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Solar panels still operational in snowy conditions

4th Aug 2011

A study by AlsoEnergy and the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has examined the efficiency levels of photovoltaic solar panel systems in regions which receive annual snowfall.

NREL hopes that the research will lead to greater efficiency for PV systems in snowy areas.

The results are promising for home owners and businesses located in areas in Australia that experience snowfall in the colder months.

After examining six solar installation sites, the study has shown that PV systems are best installed on the ground, raised and at an angle if regular snow is expected.

The angle allows for snow and ice to slide off the solar panels and onto the ground, minimising the impact on system efficiency - meaning solar panel systems may remain viable in chilly areas.

The same approach is not beneficial for systems installed on rooftops as whilst snow may slide off, it can still build up on the rooftop and in the gutter, which reduces the amount of sunlight hitting the solar cells.

For those panels that are installed flat on the roof, efficiency is drastically reduced as snow is unable to slide off and the result is a build-up that covers the entire area.

The study is currently half way through its two-year cycle as researchers want to test the systems over two separate winters to gain more accurate results.

Bill Marion, NREL's principal scientist of PV modules and systems, says that they will use the results of this round to conduct additional tests next winter.

Factoring in their interim findings will allow researchers to study the effects of snow-clearing modifications to assist in maintaining maximum efficiency.

"This study will probably lead to guidelines on how to mount modules to maximize the amount of snow fall off," Marion said.

The study is being conducted in Boulder, Colorado, an area that receives around 220cm of snow per winter.

Snowfall in Australia is regularly confined to mountain regions such as those in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

The report shows that solar power systems may still operate efficiently in such areas provided that they are installed correctly.

The ski tourism industry may be able to benefit from solar panels, as self-generated electricity in remote areas has several advantages.

The applications of solar electricity could prove useful for ski lifts, lodges and other field operations.

By: Mike Peacock - Solar Correspondent

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