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Solar panels are a fantastic green energy option to keep the bills in check and do your part for the environment.
Throughout the day, they absorb power from the sun and transform it into electricity, so you can keep your household running off-grid if you want.
But therein lies a question… What happens once the sun has set? How do solar panels work when their energy source has scampered off below the horizon?
Well, the truth of the matter is, they don’t, but that’s not to say a solar array is completely useless after dark, it’s just not the panels doing the heavy lifting when the moon rises.
Let’s discuss the matter in more detail.
Do Solar Panels Absorb Energy At Night?
Solar panels work through the magic of photovoltaic (PV) cells. These nifty little things soak in sunlight and convert it into DC current that we can use to power our coffee makers, our TVs, our radios… you name it!
When there is no light to convert into electricity, they effectively clock out until that big yellow ball in the sky returns in the morning.
Photovoltaic cells have enough trouble soaking up a sufficient amount of energy on overcast days, so, needless to say, they won’t be harvesting any power in the dead of night.
Now, I know that, technically, the light of the moon is a second-hand solar glow, but no matter how pie-in-the-sky that rock gets, it’s simply never luminous enough for your solar panels to draw a charge.
So, what does this mean for your green power supply?
Are Solar Panels Useless At Night?
If you’re using an individual or perhaps a small chain of solar panels, you may well be drawing current directly from the panels to an appliance(s).
If that is the case, then I’m afraid your solar setup is going to be completely useless at night, as the electricity during the day is being used in real time.
On the other hand, if your array is hooked up to a home solar storage system, such as this JITA 12V 200Ah Plus LiFePO4 Rechargeable Lithium Battery, then the energy soaked up by your panels in the day will be stored in the system for use when the streetlamps and stars flicker on.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve had your solar array for a while, and you want to add or upgrade your home solar battery, because 9 times out of 10, they can be retrofitted into your system.
Of course, you’ll be limited by the size of the battery you use to store solar energy, which is why fully solar-sufficient homes will have multiple cells hidden away somewhere, all linked up to a powerful solar array usually situated on the roof.
Alternatively, You could use a more portable solar storage solution, such as the Goal Zero Yeti 500X, or one of my personal favorites, the Bluetti AC200MAX.
Or, if you’re looking for a superfast charge, the EcoFlow Delta needs only four hours of solar panel power to reach full capacity.
These diminutive dynamos won’t power your whole household, but if you’re the adventurous type, you can take them with you on your next wilderness jaunt to augment your journey with a few home comforts.
How Much Light Do Solar Panels Need?
Solar panels vary in quality and technology, so the amount of light they need to work efficiently varies.
But, generally speaking, solar panels require, at the very least, moderate sunlight to provide a usable amount of energy.
Ideally, they’ll be in direct sunlight every day, but, unless you’re based somewhere like Arizona, this is highly unlikely.
Not to worry, though — as long as the weatherman forecasts a decent amount of light, you’ll enjoy some lean, green power.
Solar panels still work on overcast days, but as the cloud cover intercepts a fraction of the sun’s rays, your energy yield will suffer.
On a relatively gloomy day, you can expect your panels to pull in roughly 10–25% of their optimal draw on a clear, sunny day.
However, solar panels offer up an interesting paradox: Although they love sun, they’re not particularly keen on heat — strange, right?
Heat simply isn’t a contributing factor when it comes to solar energy pull. The energy is derived from the light itself rather than its effect.
In fact, extended or repeated exposure to excess heat can actually damage or limit the efficiency of photovoltaic cells.
Most solar panels will suffer diminished capacities if the temperature reaches 77° F (25° C) or beyond. In light of this, the optimal climate for solar power would be bright and cool/temperate.
For instance, despite Las Vegas being the sunnier, warmer place, a solar panel array would work more efficiently somewhere like, say, San Francisco, as the weather in this California city is a lot cooler.
This is why cloudier cities with long summer days and cool climates, such as Portland and Seattle, rank as some of the most solar-forward places in the US.
Are There Any Solar Panels That Work At Night?
It seems like science-fiction, but according to some researchers, technology for solar panels that work at night isn’t such a far-fetched idea, and may even exist now in a rudimentary form.
However, there are no such products available commercially at the minute. In fact, we probably won’t see night-primed panels for a fair while.
Besides, we have to ask ourselves just how efficient these panels will be after dark. What does “work at night” actually mean?
Even if they pull a single watt, they’re technically “working”, but not in a usable fashion.
The sun may be one of the best green energy resources we have, but the technology we use to harness it is still a work in progress.
So, as it stands, solar panels don’t work at night, but that doesn’t mean you can’t harness excess power during the day using a solar battery and utilize it come nightfall to power your pad without spending a penny on grid energy.