When solar energy is touted as one of the natural replacements for the consumable energies of coal and oil, one of the first questions that is always asked is: what will happen in winter? Can solar panels function when there is precious little sunlight?
The simple answer is, yes. Even in winter, most countries experience six to seven hours of daylight, and to an extent this is all a solar panel needs to function. Solar panels, despite the name, do not necessarily need direct, hot sunlight to produce electricity; but what they do need is light. In daytime, some of the sun’s rays are getting through to earth even when it is cold and overcast. Quite simply, if these rays weren’t getting through the cloud cover, it would not appear to be daytime!
Therefore, for as long as it is daytime, solar panels can function and produce electricity to a degree. Temperature is a relatively unimportant consideration in solar panel development; in fact, some experiments have shown that the mechanisms and generation systems of solar panels actually function better when it is colder. All electrical systems slow down somewhat in intense heat – such as trying to use a laptop on a hot day – and the crisper temperatures of winter can allow solar panels to work to their full potential.
While all of the above it is true, it is nevertheless also a fact that the output of solar panels is effected by a lack of daylight – something which is characteristic with winter. One would not get the same effective output on a winter’s day as one would on a summer’s day, and for this reason other energy generation sources are required for the winter months. Thankfully, in most countries winter may decrease the amount of solar output, but the weather changes in a way that is beneficial to other renewable energies – such as tidal or wind power, which may be less effective in the more temperate summer months.