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Despite the industry's claims, oil and gas are far from being clean. Kanenori / Pixabay / The Wilderness Society

By Carla Ruas

The American Petroleum Institute has rolled out a multibillion-dollar public relations campaign stating that oil and gas can help to solve climate change. The association is claiming that expanding the use of fossil fuels can lower climate emissions that are trapping heat on our planet.

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We need to generate a lot more renewable energy to replace old, dirty energy and slow down the climate crisis. Pixabay / Pexels

By Carla Ruas

A brand new year is upon us and the future is full of possibilities. We have the chance to do better — especially when it comes to tackling the climate crisis.

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MAXSHOT / iStock / Getty Images

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.

Oil and gas development on BLM lands around Bakersfield, CA. John Ciccarelli, BLM

By Carla Ruas

Elizabeth Perez was only 10 years old when she moved with her family to the city of Bakersfield, in California. Almost immediately, she says, she began experiencing nosebleeds, headaches and difficulty breathing. Perez was in and out of a local health clinic for years, but doctors couldn't quite pinpoint what was making her sick.

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Drill pad in Gunnison National Forest, Colorado. Mason Cummings / The Wilderness Society

By Katherine Arcement

Congress wants us to drill our lands and waters … or else!

Some members of Congress are trying to rig the system to use public lands primarily for oil and gas drilling, and they are threatening to silence and punish anyone who objects.

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Bears Ears National Monument. Gannon McGhee / Flickr

Researchers, led by paleontologist Rob Gay, have discovered what may be one of the world's richest caches of Triassic period fossils at an extensive site within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. The team's initial excavation led to the extraordinary discovery of several intact remains of crocodile-like animals called phytosaurs. The findings were publicly announced at this week's Western Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists (WAVP) annual conference where researchers warned of a growing threat to their work in the region.

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Grand Teton National Park. David Kingham / Flickr

A new report released Thursday by The Wilderness Society provides an in-depth look at the significant lifecycle emissions resulting from the development of fossil fuels on U.S. public lands, and the need for the federal government to account for and make available such data to the American public.

"The U.S. federal government is one of the largest energy asset managers in the world, and yet they are actively keeping their shareholders—American taxpayers—in the dark when it comes to energy development and its associated climate-related risks on our public lands," said Chase Huntley, energy and climate program director at The Wilderness Society.

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The main gate was blocked at Saguaro National Park as part of its semi-closed status during the shutdown. NPCA / Flickr

During the government shutdown, visitors to public lands encountered locked doors, deserted parks and ambiguous instructions.

The third weekend in January kicked off with a federal government shutdown. At least some Americans went ahead with their plans to visit national parks and other public lands, perhaps heartened by Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's imprecise (yet exhaustively publicized) plan to keep them open.

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While we fight to defeat President Trump's attacks on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, these are some of the real, on-the-ground threats we must keep at bay.

Following the lead of Native American tribes, The Wilderness Society and other groups have filed lawsuits against President Trump for violating the Antiquities Act when he essentially eliminated Bears Ears and greatly reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

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Herd of caribou on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Izuru Toki / Flickr

The U.S. Senate has passed a Republican tax-reform package that contains a provision to authorize oil drilling on the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, placing the biological heart of one of our last pristine, untouched places in severe peril.

"This vote to deface and pollute one of the nation's last pristine and untouched wild landscapes is outrageous," said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, in a statement after the Senate passed the tax package. "The Arctic Refuge drilling provision has no legitimate place in a tax bill, and this backdoor political deal now threatens to destroy the crown jewel of our National Wildlife Refuge System."

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White Sands National Monument. Howard Ignatius / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Rep. Rob Bishop is moving legislation that would radically cut down the scope of the Antiquities Act, effectively blocking new protections of national monument lands.

Bishop's bill—in an Orwellian flourish, titled the "National Monument Creation and Protection Act"—would bar the Antiquities Act from being used to protect landmarks, prehistoric structures and objects of "scientific interest," switching the law's scope to the vague term "object or objects of antiquity."

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Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of 15 threatened wild places profiled in "Too Wild To Drill." Florian Schulz

A new report released Tuesday by The Wilderness Society raises the alarm about wild lands threatened by extractive industries eager to exploit the resources on or underneath them, including oil, gas and coal.

Too Wild To Drill identifies 15 unique places found on public lands that are at high risk of drilling, mining and other development—and the damage and destruction that inevitably follow. These lands provide Americans with important benefits such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and jobs and other socioeconomic benefits.

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Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Mason Cummings

A new analysis found that 99.2 percent of the millions of public comments submitted about Bears Ears National Monument and other parks opposed the executive order that placed them under scrutiny.

In April 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to review 27 parks designated since the beginning of 1996, with an eye toward shrinking boundaries and reducing protection for many of them. Shortly after, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke opened a comment period to solicit input from the public, ostensibly to inform his recommendations about what to do with each of them.

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