Although not on most people's radar here, New York is one step closer to becoming the first state to have genetically modified, non-sterile insects released outside without cages.
Last week, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-APHIS) ended the public comment period for its most recent environmental assessment of the proposed field release of a genetically engineered (GE) diamondback moth, an insect that causes serious damage to cruciferous crops such as broccoli and cauliflower. The release would be the first open-air trial in the U.S. of a GE agricultural pest created with a technology that doesn't use sterility as a way to control population.
USDA's assessment supports the permit application by Dr. Anthony Shelton of Cornell University and paves the way for trials that would take place on the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in bucolic upstate New York. Although the comment period occurred in the middle of planting season, the USDA did not honor a request by Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York and Food & Water Watch for a 30-day extension to allow interested parties to properly assess the complex report. Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York Liana Hoodes described the lack of an extension as "unfortunate for the farmers of the region who may be significantly affected by these trials."
If the permit is approved, Cornell will be able to release up to 30,000 GE moths per week for three to four months for up to two years. The modified moths are imported from Oxitec, Ltd., the same British company that engineers the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which is at the center of a fierce controversy in the Florida Keys.
Oxitec's designer moth uses the same technology employed with their modified mosquitoes that have already been released in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands. As in those programs, the male GE moth is not sterile but instead carries an engineered trait designed to kill most of its female offspring. However, although approximately 99 percent of the females will not survive to adulthood, many will die on the target crop, which raises concerns about ingestion of the tiny GE larvae by livestock, wildlife and humans if the process is eventually put into widespread use. In addition to this obvious ick factor, watchdog organizations have also questioned the use of tetracycline as the agent that switches off the lethality gene in the laboratory, citing antibiotic resistance among other issues.
This phase of the project follows closed cage trials that Cornell conducted in 2015. Critics of the open release proposal point out that data from those experiments have still not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Consumer advocate groups—including the Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Consumers Union, GeneWatch UK and Friends of the Earth—have written to Cornell and asked for more details about the earlier trials.
"Doing this new environmental assessment without releasing previous data is irresponsible," Jaydee Hanson, Center for Food Safety senior policy analyst, said.
On the last day to submit comments, the USDA had received nearly 600 responses to their assessment of the open release plan, the overwhelming majority of which were opposed to granting the permit. About 40 commenters—primarily academics and conventional farming and biotech industry representatives—expressed support. Among those who asked the USDA to reject the proposal, commenter Jessica Visconti of Paramus, New Jersey, made a very simple plea: "Do not do this," she wrote.
Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.
In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.
While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.
With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.
One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.
Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night
During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.
But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:
You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.
When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.
Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:
- It's one more thing you need to install.
- It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
- Batteries will take up a bit of space.
- You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.
You can use a net metering program.
Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.
Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:
- You may not always break even.
- In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
- Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.
Is Residential Solar Right for You?
Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.
You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?
It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.
How do solar panels work when there is no sun?
If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.
However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.
Do solar panels work on snowy days?
If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.
Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.
Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?
Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.