Winter means shorter days, and because of the reduced sunlight hours, many people assume that solar panels also have reduced efficiency. This is a misconception. Even in the dreary, short days of the winter months, photovoltaic (PV) panels will still produce energy. Solar panels transform light — not heat — into electrical energy to power your home.
Although short winter days mean a significant decrease in exposure time to sunlight, solar panels efficiently uptake whatever sunlight is available and convert it to usable electricity.
PV solar panels work in winter, but optimizing energy generation requires knowing how they react to cold temperatures and snow.
Winter weather also means more power outages, making whole home backup power solutions an effective safeguard against blackouts that allow you to continue reaping the benefits of solar energy. For this, consider adding battery storage and backup.
Do Solar Panels Work in Cold Weather?
Because photovoltaic panels rely on light rather than heat, they will continue to perform even in freezing or sub-freezing temperatures. As long as they have adequate sun exposure, they can continue to generate electricity. Solar panels actually improve their efficiency in colder temperatures since lower temperatures prevent overheating.
What Are the Benefits of Using Solar Panels During Winter?
Solar panel producers account for seasonality and ensure that there are accessible methods to maintain electricity production year-round. It allows homeowners to take advantage of solar power systems’ benefits, even in winter.
You may be surprised to learn that the color of solar panels is not just an aesthetic choice by the manufacturers. Solar panels are black and blue because those are the natural colors that silicon becomes during the manufacturing process. Additionally, manufacturers, installers, and the majority of customers are focused on efficiency, and black or blue solar panels, due to the manufacturing process, are the most efficient, the most widely used, so also the most affordable.
The two primary kinds of solar panel colors, black and blue, are monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline solar cells that are black are made out of silicon where each solar cell is a single crystal. This makes them considerably more efficient, especially since black as a color is more light-absorbent than the blue color. Blue solar panels are made from polycrystalline silicon where a single cell contains several silicon crystals, and the way those crystals interact with sunlight makes them appear blue. Polycrystalline technology used to be cheaper than monocrystalline, which is why you are more likely to see blue panels in older installations.
Illustration 63697988 © Kasezo | Dreamstime.com
Solar panels can be different colors, but at a significant sacrifice to efficiency and affordability. Dyes and coatings can be used to change the color of solar panels. However, dyes and coatings, as stated, also dramatically reduce panel efficiency. Colored solar panels created with this method are as much as 45% less efficient than the standard blue or black solar panels. Dyes and coatings also do not handle tough conditions well, so it’s likely that colored panels will eventually lose their vibrance over a panel’s 25-year lifespan. Thus, this aesthetic improvement isn’t worth the lost efficiency and greater cost for the average homeowner
A variety of new technologies are being experimented with to create more efficient colored panels, and a wider range of colors to suit more environments, color schemes, and aesthetics. For example, researchers in the Netherlands have developed a soft-print lithography technique that allows panels to reflect a specific color. Unfortunately, this still reduces efficiency, but only by about 10% compared to the 45% of other coating methods. With continued improvement, they aim to reduce that loss in efficiency to as little as 2%.
So, while we don’t have solar panels in all the colors of the rainbow available yet, the technology is definitely being worked on.
Chicago’s public buildings could all be powered by renewable energy under a plan announced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Aug. 8.
The mayor, along with Illinois Gov JB Pritzker, on Monday said the city has an agreement with Chicago utility Constellation Energy, along with Massachusetts-based Swift Current Energy, a renewable energy developer. The two spoke at a news conference at the Chicago Urban League. The deal would make Chicago one of the world’s largest cities to commit to using 100% renewable energy.
“I am incredibly proud to advance this commitment to transitioning all city operations to 100% renewable energy by 2025,” Lightfoot said. “The signing of this agreement demonstrates that the City of Chicago is leading by example and driving high-impact climate action, building the clean energy workforce of the future and equitably distributing meaningful benefits to foster the local clean energy economy for all.”
Climate Action Plan
Construction of projects related to the plan is set to begin by year-end. Lightfoot touted the plan’s job creation potential in addition to how it would reduce the city’s carbon footprint. “The 2022 climate action plan deepens our city’s longstanding commitment to climate action, and sets a goal of reducing emissions in Chicago by 62% by 2040,” Lightfoot said.
