When is the best time to go solar? (Not summer)

Summer is the busiest season for any solar company out there. Despite this, summer may not actually be the best time to go solar. Summer is the best time to HAVE solar, but solar takes a while to design, get permits for, and install. To be ready to produce power in Summer, Winter and early Spring are actually the best times to buy and install solar.

There are three forces that we need to understand:

  • Peak Sun Hours
  • Installation Timelines
  • Net Metering
The longer days allow panels more time to absorb light. This results in more power production. Installations can take anywhere from 2-6 months. To be ready to run by summer you want to start your installation in winter or spring.

Finally, net metering is the process that allows home and business owners to take excess solar power production and bank it up in the form of credits.These credits will cover you in the winter when production isn’t as high. We’ll go into each of these areas in more detail to make sense of it all.

Table of Contents

Peak Sun Hours

Peak sun hours (PSH) is a measure used to evaluate the potential of a particular location for solar energy production. It represents the number of hours per day when sunlight is strong enough to generate maximum power output from a solar panel.

The peak sun hours concept takes into account several factors that affect the amount of solar radiation received by a solar panel. These factors include the angle of the sun’s rays, the atmospheric conditions that affect the scattering and absorption of light, and the position and orientation of the solar panel.

Showing the amount of energy coming from the sun throughout a typical day.

The number of peak sun hours at a particular location depends on several factors, including the latitude, altitude, and the time of year. For instance, areas close to the equator generally receive more peak sun hours per day than regions at higher latitudes. 

Similarly, regions with high elevations tend to receive more peak sun hours due to the lower atmospheric attenuation at higher altitudes.

In the context of solar energy production, peak sun hours are critical because they help determine the amount of energy that a solar panel can produce.

For instance, a solar panel with a rated power output of 100 watts can generate 100 watt-hours of energy during one peak sun hour. However, the same panel may only produce 50 watt-hours during an hour of low sun intensity.

To calculate the peak sun hours for a particular location, our solar engineers use mathematical models that take into account various factors such as latitude, atmospheric conditions, and solar panel orientation. 

The resulting values are used to determine the size and capacity of solar panel systems needed to meet a particular energy demand.

Seasonality of Peak Sun Hours

In the mountain west region of the United States, which includes states like Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, the length of peak sun hours varies throughout the year due to the region’s latitude and seasonal changes. 

During the summer months, the days are longer, and the sun is up for more hours, providing more opportunities for solar panels to produce energy. 

Conversely, in the winter months, the days are shorter, and the sun is up for fewer hours, leading to less energy production.

An example of peak sun hours over time through the course of a year

Another factor that affects solar panel production in the mountain west is the region’s weather patterns. Although the area is known for its sunny weather, it can experience cloudy days, especially during the winter months, which can reduce the amount of energy that solar panels produce. 

Additionally, snow cover can reduce energy production by reflecting sunlight away from solar panels.

To optimize solar panel production in the mountain west, we consider peak sun hours and weather patterns. Solar panel installations should be positioned to maximize exposure to the sun during the day, and the system’s capacity should be designed to accommodate seasonal variations in daylight hours. 

Regular maintenance, such as snow removal from panels, can also help ensure maximum energy production throughout the year.

Installation Timelines

The process of getting solar up on your roof is pretty quick. 95% of our jobs are done in 1-2 days. Virtually all of our jobs are done in a week or less. That’s not counting all of the paperwork, utility companies, and government agencies though.

Before we get into that, let’s go through the 7 steps of going solar.

  1. Site Survey – We get custom measurements of your home and electrical usage
  2. Plans & Design – We use that information to make a tailored system design
  3. Permitting – We file with the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) or HOAs to get you approvals for solar
  4. Installation – 1-2 days, we set up panels, the inverter and/or batteries
  5. Inspections – The utility company and sometimes others make sure we did a good job
  6. Meter Swap – The utility company swaps out your old meter
  7. System Turn On & Monitoring – We get the green light, and you just flip it on!
As you can see, there are many steps in the process. We can get through 1, 2 & 4 pretty quickly. The slowdown comes when we have to wait on AHJs, or other third parties for permits and other approvals. 
 
