Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
Solar power is the world’s quickest-growing source of renewable energy and now, for the first time, is outstripping the growth of all other methods of generating electricity. As we are constantly reminded of the need for the human race to reduce its carbon emissions and the problems which global warming will cause if it continues to grow unchecked, many households are turning to solar panels in an attempt to do their bit for the environment and our world.
What Are Solar Panels?
Solar panels are clever devices which convert light into energy. It is a collection of solar cells which are spread over a large area (the panel) and they work together to generate power. As more light hits the solar cells, the more electricity is produced.
Solar cells consist of photovoltaic cells which enable sunlight to be turned into electricity which is fed directly into your home’s electricity supply for its immediate use. Although solar panels look somewhat futuristic, they are a relatively dated technology and have been used on spacecraft for decades.
The use of solar panels is a great way to cut your electricity bills down and can even be a source of income, with the National Grid enabling some households to sell power back to it. There are two distinct types of solar panel in the UK: Solar PV panels which can be used to produce energy; and Solar thermal panels which are used to heat water only.
How Do Solar Panels Work Exactly?
In the simplest terms possible, solar panels work by enabling photons (particles of light) to bump electrons free from atoms and generate an electricity flow which is then pumped back into your home’s supply.
A thermal solar panel’s photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity. They are made from semi-conducting materials – typically silicon – and they establish an electrical field between the two pieces of silicon which are positively charged on one side and negatively charged on the other.
Silicon is given a positive charge on one side of the photovoltaic cell by treating it with phosphorus on the top layer which adds extra electrons (a negative charge) and boron on the other side by which results in fewer electrons (a positive charge). This electrical field then builds up between the silicon layers which, when hit with sunlight, culminates in an electron being knocked free from the silicon field and into your power supply.
Do Solar Panels Work When it’s Cloudy?
If you are living in the UK, dull and cloudy days are a daily occurrence. We do not get much powerful sunshine and when we do, solar energy is the last thing on our minds! Due to our predominately cloudy and lackluster climate, many people wrongly assume that solar panels are not worth having here. This is not strictly true, because solar panels do not require exposure to direct sunlight in order to function.
With solar panels, the key is light in any form – not just sunlight – and even artificial light (the stuff which comes from your lightbulb) would be a suitable to an extent. On cloudy days, solar panels can still function, albeit they do not function to their full potential when out of the scope of direct sunlight.
Solar panels do not just absorb direct sunlight, they absorb a varied spectrum of light waves, many of which we cannot see, and so long as there is some light, solar panels can create electricity, cloudy or not.
This does not mean that clouds in the sky have no affect on our solar panels, they do. uSwitch has gone on record and said that cloudy weather can, in some cases, cut power generated by solar panels in half. However, solar panels can also generate more electricity on partially cloudy days than they do on a bright day with no clouds in the sky.
Although this seems odd, it is true; the “edge-of-cloud effect” magnifies sunlight behind the clouds and enables solar panels to absorb more light energy, thus increasing electricity output.
Solar panels do not need direct and brilliant sunshine in-order to produce electricity. Although they will not produce as much energy on a cloudy day, they do still produce a decent amount of energy and they are well worth having if you are serious about cutting your energy bills down and doing your bit for the environment.
Solar panels work particularly well in the South of England where solar radiation levels have been measured to be equivalent to the likes of Spain! It’s a shame we don’t get the same level of sun, though…
Prior to having solar panels installed, you should make sure your home is as energy efficient as it can be. The point of solar panels is to save money on your energy bills and provide a benefit to the environment; if you are losing energy through multiple areas in your home then it is counter-productive and wipes out the benefits of having solar panels.
An energy efficient home is one which does not lose heat energy. The most common way to lose heat energy is through insufficiently insulated walls, floors and roofs, underneath doors which do not have draught excluders and through single-glazed windows. Also, using energy-saving lights and having an energy efficient boiler also help a lot and can add additional savings on top that from the solar panels.