Is my father in thrall of a bogus solar power rumor?

Okay - background: My father is a sucker for EVERY urban legend / stupid rumour that comes down the pike. He is also of a certain generation that has a knee-jerk denial to any and all environmental concerns. So I am pretty sure that at least one and possibly both o those factors are coming into play with his latest pronouncement that “someone who knows someone who works on them told him that solar power USES more power than it generates on winter days, because you have to run power INTO the panels to keep them warm.”

(Note: The dreaded FOAF is in there, lending even more weight to this being rampant bullpuck.)

So - while the chances of this being true are pretty much slim and none, I do want to know: Is there a germ or truth here that he is just bastardizing? Is there some need to put trickle juice back into panels on a winter day or night? There are no references to this sort of thing that I can find, but in respect to the old man I want to make SURE of every last bit of the facts before I call him out on this.

Take a solar calculator outside on a cold winter day and see if it works. The kind with no battery backup, one that turns off if you put your finger over the cells.

BTW, it will. It runs on light, not heat.

ETA, I’ve learned that if this is a “I got no dog in this fight” type of issue. In that, you don’t have solar panels, he doesn’t have solar panels, no one is looking to install them, it’s just something he mentioned, it’s easier to say "maybe you’re right " and move on rather then trying to prove him wrong.

Well I suppose if you ran a heater to melt the snow off them it could be true. The ones I see around here solve that by tilting the panels.

You don’t have to keep them warm…just clean. In the winter the only problem I have with my panels is keeping the wind blown dust and dirt off of them, and cleaning them. THAT is a pain in the ass, and probably a maintenance hassle on the big plants, but it doesn’t cost more energy than you get out of the system.

I agree with Joey P though…it’s not worth fighting over. If he wants to believe that, well, no real harm done on this one.


the mounting angle for maximum collection is self cleaning of snow in much of the areas that have snow.

I don’t have solar panels but I believe that they tilt to face the sun to optimize light collection, and that would coincidentally be an effective way to melt the snow off them.

It’s completely untrue.
First of all, the way panels are wired, it would be extremely difficult to run current through them backwards (they are basically diodes, and don’t permit current to flow in both directions, so it would require the battery voltage to be reversible).
Secondly, Solar panels work BETTER when cold, so they are at their most efficient on cold, sunny days.

There’s a grain of truth in what he’s saying, but it’s gotten mangled. It is true that, given current technology, if you live at a latitude that gets winters, a solar panel is likely to use more energy in its manufacture than it will produce over its useful lifespan. But it’s not that the panel requires extra energy in the winter; the amount of energy needed is fixed, and it’s all spent at manufacture. It’s just that, in the winter, the panel isn’t producing as much. And of course, the technology is continually improving: Some day, it will be practical to install solar panels, even in the frozen north.

Years back (this ratio may now be out of date) I read that the US had invested 100 times more money into fusion research than into solar. Solar, of course, worked at the time; fusion did not and still does not. The implication was that with serious investment, solar could significantly improve.

[Mod mod]Fixed title-changed “if” to “of”.[/Mod mod]

You might want to point out that satellites use solar panels in locations where it’s not very warm.

You need a FOAF to tell him about environmental concerns, or perhaps forward him a chain-email that rails about AGW. =D

The optimal angle for self cleaning snow is 90 degrees.

Solarpanelshave to be clearedof snowto be functional during the winter and the dustneeds to be cleaned in the summer.

They have exactly one moving part and that is the owner.

Depending on the panel and coating, some may self-clean to various degrees (meaning some snow just slides off) – but probably not to 100% effectiveness.

And there are panels that track the sun across the sky (or re-orient depending on season), but they’re typically for larger farms (like entire power plants); I think the required maintenance makes them impractical for household installations.

I wonder, though: Do any panels divert a portion of their generated power to keep themselves warm enough to melt off snow? Or could you hybridize a photovoltaic and solar hot water setup so that heated water melts ice off the panels?

In the solar farms, the cost for one to two yearly cleanings is included as maintenance - usually in early summer, after the pollen from spring has all fallen, and then maybe in autum. Depending on the location how much dirt etc. is in the air to settle onto the panels.

For winter, about two months are calculated as lost because of snow cover - which is really an extremly safely calculation. Although winter is longer, a lot of those days are cold, but clear, snowless days.

I’ve never heard of a set-up to heat the panels. As for combining PV and thermic panels - a few years ago I saw a combined panel with this. The reasoning was to maximize output over a fixed space, so that those rays that passed through the PV would heat the thermic tubes.

But the usual one-family-home has enough space on the roof to install the thermic panels for hot water (the most important aspect, not only for bathing, but to power the cental heating), and add a few PV panels for the pay-back (when you feed solar electricity into the general grid, the fixed price used to be quite high, though Merkel has reduced it several times now).

But then fusion has huge potential. If we could start and sustain fusion reactions anywhere near as easily as fission reactions, then to all intents and purposes we’d have limitless, clean energy.
And note also that the amount that we’ve spent on fusion is hardly stellar (pun not intended, but welcome).

panels do self clean at less than 90 degrees. heavy snow does fall off and light snow will rapidly melt off due to being mounted for maximum collection of sunlight.

they come in sizes for homeowners. useful for those without a suitable roof situation.

Eh. Solar is fusion, and we’ve already got the reactor fired up.

Haven’t the fusion plant a little closer to home would be helpful, though. I agree with Minjin…fusion has a lot more top end potential than solar does if they can figure out how to create, contain and sustain a fusion reaction. It’s worth the investment, since we know it CAN be done, even if we haven’t figured out yet how to do it in a controlled way that puts out more power than goes into creating the reaction.