Do Clouds Affect Solar Panels?

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Do Clouds Affect Solar Panels?

A common criticism launched against solar power is that a stray cloud can knock out your home’s power. The idea is that a cloudy day will stop your solar panels from functioning properly, requiring your home to draw energy from the grid. Therefore, why go solar at all?

Luckily, that idea is simply a myth. It’s true that extended cloud coverage can interfere with solar panel production, particularly when rain or snow is involved. The average cloudy day, however, is not as much trouble as you might expect. Let’s cover why that is and what that means for your home.

How Clouds Interact With Solar PV Modules

It’s necessary to understand how solar panels work with clouds before we can go deeper. On a surface level, it would seem as if clouds would interfere with solar panels. After all, cloudy days are noticeably dimmer than sunny days, which would mean that your solar panels aren’t receiving as much sunlight. But this isn’t always the case.

On days where the cloud cover is a bit lighter, however, your solar panels can operate at peak capacity. But why is that?

Clouds Reflect Light Right Back to Your Panels

Clouds, being made up largely of water vapor or ice crystals, are very reflective. Think about a time when you walked out into the sunlight after spending a long time in the dark indoors. The clouds may have been too bright to look at. Consider also how, at night, a cloudy sky over your city will be much brighter than a clear night. This is because the clouds are reflecting the light from the city back onto the ground.

In a similar way, clouds can actually help sunlight reach your panels. On a cloudy day, the clouds may block some of the sunlight from reaching your PV system. However, when a gap in the clouds appears and the sun shines through it, the light from the sun will produce electricity. The light that reflects off of the ground will head back up into the sky — only to be reflected back onto your solar panels by the clouds.

In this way, you can actually still receive the amount of sunlight you’d get from peak sun hours on a clear day. The clouds act as secondary light banks, where sunlight is caught and returned to your solar panels. You won’t lose any production these days. It’s especially true for low-hanging clouds as well, which are better at reflecting light.

Sunlight Still Reaches Panels Through Clouds

Moving on from reflected sunlight, what about days where there’s a consistent cloud cover? Even during these days, you should still get electricity from your panels, even if it’s at a reduced rate. After all, if there was no light reaching your panels at all, then you wouldn’t be able to see!

Just like how it’s possible to get sunburned on a cloudy day because the UV lights penetrate the clouds, so does the visible light pass through as well. While this sunlight is weakened by having to go through a cloud barrier, it still passes through and contains the energy needed to activate your solar panels. You may only get half of the energy that you normally would get, but that can be mitigated.

Battery Backup Is a Great Way To Combat Cloudy Days

There are ways to insulate yourself against the potential loss of production on very cloudy days. The most important way is battery backup — solar-powered batteries which store energy for your home. This energy can be used when your solar panels aren’t generating electricity. 

During cloudy days, your panels can power your home and then rely on battery backup when necessary. Additionally, particularly stormy days can cause grid failure, forcing you to rely on your solar energy alone. Battery backup is the perfect solution for days like this. The stored energy, which can be added on sunny days and used on cloudy days, can be a lifesaver in inclement weather. 

Going Solar for Cloudy Days

We hope that your mind was eased now that you’ve seen why clouds aren’t necessarily a problem for going solar. If the average cloudy day was enough to sink solar, then the industry wouldn’t represent one of the fastest-growing energy sources in America.

Most places get more sunny days than they realize. While most Americans immediately think of Nevada or New Mexico when they think of sunny landscapes, places such as New Jersey and Washington have very robust solar scenes. This is because they have both good solar policies and the right climate. Almost anywhere in America will work perfectly for a solar homeowner. 

Checking the Solar Incentives in Your Area

Your first step is to take a look at the solar incentives in your area. Good solar incentives can make up the gap when it comes to areas that might experience more cloudy days than others. For example, tax credits are available for all potential solar homeowners across America. This holds true for solar batteries as well — assuming they’re charged exclusively with solar energy. 

Know Your Local Net Metering Policies

Net metering policies can be enacted on multiple levels, from your municipality to your utility to your state. Knowing your local net metering policies is essential to knowing whether solar will be a good investment for you. 

A net metering policy that only promises the avoided rate is still helpful, but ultimately not a great reason to go solar. A net metering policy that promises the full market value for your solar is going to be one of the key ways to save money on your solar installation. 

Battery Backup Incentives and Usefulness

Battery backup, when combined with good net metering policies, can bring solar savings even in the cloudiest of states. Battery backup can act as a quasi-net-metering practice. Because the power from your panels is stored directly in your batteries, you’re essentially getting the full value for it. The power you draw from your batteries is free, since you don’t pay anything at all for it. 

However, if your net metering plan only gives the avoided rate, you’d still be paying for some power at the end of the day. A full retail net metering rate will give you free power for all the power you export to the grid. When the only net metering policies available to you are not ideal, battery backup is the perfect investment to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.

With a solar array, net metering, and battery backup, you can eliminate your power bill. You’ll be ready for bad weather of all stripes and have energy independence.

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