Do solar panels work on cloudy days or at night?

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An image of a blue and orange building with solar panels on a cloudy day

As more homeowners consider solar energy for their homes, a general question that many ask is “do solar panels work on cloudy days or at night?” Or “does my solar system need direct sunlight to operate?”.

These are common questions, and the answer is yes, solar panels work on cloudy days because they can generate electricity from light that passes through the clouds. However, solar panels do not generate electricity at night.

The amount of power generated will depend on how cloudy it is and the efficiency of your solar panels.

We’ll explore some of the common misconceptions on solar power productions during cloudy days and at night. 

Does a cloudy day affect solar energy generation?

A solar panel works by absorbing infrared and visible light and converting it into alternating current (AC). This energy powers a variety of devices in your home, from your lamps to your coffee maker.

When researching solar energy for your home, you may have encountered claims that you must have direct sunlight for your solar panels to produce energy. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true. Solar energy systems do not need direct sunlight to generate electricity.

On cloudy days, solar panels may produce between 10-25% of your solar system’s expected power output on a clear day. Therefore, it would be fair to say that the energy generated on these days is not the best. However, this does not mean that the power generated during a cloudy day is no good. You have options such as solar battery storage and net metering to make up for the days when solar energy is not enough to power your home.

When can solar panels work in cloudy weather?

Clouds can have a lens-like effect when they allow light from the sun to shine through and illuminate the Earth’s surface, which is also known as cloud lensing. This natural phenomenon can cause your solar panels to produce more power for your home than on a clear day with no clouds. Cloud lensing occurs when frozen water molecules in the clouds refract the sunlight onto the Earth’s surface. However, this is not a common occurrence and usually lasts between 5-10 minutes.

On April 22nd, 2020, an environmental satellite, GOES-17, observed cloud lensing occurring in San Francisco for 4 hours. It’s safe to say that homeowners with solar were happy with their output for that day!

Which solar panels work best in cloudy conditions?

When answering the question “Do solar panels work on cloudy days” we must consider the type of solar panels you choose to have on your roof. Not all solar panels are equal, and your choice of panels will affect how much power your home produces during cloudy weather.

What is solar panel efficiency?

Solar panel efficiency is the measure of an individual solar cell. It depends on various factors, including material quality and thickness of cells, as well as if there is any debris on your solar panels. 

Solar panels are composed of many solar cells that work together to produce electricity. A solar cell or photovoltaic cell is a device that converts light (photons) into electricity to power your home. The process of converting photons of sunlight into electricity is known as the “photoelectric effect”.

The best solar cells are crystalline silicon instead of thin-film cells, which require more sunlight because they are not as efficient. 

What is the importance of solar efficiency?

The importance of solar efficiency is to get the most out of your solar panels. Even if it’s cloudy, you still want to make sure that you maximize the amount of energy your solar panels can produce for your home. You can do this by choosing the most efficient solar panels on the market and cleaning them regularly.

Currently, the leader in residential solar panel efficiency is SunPower, as their panels have an efficiency of 22%. Their solar cell design is like no other; with solar cells up to 65% larger than conventional panels, they capture and convert more sunlight for your home. Also, the panels feature a back-side mirror designed to capture any photons that are not absorbed on their first pass through the solar cell.

SunPower solar panels comprise ultra-pure silicon and a solar copper foundation, making them highly efficient even after prolonged exposure to extreme weather.

Do solar panels work at night?

Solar panels require photovoltaic energy to generate power for your home. During the night, your panels will not produce electricity due to the lack of sunlight.

Due to the lack of power production at night from solar panels, the obvious question to ask is “how will I power my home at night?”.

There are two primary solutions to keep your home powered when you have solar panels: Net metering and solar battery storage technology. These two options allow your home to access electricity when your solar panels are dormant overnight. With a grid connection or battery storage, you will be able to keep your home powered at night consistently.

How can I power my home in these low/no sunlight conditions?

Net metering

Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits you for the excess electricity your solar panels generate during the day. So when you’re producing more electricity than you need, the extra power produced will give you credit on your bill.

At night, or on cloudy days, the system draws power from the grid to make up for any energy deficit. You can use the credit from your utility provider to offset the cost of the electricity during the times when your family needs it the most. This makes net metering a good deal for homeowners that go solar as these credits add up and can eliminate your home’s utility bill.

Solar battery storage

Battery storage is a large rechargeable battery that stores electricity from your solar panels during the day. At night, or on cloudy days, the system draws power from the battery to make up for any energy deficit. When you’re producing more electricity than you need, the solar battery will store the excess power you generate instead of sending it directly to the grid for credits.

SunPower SunVault is a battery storage solution that will improve your energy storage capabilities and take your home off-grid. Off-grid, in this context, means that you will have no reliance on utility companies to provide you with power.

Solar battery storage technology is a good option for many households. However, with that said, it may not be economical to install battery storage technology if you have a net metering agreement in place with your utility company.

Summary: Do solar panels work on cloudy days?

The short answer is yes. Your solar panels will continue to generate energy during cloudy weather, and this is because they can still use small amounts of sunlight to produce power. However, cloudy days will result in lower energy production than a sunny day as the photon flux is less intense.

Net metering and solar battery storage give you continual access to electricity regardless of the time of day and how much sunlight your panels receive at that moment.

It is essential that you speak to an expert who will size the system for your needs and provide you with a solution that works best for your home. In addition, a knowledgeable solar panel installer will be able to provide you with a solution to low sunlight conditions.

Our energy consultants will be able to provide you with financial analysis for a solar panel system for your home. Reach out to us at (609) 225-4101.


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Daisy Perez

Daisy Perez

Hi, I'm Daisy. I love solar energy! My job is to help people get the most out of their solar panels, and it's so amazing being able to do that every day.

I also enjoy taking trips to Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia for some serenity time – it's a great place for me to recharge my batteries and just relax.

But when I’m not doing those things, you can find me at home with my dogs or cooking up something yummy in the kitchen.

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About Solar Gleam

As a certified SunPower dealer, we’re here to help you learn more about solar, so you make an informed decision before making the switch. We’ve put together our best resources on how solar technology works, the role of solar storage, and the process of going solar for you to go through at your own pace.

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