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It will come as no surprise to learn that solar panels are most effective when they receive direct sunlight, but direct sunlight isn’t required for solar panels to generate energy. Shade, clouds, rain, and snow might reduce the output of a solar panel system, but both direct and indirect sunlight produce electricity.

solar panel on roof top near beach with sun setting

Is direct sunlight required for solar panels to work?

Direct sunlight isn’t always available in some places. Solar panels may be shielded from the sun by nearby buildings, trees, or weather conditions like rain, snow, or cloud cover. How do these conditions affect photovoltaic (PV) solar panel systems? When deciding whether to install solar panels, how much weight should be given to factors such as shade and weather? 

Solar panels perform most efficiently in direct sunlight, but they can also function without it. Why? Because photons, the part of the sun’s energy that solar panels generate electricity, are in both direct and indirect sunlight. Solar panels can work with indirect sunlight, but they will not produce as much power. Indirect sunlight is sunlight that is reflected off of another surface before hitting the solar panel. This type of light is still usable for solar panels, but it will not be as effective as direct sunlight.

If you have additional questions about how indirect light affects the performance of solar panels, talk to a solar panel expert to learn more.

Can solar panels generate electricity in shady conditions?

Solar panels are a great way to reduce your reliance on the grid and save money on your energy bill, but what happens if you live in an area with lots of shade? Can solar panels still generate electricity in shady conditions? 

The answer is yes—shaded solar panels can generate electricity. However, they won’t produce as much power as they would in direct sunlight. If you have a lot of trees or other buildings shading your home, you may need to install a larger solar panel system to get the same amount of electricity as someone who lives in a sunnier area.

An experienced solar installation professional can estimate the annual amount of shade that your roof will receive, assess the energy output potential of your solar panels, estimate the time it will take for your solar system to pay for itself, and design the best system for your roof. The estimated energy is determined using sophisticated software using weather, energy data, site conditions, and the specific tilt and direction of your solar arrays.

How do clouds affect solar panels?

It’s no secret that solar panels in direct sunlight convert the sun’s rays into energy. But what happens in cloudy conditions?  Do clouds affect a solar panel system’s ability to generate energy? Yes, clouds make a difference. What impact they have depends upon the type of clouds and its position in the atmosphere.

Solar light, heat, and radiation reflects off thick, low clouds and disappears into space. Thinner, high-altitude clouds let most of the solar radiation reach your roof panels. Certain cloudy conditions can actually be ideal for the generation of solar energy. Due to a phenomenon known as “cloud lensing,” ice crystals within high-altitude clouds cause the clouds to act as a lens, magnifying the sunlight.

To figure out how much the climate in your area affects solar panel output, connect with a solar professional for an assessment.

solar panels on rooftop near beach

Do solar panels work on rainy days?

Solar panels are known for generating energy from the sun, but what about when it rains? Energy generation from solar panel systems doesn’t grind to a halt when it rains. While the power output of solar panels is highest when exposed to direct sunlight, solar panels still generate power when it’s raining.

On a rainy day, a solar panel system’s performance is reduced by 40-90%, depending on how heavy the cloud cover is. But once the storm has passed, you’ll benefit from a good side effect: rain helps to clean solar panels. A good rainstorm can have a major impact on energy output, especially if you live in a dusty area.

Do solar panels work when it snows?

Solar panels are great for generating electricity when the sun is shining, but what about in the snow? Some people think that solar panels won’t work when it snows or when the weather is really cold.

Actually, sunlight can pass through a dusting of snow, so your solar panel system will continue to produce solar electricity even when it is snowing lightly. And solar panels perform better in cold temperatures because it prevents them from overheating (which reduces their effectiveness).

Heavy snowfall, on the other hand, will obstruct sunlight and significantly diminish energy output for a while. Fortunately, solar panels are excellent at shedding snow, so this rarely happens. One benefit of getting snow on your solar panels is that, as the snow melts, it washes away any dust build-up.

In conclusion, solar panels function best when they are directly exposed to sunlight; however, direct sunlight is not necessary to generate energy. Solar panels can produce energy when they are shaded and on cloudy days. There are many factors that affect how much energy a solar panel produces, so it is important to consult with a professional to determine the best solar panel system for you.