Solar panels are becoming more and more popular as more people begin to see their enormous value. Not only do they make your home more environmentally friendly and sustainable, but they also can save you a huge amount of money on electricity over time.
It’s important when considering investing in solar panels to have a good understanding of exactly how they work and what they can and cannot do. One of the most common questions asked by people who are new to solar panels is: do solar panels work at night?
The short answer to this question of do solar panels work at night is no, solar panels don’t produce electricity at nighttime.
Solar panels need light from the sun to create energy. They can use other sources of light, such as moonlight and street lamps to generate power, but the output is negligible from these sources. Because of this, most solar panels are designed to turn off at night, meaning they will not produce any energy outside of sunlight hours.
So without any energy production, how does solar work at night to keep electricity flowing in your home? Solar panels work efficiently during the day to produce energy, and often produce more power than your home needs. Consider that during the day, when your home is naturally lit and warmed by the sun, you likely aren’t using a lot of electricity anyway. Especially on weekdays where the whole family is at work or school and there’s no one home to use power. This excess power is then stored for later use.
How does your solar panel system store electricity with a battery?
Most solar panel systems have a battery as part of their hardware. This battery stores surplus power produced during the day, which is then available to power your home at nighttime.
There are several different types of batteries with different storage capacities, which impact how much energy you can store and use at nighttime. Some larger batteries allow solar panel homes to operate completely off-the-grid, meaning that they don’t have to draw any external power.
How does your solar panel system store electricity without a battery?
Not every solar panel system has a battery to store energy built into the system. Those that don’t can still take advantage of the excess electricity produced during the daytime using net metering.
Net metering is a system where your excess energy is exported to the power grid for use elsewhere. You are then rewarded with credits that reduce your power bill. You aren’t storing the power your solar panel system produces but in effect selling it.
Net metering is not the right solution for those people hoping to permanently get off the grid, because it relies on the grid to both give and receive electricity. Instead, it works well for those in urban areas who are wanting to live in harmony with the infrastructure around them.
Do solar panels work when there’s no sun?
Solar panels aren’t producing electricity at nighttime, but what about on days where the sun is hidden behind clouds, rain, or snowfall? As long as there is some UV filtering down, your solar panels will continue to produce energy, just at a reduced capacity.
Rainfall in particular, though it reduces your solar panel system’s output, may still benefit your solar panel system in another way. Rain washes away debris, dirt, and anything else that may be covering parts of your solar panels. This means that next time the sun is out, your panels will be able to work more efficiently.
In Australia, we are lucky enough to live in a country where lack of sunlight is far less of an issue than in other parts of the world. Depending on where you are, your panels are likely to be soaking in plenty of sunlight year-round. If you are in a cloudy area though, the reduced capacity during overcast days does not mean that solar panels are only worthwhile in sunny areas. Your solar panels will still be producing energy, and may even benefit from the cooler temperatures.
In overcast conditions, your system is still producing the electricity that it can from the sunlight available, but it may still rely somewhat on a battery or on the grid to ensure your home is getting the power that it needs.
Factors that impact solar panel efficiency
Several factors impact the efficiency of your solar panels during the daytime, which will then impact how much electricity you have available to use when the sun goes down.
Hours of sunlight
The first is the amount of sunlight that your panels can absorb during daylight hours. Shorter winter days will produce less energy than long sunny summer days. Similarly, cloudy overcast days will reduce output significantly. You can expect output around 10-25% of sunny days with cloud cover.
Perhaps counterintuitively, solar panel output is also reduced by very high temperatures. Although most systems are designed to be resistant to heat, productivity does take a hit above around 25 degrees celsius. This means that cloud cover can benefit your solar panel system if it is helping keep the temperature down.
Solar panel placement is another factor that hugely impacts electricity output. Solar panels cannot work at maximum efficiency if they are in a shaded area, and they also can’t be as efficient as they could be if they aren’t placed facing the sun at the hottest part of the day.
Age is another factor that will impact your solar panel system’s efficiency. Systems generally remain at peak efficiency for the first 25 years, with proper care of course. After this, they will generally still function, just at a continuously reducing capacity.
For those first 25 years, you are likely to have some sort of maintenance agreement with your solar panel provider. Proper maintenance is another important factor in ensuring maximum output from your solar panel system. Make sure you are working with your provider to ensure they are doing everything they can, and you are doing everything you can to make sure your solar panels stay in great condition and have maximum energy output.
All of these factors, plus the capacity of your battery, will have an impact on how much electricity you will have available for use at nighttime. If you don’t have enough power stored, your system will automatically switch and draw power from the energy grid. This will increase your energy bill, so it pays to keep an eye on how frequently this is happening. It could be a sign to look at reducing your power consumption, allowing you to keep your energy costs down.
Are solar panels still worth it if they aren’t producing power at night?
Do solar panels work at night? They don’t produce electricity but they can store and distribute it, or they can sell power back to the grid. Solar panels allow you to run a more eco-friendly home, whilst also saving money on your power bill. Most households use significantly more power in the evenings after the sun goes down, and without your solar panels to produce energy during these dark hours, it’s understandable to wonder if it’s still worth it.
With batteries or net metering to help take advantage of all the excess power your system is producing during the day, your solar panels will certainly still be worth it come nightfall. Batteries or net metering work well for different kinds of homes, and your solar panel provider can help you understand which option is right for you.
Solar panels will also help protect you from the rising cost of electricity because any power that you produce with your system will cost you nothing to use. You may still need to pay for some electricity at nighttime, but solar panels will ensure you pay far less. If you want to pay nothing, you’ll want to consider the efficiency factors we discussed above, and also look at how you can reduce your energy consumption during the daytime and nighttime.
Do solar panels work at night? Solar panel systems do not produce energy at night, but they are well equipped to ensure that your home is powered while the sun is down, by using either a battery to store power or with net metering to sell power back to the grid.
The amount of energy that is available for use at nighttime is dependent on a range of factors that impact the efficiency of your solar panel system during the daytime. There are factors such as cloud cover, sunlight hours, and temperature that are out of your control, but there are also factors that are within your control. Keeping up with solar panel system maintenance, making sure panels are positioned correctly, and removing any shade over solar panels are all steps you can take to ensure high efficiency. Great solar panel efficiency during the day ensures more energy to use at night and a lower energy bill.