The mayor’s office said the agreement with Constellation will support the purchase of renewable energy for all city facilities and operations by 2025. An initial five-year energy supply agreement is expected to begin in January 2023.
“We are providing a clean energy solution that will help the City of Chicago,” said Jim McHugh, chief commercial officer for Constellation Energy.
Large Solar Farm Project
Lightfoot’s office said the agreement also will enable a supply of renewable energy for major organizations across Illinois. The city in 2025 will begin partly powering large facilities such as the city’s airports and other buildings with renewable energy from solar power, which will be generated from a Swift Current Energy solar farm—the 593-MW Double Black Diamond project—in Sangamon and Morgan counties in downstate Illinois.
The groups on Monday said construction and operation of the solar farm is expected to create hundreds of jobs, and would be among the state’s largest solar projects to date.
“We are thrilled to have the City of Chicago as a key customer for the Double Black Diamond Solar project,” said Matt Birchby, co-founder and president of Swift Current Energy, in a statement. “Double Black Diamond Solar has the capacity to create significant benefits for the State of Illinois. We commend the City of Chicago for their leadership in securing 100% clean, renewable energy for all city buildings and operations and Sangamon and Morgan counties for hosting this project.”
“Double Black Diamond makes Sangamon County a leading generator of clean solar power,” said Andy Van Meter, Sangamon County board chairman, in a statement. “We are pleased to host an infrastructure project of this magnitude that will create meaningful and long-lasting benefits for our area and the state. The project will employ hundreds of construction workers and directly create permanent, high paying positions. It will also create a significant, long-term source of tax revenue for our schools and community.”
The mayor’s office said the city also will purchase renewable energy credits from other sources for its remaining power uses, which could include the electricity supply for small- and medium-sized buildings, and street lights.
—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is proposing to update the net energy metering policy for solar homeowners, commonly referred to as NEM.
The proposed billing plan, NEM 3.0, is complicated and confusing, not surprising. Maybe it was intended to confuse, so we don’t really focus on how unjust the proposed new plan is. But don’t fret. I have summarized the proposed changes for you here:
Historically the export compensation of solar in California is based off a Net Energy Metering (NEM) Policy. Both NEM1.0 and NEM2.0 were under this compensation mechanism. With NEM, when a system owner is generating more electricity than they are consuming, the excess energy is exported back to the utility grid and the customer receives a credit equal to or slightly less than the full-retail rate. This credit can then be applied to offset electricity consumption within the current billing cycle (i.e. monthly) or in future billing cycles before expiring annually at some specified month (known as the true-up period).
NEM has been the law of the land in California since 1995, covering all customers of the state’s three largest utilities—PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E. It’s currently on its second version, NEM 2.0. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is nearing the end of designing NEM 3.0, and the changes that have been proposed could greatly reduce the financial benefits people can get by owning solar panels or subscribing to community solar.
Under NEM 3.0, most of the homeowners savings are stripped away, ending up in the utility company’s pockets. Under NEM 2.0, current solar customers in California save an average of between 22 and 36 cents for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity generated by their panels. Under the proposed NEM 3.0 plan, the credit for excess generation will go down to just 4.7 to 5.8 cents, on average. Let’s not forget that the utilities currently already make a good profit reselling excess solar power at peak energy rates.
Save $310 per month or save $10 per month. That is NEM 2.0 vs. NEM 3.0 in the simplest terms.
Example: In April, under the current NEM 2.0, my solar array produced 1.5MWh of energy. My home used .5MWh. The additional 1 MWh was sent to the grid and I receive a credit of $310 (1,000 kWh x $0.31 [$.34/kWh retail rate LESS ±$0.03/kWh grid fee] = $310). I will use this credit in any month where my use exceeds my solar energy generation, such as in July and August when I am running my air conditioner.
Running the same scenario under NEM 3.0, my solar array produces 1.5MWh of energy. My home used .5MWh. The additional 1 MWh was sent to the grid. But I only receive a credit of $0.05/kWh. In addition, I must also pay a “participation” fee of $40/mo. on average. My new monthly savings is just $10. Ten stinking dollars. Thanks, PG&E, for letting me keep a little sumpin’ sumpin’.
