In the winter of 2014, harsh weather has gripped much of the eastern and southern United States, bringing freezing temperatures and icy conditions. The so-called polar vortex has caused an enormous amount of damage and inconvenience. In addition to the damage caused by ice and snow, the harsh winter weather has caused widespread power outages. These power outages have highlighted the advantages of producing electricity in the home. What does this mean for solar energy?
Of course, solar panels keep performing during the colder season. Solar cells produce electricity when exposed to sunlight and, in fact, are more efficient in colder temperatures. Therefore, as long as the sun is shining, a solar electric system will continue to produce electricity. Unfortunately, winter conditions can also cause potential problems for solar power.
Overall, solar photovoltaic panels don't need much maintenance. Why? There are no moving parts, and typically they have 25-year warranties. But a thick blanket of snow can all but eliminate electricity production. Sure, some light can penetrate through, but the panels produce just a fraction compared to their potential. Because of the way solar panels are put together, snow that blocks a portion of an array can dramatically reduce the output.
Ice is the culprit in many problems, too. Solar panels that are covered with ice cannot produce very much electricity and may not be sufficient to meet the energy needs of your entire home. Cloudy skies and short days already reduce the usefulness of solar panels; snow and ice just add to the problem. When harsh weather comes and goes, water goes through a series of melting and freezing cycles. In the melting stage, water can penetrate the smallest openings in solar panels, brackets, and connectors. When this water freezes into ice, it expands and can cause significant damage. Moisture in the high-voltage connections that bring the electricity from your solar panels into your home can not only reduce efficiency of these connections, but also it can lead to dangerous electric shocks. All of these problems mean that there is a greatly increased need for inspections of solar power equipment. If you cannot maintain your own solar power system, contract with a capable professional to protect your investment and your family.
Meeting Power Needs When Your Grid Connection is Lost
Solar energy will probably not be sufficient to meet your power needs if you lose your grid connection for an extended period of time, so you will need to make additional preparations. The first thing to do is make your home as efficient as possible. Of course, reducing electricity use is a great first step, but you need to do more.
When you lose electric power, the first thing you should do is prioritize your electricity needs. You need to keep your home warm and your food fresh. You need to have a charged phone for communication. You need minimal lighting. Every other electric device should be powered off. Use your circuit breakers to turn off unneeded circuits. Once you have your priorities figured out, you need to consider your alternative power sources. A gasoline, diesel, or natural gas-powered generator is the most common option, but fuel cell generators are becoming more popular. In any case, generators give off quite a bit of heat. The most efficient units have systems to capture the waste and recover the energy from heat. More-efficient generators make every dollar you spend on fuel go farther. In a pinch, certain models of plug-in hybrid cars can also be used to supply emergency power.
In some regions of the country, the winter of 2014 will go down in history as one of the worst winters ever. The lessons learned about the power grid and alternative energy sources will affect energy decisions for many years to come. If you want to learn more about solar power, fuel cell technology and other ways to become less dependent on the energy grid, contact a competent professional. Get all the information you can; then make the decision that makes sense for you and your family. Don't get caught without electricity — make a plan now so you will be ready later.