As professional solar panel cleaners, 'Can Solar Panels Work At Night?' is a question we are asked often, and a great one! Believe it or not, the simple answer may be "YES!!!" How can that be?
Solar panels produce electricity from any light, not just sunlight. As with any conversion of energy from one kind to another, there is always a net loss, which is why it will always be most efficient during the day, especially when angled correctly to catch the most direct sunlight. However, that doesn't mean that your solar panels can't work at night to produce at least some electricity. There are at least three ways that you can extend the electricity production of any solar panel system to work at night ... and new technology is moving towards the holy grail of genuine efficient night-time electricity production.
1. Winter Snow
The simplest, but somewhat unpredictable, way to increase your night-time production is to rely on snowfall in winter. Have you ever noticed that when there is a blanket of snow on the ground, light levels never drop to the normal depths of darkness at night? This is because the snow reflects any available light into your eyes, more so than tarmac, grass or buildings, all of which absorb ambient light. Light meters read higher levels of light with a blanket of snow on the ground than on other nights. In the same way any sources of light, even moonlight and street lights, will be reflected into your solar panel from the blanket of snow on the ground, helping your solar panels to work at night.
The downfall of relying on snowfall is that it only applies at certain times of year, you don't know when its going to come, and when it does, snow falls onto your solar panels as well as around them, putting the solar panel into permanent darkness. However, removing snow from your solar panels ensures that they can continue to produce electricity during the day, and may even contribute to them working at night.
So for the efficiency of your system, whether you are concerned about producing electricity at night or not, it is vital that you remove snow from your solar panels and keep your solar panels clean.
2. Power Storage
Any night-time energy production will be inefficient and unreliable in comparison with day-time energy production, but that doesn't mean that you have to stop using electricity at night. Adding a power storage system to your current solar panel installation allows you to retain any excess electricity generated during the day, and use that at night. Okay, so your solar panels themselves won't strictly be working at night, but as part of a complete system, they are continuing to provide for your night time electricity needs.
If your solar panels need to generate enough electricity in the day to last right through the night as well, then it is important that they are operating as efficiently as possible during those daylight hours, and a key factor in this is how clean they are. Dirty solar panels do not gather as much light and are unable to generate as much electricity, so solar panel cleaning is vital.
3. Grid Connected System
Unless you are in a remote area, then a grid-connected system is more cost-effective than a power storage system. This system allows you to return your day-time over-production of electricity to the National Grid, and then buy back electricity at night-time when your solar panels are not producing as much. Again, this means your solar panels are not strictly working at night generating electricity, but as long as they generate enough during the day to cover your night-time usage, then you are still quids in.
Ensuring the efficiency of your system, so that you can sell enough electricity back to the National Grid to cover your night-time usage, requires your solar panels to be clean and free of dirt. A professional solar panel cleaning service can you help you to maintain them.
4. Infra-Red Nano-Antennae
Okay, so here is the real deal, and with it comes a long, scientific sounding name. Idaho National Laboratory have been developing an entirely new solar panel material. They are close to producing a super-thin, flexible and cost-effective solar film made of plastic with microscopic square spirals of conducting metal embedded into it. Each of these square spirals is just 1/25 of the diameter of a human hair and is capable of absorbing infra-red energy and converting it into electricity.
Infra-red energy is absorbed throughout the day by the earth and then released hours after sunset. This new technology is capable of absorbing both the sun's light and the earth's heat, so it is not only more efficient during the day, but can continue to work at a reliable and efficient rate even through the night.
This technology is not yet widely available, but the current research seems to indicate that it will be a cost-effective and efficient method of increasing your energy production at night in the very near future.
To conclude, remember that solar panels only need light, not sunlight to produce electricity. At the moment, any added gains from night-time production will be minimal, but they will be there. Increasing the efficiency of your solar panels during daylight hours to cover your night-time needs is currently the most reliable method, but clean solar panels are necessary to achieve maximum efficiency. And soon when joint solar/infra-red panels become available, efficiency will be increased even more, but to really take advantage of that boost in efficiency, and to allow your solar panels to work to their optimum even at night, the services of a professional solar panel cleaning service should be recommended.
As professional solar panel cleaners in Cornwall and Devon, we know how to safely and cost effectively remove the snow and how to clean solar panels. Please feel free to Contact Us for more information.
Posted on August 8, 2012
by Steve Williams filed under