Cold weather in Texas (and other states) - electricity availability and home solar panels

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen any speculation on the effect of the recent cold weather on the sales of home solar panels. I suspect that the companies will be gearing up intense sales campaigns.

And…have there been any news stories of people in the affected states who already have solar panels, versus their neighbors who lost electricity?

Probably an IMHO thread. I moved it from GQ

Solar Panels don’t provide power during outages unless you also have a battery system. I was an early adopted in my last home. 2003 in fact. My panels didn’t help with outages at all. The battery systems are pretty expensive.

Now the panels do pay for themselves in electrical savings. Mine easily did so. Then you can decide if you want a battery system or a whole house generator and try to figure out which will work better for power backup. From my checking, the generator is a better way to go. Especially if you have natural gas.

Unless you install a system intended to be off the grid, with a huge bank of batteries in the basement, when the utility goes down, your solar panels don’t work.


Do any solar panels come with a small battery or power output port for things like charging phones during a power outage? If so, how much does an upgrade like that cost?

You can buy small charging systems that aren’t hooked up to your electric for charging things. Harbor Freight, Tractor Supply & most Camping supply stores among many others sell these.

My late spouse did purchase a solar panel intended to be portable that actually DOES provide energy without being hooked up to the grid or a battery. Unfortunately, the output is variable depending on sun intensity and the need to keep changing the angle for best collection of solar rays, it doesn’t store anything (for that you do need a battery) and I don’t think it would power a heater sufficient for doing much about single-digit temperatures. It would allow you to power/recharge cellphones, tablets, and so forth and MIGHT allow a very small cooler or heater (basically, the sort you can hook into your vehicle power outlet) for the time sun is shining on it. Also lets you run a lamp, a fan, and so on. When the sun is shining.

If you were clever about it and educated yourself/practiced ahead of time you might be able to, say, keep insulin sufficiently chilled during a summer outage to keep it usable for awhile (chill it down during the day and minimize opening it at night), or maybe power a portable oxygen machine that could otherwise be powered off a vehicle.

The spouse bought it at Harbor Freight.

But snow’s a thing:

A guy whose YouTube channel I watch has about 4500 watts of solar. His area (and his (fixed) panels) got a couple inches of snow. Despite full sun when the snow stopped falling, he was only getting 50 watts from the entire panel array until he used a slurry of warm water, dishwashing liquid, isopropyl alcohol, and a garden hoe to scrape all his panels clean.

He had panels on the ground and on the roof. That kind of ladder work in those conditions (ie, ice and snow) can be lethal.

Cold isn’t necessarily a big problem, but snow and ice can be.

I have a lot of experience with snow on panels. The drop would almost never be 4500w to 50w. Also a little bit of work with a snow roof will get them back up to full generation for the amount of sunshine.

On a cloudy day with 12" of snow on my panels, I got maybe 40% of capacity.

Honestly, your post is so wrong as to leave me a little boggled.

So, fight my ignorance, how do normal solar panels work (no batteries) - as in, where is the output directed?

The panels generate electricity as part of the grid. They’re electronically sync’d to the grid.

Back into the grid. Essentially you are running your meter backwards and you either pay less or get a refund depending on where your generation:usage ends up.

So really it seems to me the notion of having battery backup is orthogonal to solar panels. If a battery backup were a better solution than a generator, you could have a battery backup fed by the grid without solar panels.

I couldn’t edit this, so …

ADD: it doesn’t look like full sun, but he speaks to the loss vs. normal (ie, non-winter-storm) operation.

Like many things, it depends. The batteries are getting cheaper. So more competitive.

Only Natural Gas is clearly and generally a cheaper solution than solar for power backup from what I can see. Gas & Diesel have plenty of issues if only for outages. If you already have a large propane tank, those 250 or bigger ones, a propane generator probably makes sense.

Part of the positives for the Natural Gas & Propane generators, is they generally have a lot less that goes wrong and don’t have the issue of the gas going bad. Small propane tanks are notorious for freezing in cold weather and at least around here, pretty expensive.

Having a large battery backup system that you keep charged off the grid is becoming a viable idea.

If your power is very spotty, any of these solutions become a good idea. I came close to the battery system in my last home as I already had the panels and no natural gas. I never did go ahead with the additional $5-$10k purchase.

I think part of the disconnect here could be that the video is showing a bus with horizontal panels on the roof, where the bus has had no power at all, and the temperature of the bus has presumably dropped to ambient temperature in the storm, and allowing the formation of a thick layer of ice.

This is very different from more typical usage of solar panels on the roof of a house, where the house still has grid power and warmth will be escaping up through the roof and warming the panels, allowing the panels to recover much more quickly. And I think even a slight gradient on the panels will reduce ice formation dramatically.

That looks like a metal hoe, so wrong in everyway.
I actually have 17 years of experience with this. Your friend is misinforming you or describing very strange situations.

I looked at more of that video, it has nothing to do with this thread. Please drop it. That is a bus not a house.

I’m seeing similar caveats on numerous sites about solar power:

When solar panels are completely blocked with ice and snow, they become unable to generate power. This is one reason why panels are generally installed at an angle. Additionally, panels generate a lot of heat and often melt frozen accumulation on their own. However, in some cases they may need to be manually cleared off, which is relatively easy to do.

A dusting of snow has little impact on solar panels because the wind can easily blow it off. Light is able to forward scatter through a sparse coating, reaching the panel to produce electricity. It’s a different story when heavy snow accumulates, which prevents PV panels from generating power. Once the snow starts to slide, though, even if it only slightly exposes the panel, power generation is able to occur again.

I understand the the bus application may not translate one-for-one to every other residential application, but the panels we watched ‘before and after’ were on the ground – not a bad insulator itself.

So, while arguments about degree are certainly valid, it does seem like panels mounted flat/flattish, and hit by snow and ice, may see dramatic loss in output.

If your mileage has always varied, then … YMMV. Fair enough.

Would that be because some devices and appliances take more amperage to get rolling than a bank of solar panels can supply in normal operation?

I remember in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast, many people learned (New York Times paywall warning) that their solar power panels were no help when utility power was cut off. So this is nothing new.