In the winter time there’s less requests making this time of year when installs can be done more quickly.
 
The whole process can be anywhere from 2 months to 6 months long. This means that if you go solar in spring you’ll be up and running in the summer. If you solar in summer, the installation timeline will eat into those good production months.
 

The good news is that regardless of when you start, within a year the credit situation will balance out. If you’re wanting immediate production in the summer then get started before summer. Otherwise, it will balance out over time.

If you want to learn more about the solar process you can check out our 7 Steps of Solar article!

Net Metering

Net metering is a beneficial system that allows customers who have excess power generated by solar panels to be transferred back into the public grid and bought by utility companies. Although the price set for excess energy varies from utility company to utility company, each rate is some percentage of the amount that customers would have paid for power.

This credit can then be used to offset the cost of electricity that the homeowner draws from the grid when their solar panels are not producing enough electricity to meet their needs.

It can significantly reduce their electricity bills and increase the return on investment for their solar panels. 

By selling excess electricity back to the grid, homeowners can earn credits that can offset the cost of their electricity bills, which can be especially beneficial during periods of high electricity consumption or when the price of electricity is high.

For net metering to work, a person must be producing an excess of power over the amount of power that they consume. This excess is virtually stored with the utility company and can then be redeemed in the winter.

If you go solar in summer, your system may finally be up and running in the winter. The winter season has less Peak Sun Hours leaving customers with less opportunities to store up energy credits.

If this does happen, it’s not a big deal as the upcoming summer will allow homeowners with a properly designed system to bank up enough credits to last through the next winter.

Solar in Winter: Is it even a good idea?

Many homeowners interested in solar energy worry about the production changes that clouds or snowfall could cause. 

Won’t snow block the sunlight? Do solar panels work in the winter? Does the winter season make solar panels worth it? Will cloudy days disrupt the level of energy produced to power my home?

Let’s get into it.

Snow

Many people believe solar panels don’t work well in winter, but just the opposite has proven true. Snow helps clean dirt or debris off solar panels as it melts. In addition, the snow can act as a mirror, reflecting more sunlight onto the panels and therefore generating more energy for your home.

A light layer of snow allows light to reach the solar panel. Heavier snow will obviously block the ability of the panels to produce energy.

If snow does build up, solar panels are mounted at an angle that helps snow or other debris slide off easily.

Even if it only slightly exposes the panel to sunlight, power generation will still occur, though not as efficiently as if completely uncovered. If you live in an area where snow typically melts quickly and doesn’t build up, you won’t need to worry about cleaning off the snow.

However, if the snowfall levels in your area do gradually build up throughout winter, and you depend on solar power to survive, regularly clearing the snow off your solar panels is recommended.

If you have a very tall or steep roof, clearing snow could be dangerous, and you may have to rely on credits from summers to get you through winter months. This is something that many of our customers do. The only requirement is that the system is designed with the proper offset.

Many online shopping centers like Amazon and Walmart carry extendable snow rakes or squeegees that can work in removing snow from solar panels without damaging them.

Clouds

Solar panels always perform most efficiently when basked in direct sunlight, so constant cloud cover in a day will lower your panels’ intake.  However, same as with snow, sunlight can still reach the panels when only thinly blocked.

Only during extremely cloudy, stormy, and rainy days will the energy levels noticeably drop. According to CleanTechnica, solar panels will still yield 10-25% of their typical output on even the cloudiest days. Ironically, on extremely warm and sunny days, too much heat also reduces solar panel output by 10-25%.

Our Recommendation

Don’t give winter the cold shoulder when you’re planning out when to go solar. Just because the sun isn’t out as often doesn’t mean that it can’t be a good time to get the process started.

If you have any other questions about this process, please let us know!

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