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Does Solar Work in the Midwest?

Solar installation with snowcover


SunPeak often receives some version of this question when businesses are evaluating a solar capital investment: 

"Is there enough sun in the Midwest to make solar worth the investment? In the winter too?"

Yes, there is plenty of sun to make solar a feasible energy option in the Midwestern United States. Germany was surpassed by China just recently as the worldwide leader in solar energy production. Germany gets less sunlight on average than in the Midwest and China has a similar sunlight profile.


2015 Top Solar PV Countries


Solar energy production is dependent only on the sunlight that shines on the panel (not atmospheric temperatures.)  Sunlight hitting the earth is called solar insolation and is usually measured by kWh/area/year. Below is a comparative graphic illustrating the sunlight that hits the U.S., Germany and Spain.  It is clear the U.S. (excluding Alaska), absorbs more sunlight than Germany which, until recently, had the most installed solar PV in the world.


Solar PV Resources in US vs. Germany and Spain


Again, comparing the insolation for Germany, Spain and a few U.S. cities, the case is clear:  Solar is absolutely a feasible energy option in the Midwest.  In fact, the Midwestern cities listed below have more sun than both Germany and Spain. Albeit, the Midwest does have less sunshine than California, Texas and other areas with high energy prices that jumped on the solar train years ago.


Solar Insolation for Midwestern USA Cities


Another common myth is that excessively cold winter temperatures will prevent the panels from operating effectively.  In fact the reverse is true.  Solar panels perform better in colder conditions. The reason there is less solar energy produced in the winter is solely due to fewer daylight hours and temporary snow cover.   It is even possible, panels will output more energy on a sunny snowy day due to the effects of sunlight being reflected off the snow cover.

Even while the panels are covered in snow, the PV panels will emit a small amount of thermal energy, speeding snowmelt.  This combined with the mounting angle often allows the snow to slide off unassisted.  Electricity will not be interrupted as long as the system is connected to the power grid.  Overall, the energy produced on an annual basis far outweighs the seasonal low production in winter climates.

Other solar FAQ’s are answered on the SunPeak Blog.


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