In May 2022, the CPUC commission delayed the decision “until further notice.” The solar energy industry, as well as the utility energy industry in California expect the issue to be revisited this year, possibly as soon as July 2022. If and when a final NEM 3.0 decision and policy is voted on and approved, NEM3.0 could be implemented as soon as Jan 2023.
Industry and consumer lobbying fighting for solar rights has taken place throughout the negotiating process. Unfortunately big utility has the power to get their way. It seems like the CPUC has forgotten the “Public” part of their name, and are siding with big utility companies and their control over energy and shareholder profit. You can still call your local representative, or the governor’s office to voice your support for solar rights.
The good news, if there is any, is that, folks who go solar before the NEM 3.0 deadline, possibly as soon as December 2022, MAY be locked into the NEM 2.0 rate structure for 10 years. Calculate your new solar savings by looking at 10-year return on investment, not 25 years. And being that the decision to go solar and lock into NEM 2.0 will have to happen before Dec, 2022, you will also qualify for the 26% solar tax credit before drops again.
Office of Governor Gavin Newsom : https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail/
California State Assemble: https://www.assembly.ca.gov/
The federal solar tax credit, also known as the investment tax credit (ITC), currently allows you to deduct 26 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy system from your federal taxes. The ITC applies to both residential and commercial systems, and there is no cap on its value.
On January 1, 2021, this solar tax credit will drop from 26 percent to to 22 percent of the cost of installing solar. For the average homeowner, that’s an additional $1,000 savings if they go solar by December 31, 2020.
With the pandemic having slowed global manufacturing, the solar equipment supply chain has been interrupted, with prices anticipated to increase 5-10 percent in 2021.
“More reason to go solar this year,” says Solarponics director, Frank Scotti. “People tend to want to wait, either for a better deal, better technology, or some other unknown future incentive. That’s just not going to happen. Prices are going up every day. The sooner you go solar, the more you save. Simple as that,” says Mr. Scotti.
It is unlikely that the federal solar tax credit will ever be more than it is now, either under the current administration, or under a new administration. Best case scenario is that we see the federal tax credit get locked in at 10 percent for both commercial and residential projects from 2022 and beyond.
Atascadero, California, 07-28-20—Solar Power World has recognized the efforts of solar contractors across the United States in its 2020 Solar + Storage Installer List, where local solar installer Solarponics achieved a rank of 25th in the nation.
The Top Solar Contractors list is developed each year by Solar Power World to honor the work of solar installers big and small. Solar firms in the utility, commercial and residential markets are ranked by number of kilowatts installed in the previous year. Companies are grouped and listed by specific service (developers, electrical subcontractors, EPCs, installation subcontractors, rooftop installers), markets and states.
“The Solar Power World team is so pleased to highlight more than 400 companies on the 2020 Top Solar Contractors list, especially during this unprecedented time,” said Kelsey Misbrener, senior editor of Solar Power World. “All contractors featured on the 2020 list reported strong 2019 installation numbers and are continuing to stand tall this year.”
This year’s collection of over 400 Top Solar Contractors is facing obstacles that this industry has never seen before. The first quarter of 2020 was the country’s biggest ever, with 3.6 GW of new solar capacity added. But COVID-19 impacts showed their force in Q2, and Wood Mackenzie is forecasting residential and non-residential markets will see 25% and 38% decreases in year-over-year installation volumes this year.
“In spite of the current economic and social climate, we won’t rest until every building and residence on the central coast has a net zero energy and resource consumption footprint,” says Solarponics president Kristian Emrich.
Solarponics is at the forefront of battery storage and backup and was one of the first certified Tesla Powerwall installers in California. Solarponics employs 41 team members who installed two megawatts of solar plus storage power in 2019 alone. Since its founding in 1975, the company has installed nearly 15 megawatts of solar power, saving local residents an estimated $150 million in energy costs.
Solarponics is a full service renewable energy company that designs and installs solar electric, storage and backup systems, solar pool heating, water conservation systems, and radiant heating and cooling for residential and commercial projects. Solarponcis can be reached at www.solarponics.com or by calling (805) 466-5595.
About Solar Power World
Solar Power World is the leading online and print resource for news and information regarding solar installation, development and technology. Since 2011, SPW has helped U.S. solar contractors — including installers, developers and EPCs in all markets — grow their businesses and do their jobs better.