Do solar panels work when it’s cloudy?

It’s no question that solar panels are an efficient way to generate electricity. Thanks to tax credits and other programs, solar panel systems are more affordable than ever, leading to an increase in the number of panels being installed nationwide. 

Are solar panels right for where you live?

Often, we see depictions of these solar panels in large solar farms in California, or on houses in Arizona or Nevada. These are all extremely sunny places where solar panels can produce vast amounts of electricity. 

But what about areas that have cloudy days? Wouldn’t solar panels be largely ineffective in a place like Seattle or New York? What about Utah’s cold winters and spring storms? Do solar panels work when it’s cloudy?

The answer to that question is yes!

In this article, we’ll explain how solar panels work when it’s cloudy, and how you can improve the efficiency of your system on days with a smaller energy output.


How do solar panels work when it’s cloudy? 


Have you ever gotten a sunburn while being outside on a cloudy day? That’s because solar radiation can still pass through the clouds. 

Solar panels will generate electricity when it is cloudy or raining thanks to the solar radiation that passes through the clouds. Essentially, they operate no different than they would in full sun.

Since the clouds block some of the solar radiation, solar panels don’t generate as much energy as they do when it is clear. However, the amount depends on the type and efficiency of the solar panels installed.

According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, “even in partly cloudy weather, [solar panels] can operate at 80 percent of their maximum output.”


Do solar panels need to be installed in states with a lot of sun?


Many cities and states that are notorious for being cloudy have seen the benefits of solar power. That’s right, even places that aren’t sunny can use solar panels.

According to the EIA’s Annual Generation report released in September 2020, the United States as a whole generates 71,936,822 Megawatt Hours of electricity from solar thermal and photovoltaic panels. 

Oregon generated 676,337 Megawatt Hours from solar panels, while Washington generated just more than 43,000 Megawatt Hours from solar panels (though in Washington’s and Oregon’s case most public electricity comes from other renewable energy sources like wind and hydroelectric). 

Even northeastern states like Connecticut generated 138,453 Megawatt Hours while Vermont generated 147,287 Megawatt Hours from solar panels.

This shows that solar panels aren’t just viable for the southwest. They actually produce electricity in cloudier, wetter states. 

Other countries such as Germany, which isn’t known for its pleasant weather, generate 24,400,000 Megawatt Hours of electricity from solar panels. 

Another common misconception about solar panels is that it needs to be warm out to produce electricity. Although some solar panels convert heat from the sun into energy, air temperatures have nothing to do with how much energy solar panels produce. Most solar panels operate better at cooler temperatures.


How to reduce the impact of cloudy days on solar panels


Although solar panels still generate electricity when it’s cloudy or raining, their energy output will be reduced. 

Depending on the amount of energy you use, this may not make a difference. However, if you are looking for ways to reduce the impact of cloudy days on your solar system, we can help. There are a few ways to increase the reliability of solar panels. 


Use a battery storage system


Many solar panel systems can integrate a battery storage system. When your panels produce electricity, it can be stored in a battery until you need it. That way you never have to worry about a decrease in power generation due to cloudy days, storms, or nighttime use. 

If you don’t want to store your electricity, there is another option available depending on where you live.


Net metering


Another way to increase the reliability of your system is to utilize net metering agreements. Net metering is an agreement between you and your utility company that generally allows you to send excess electricity from your panels to the power grid. 

The utility company uses this energy in exchange for a credit. You can then use these credits to buy electricity from the utility when your panels aren’t producing enough electricity. This can be especially useful during the winter months, when the hours of daylight are much shorter. 

Net metering isn’t available in every area, so be sure to check with your local power company to see if net metering is an option for you. Depending on your local rates, you may end up paying an energy bill with net metering. 


Are solar panels right for you?


Let’s recap. Solar panels generate electricity on cloudy days, though usually in a reduced capacity. Often this isn’t enough to affect you, but if you do run into problems there are options available to ensure that your energy remains reliable. 

Net metering and battery storage are two solutions that can make solar power even more viable for you.

Are you ready to make the switch to solar energy? 

ES Solar is the industry leader in Utah residential and commercial solar panel installation. Based in Layton, we have a crew of certified contractors who are ready to tackle your solar project. Rooftop solar panels can be tricky to install. ES Solar gets the job done right.

With ES Solar, you’ll receive a free home evaluation and customized solar panel based on your energy needs. This will help you to determine if solar is the right choice for you.

Contact us today to talk with one of our solar panel experts and book your service with Utah’s top solar panel company! Call us at 801-614-0606.

Article written by Chase Charaba.