Solar panels are the golden child of renewable energy source. They continue to produce electricity in almost all weather conditions. Interestingly, solar panels work even better in cold environments. When we think of energy from the sun, we automatically imagine the warmth we feel and assume that it's all about heat. But solar energy is more like photosynthesis. It's about the light, not the heat. Like a computer, the panels operate better if they are colder. Cold and sunny climates are the perfect location for solar panels.

Electricity from the sun was discovered way back in 1839, 40 years before the electric light bulb. Albert Einstein built on the research and described the 'photoelectric' effect, winning him a Nobel Prize. His research was developed into 'photovoltaic (PV)' technology by a company called Bell labs in the 1950s. It was sold to NASA, who used it to power their spaceships. Yes, that's right - solar energy was first used in the extraordinarily cold vacuum of space. Solar panels have never created energy based on heat. Instead they make electricity using the light from the sun.

The exact operations of solar panels are difficult to understand. By going over the basics, we can understand how the sun's light makes solar energy possible. Solar panels are made up of components called 'PV Cells'. These cells contain two layers of conductor material made from silicone crystals. Each layer has additives that create a negative layer and a positive charge. When the sun's photons hit the panel, electrons pass between the two layers to complete an electric circuit. This is what creates electricity which can then be used in your house or stored in a battery.

  Schematic cross-section of a  HIT solar cell

Schematic cross-section of a HIT solar cell

This passing of electrons from layer to layer is actually hampered by heat. It's been proven that in cooled conditions, solar panels have an increased rate of energy production by up to 47%. As the temperature of solar panels increase, their effectiveness drops. As long as your solar panels have access to sunlight, they will continue to produce electricity.

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But what about cloudier weather conditions? The UK has managed to power a record  25% of homes with solar power in the summer of 2017. But their production rate drops by more than half in the winter time. That is because UK winters are dominated by heavy cloud coverage, rain and snow - all blocking most of the sunlight. But it's not all gloomy. Science is getting better and better at developing ways to store solar energy created during the summertime. In a personal capacity, you can store your energy using battery systems that are constantly evolving.

As a bonus, rain might just boost the effectiveness of your solar panels. Rain washes away dirt buildup, allowing the panels to catch more rays and boost their production levels when the sun is shining. Technology is constantly advancing as scientists scramble to turn the world renewable. From improved batteries to new method's altogether, solar power is only going to get more effective in different climates. These days, solar panels even have tracking technology - allowing them to rotate to the sun’s position in the sky.

The only place where solar energy might be difficult to implement is near the North and South Poles. If you live anywhere else, solar panels will operate at varying efficiencies. They work best when kept at a cold temperature in direct sunlight but will still work in high heats with indirect sunlight. Even with no direct sunlight, your solar panels will be far from useless in the winter or shade.

 

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Claire H.

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