solar panels do work in the winter. That's because solar energy is created by sunlight, not heat. So even though it may get cold or snowy where you live, as long as there's sunlight, solar panels will produce energy. In some situations, solar panels actually work better in the wintertime because the cooler temperatures help boost their efficiency.

Not all winters are the same, though. People in the Northeast experience heavy rain, snowstorms and temperatures that often dip below zero. In the Northern Midwest, lake-effect precipitation can drop feet of snow in just hours, while the arid Southwest experiences mild days and chilly nights. It's important that solar panels are built to endure these seasonal changes so they continue to perform well in the winter. For best results, choose a high-quality system that will stand up to your climate.

How Solar Panels Capture the Winter Sun

Since solar panels rely on sunlight, when the days are shorter, your solar system will produce less energy. It's beneficial, then, to have a system calibrated to efficiently capture the most sun.

SunPower residential solar systems are designed for maximum efficiency, which means they can produce more electricity even in low-light conditions. Using high-quality, anti-reflective glass, SunPower panels trap light from all angles, capturing more sunlight than conventional panels1. This helps your solar system make energy throughout a winter's day, from sun up to sun down and even on cloudy days.

Removing Snow From Solar Panels

However, when solar panels are completely obstructed by snow they cannot produce energy. So it's important that snow doesn't remain on your panels to ensure your system can continue making electricity.

Fortunately, solar panels are smooth, slippery when wet and generally installed facing south or southwest, so when the sun comes out most snow will quickly melt and slide off on its own. If there's significant accumulation, however, manual removal may be the best option. There are special snow rakes for solar panels that won't damage your panels. But depending on the height and slope of your roof, you may want to get professional help with solar panel snow removal. Always remember, safety first.

Solar Can Stand Up to Tough Weather

From super storms to ice sheets to a shifting polar vortex, winter can also bring extreme weather. While those conditions can make it challenging for solar systems to produce energy, SunPower has had 30 years to perfect its technology to withstand the elements.

Product testing is something that SunPower takes seriously. Rated No. 1 in durability in third-party testing2, no other home solar technology stands up to the elements better than SunPower even in the most the most challenging conditions: snow, extreme temperatures and 90 mph hurricane-force winds. That's one of the reasons our solar technology was chosen for NASA's GROVER exploration of the polar ice cap in Greenland.

SunPower solar systems are designed to work seamlessly and comprehensively in all seasons. Very little maintenance is required, but it's always a good idea to keep an eye on your energy production and look for irregularities.

Don't hesitate to have your system looked at by a professional or contact us at 1-800-SunPower (1-800-786-7693) if you have questions. We're so confident in our product's durability and year-round performance that our systems are backed by an industry-leading 25-year Combined Power and Product Warranty.

Don't have a home solar system yet? See how much you can save with SunPower using our Solar Calculator.

1 "Conventional Panel" is a 250W panel, 15.3% efficient, approx. 1.6 m2, made with Conventional Cells. "Conventional Cells" are silicon cells that have many thin metal lines on the front and 2 or 3 interconnect ribbons soldered along the front and back.

2 "Fraunhofer PV Durability Initiative for Solar Modules: Part 3". PVTech Power, 2015.