Do Solar Panels Need Direct Sunlight To Work Properly?

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Do Solar Panels Require Direct Sunlight In Order To Produce Any Amount Of Electricity?

Have you ever wondered if solar panels need direct sunlight to work? Solar power is a big deal for clean energy, but there’s a common misconception that they only function in direct sunlight. This myth might be holding you back from embracing solar power.

Whether you’re considering solar panels for your home or simply passionate about renewable energy, keep reading to uncover the truth about solar power and all its amazing possibilities.

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PS We offer MCS-certified solar panel installation throughout the Midlands, simply fill in our online solar survey to find out more

Optimum Solar Panel Functioning Without Direct Sunlight

Solar panels are designed to capture the sun’s UV rays, which enables them to generate electricity even without direct sunlight. The technology behind solar panels utilizes visible light rather than solely relying on direct sunlight, allowing them to function and produce energy through the stimulation of photons within the panels.

Solar Performance in Various Light Conditions

Cloudy or Overcast Days: Solar panels can still operate under cloudy conditions, though their efficiency is somewhat reduced. On such days, they produce electricity but at lower levels compared to bright, sunny days.

Shaded Areas: While solar panels can generate some electricity even when placed in shaded areas, their output is significantly less than when they are in full sunlight. The impact of shading varies depending on the duration and intensity of the shade, as well as the specific technology used in the solar panels and the configuration of the inverter.

Indirect Sunlight: Even in the absence of direct sunlight, solar panels can harness indirect sunlight to produce electricity. However, the efficiency of energy conversion is lower in such conditions.

Optimal Conditions: For peak performance, solar panels require about 1000 W/m2 of sunlight, a condition best met during clear, sunny days.

solar panels weather conditions

Climate and Positioning for Enhanced Efficiency

To maximise the energy output of solar panels, it is crucial to consider both the positioning and the climate. An unshaded, south-facing roof is typically ideal for installing solar panels as it receives the most sunlight throughout the day.

However, east or west-facing roofs can still function effectively, albeit with a 15-20% reduction in energy production. The local climate also plays a significant role; solar panels perform best in sunny conditions but are capable of generating electricity in less ideal weather such as during rain or snow, where rain can even help clean the panels, potentially boosting their efficiency.

How do Solar Panels Function in Indirect Sunlight or Shade?

Shade has a big impact on how well solar panels work. Even a little shade can really reduce their performance. To deal with this, it’s recommended to use half-cell solar panels and Microinverters or Power Optimisers (MLPE).

These technologies help lessen the effects of shading on energy production. How much shade affects the panels depends on how long the shading lasts, the type of solar panels, and how the inverters are set up.

Prior to the installation of solar panels, solar installers must assess any potential shading on your roof. If there’s only a little bit of shade, using half-cut solar cells connected to MLPEs can help reduce the loss of energy. Also, when it’s cloudy, the output of the panels can drop by up to 90%, and in foggy conditions, it can drop by up to 50%. The type of clouds makes a difference too – thin clouds let in more sunlight than thick clouds.

Interestingly, bad weather like rain and snow can scatter weak light while also cleaning the panels, getting them ready to work better when the sun comes out again. Plus, using microinverters or power optimisers can help keep the panels working well in these conditions.

Using mirrors and reflectors can also make indirect sunlight more effective by getting the solar cells to absorb more photons. And storing extra electricity in a battery during sunny times and using it when needed, especially in shady conditions or at night, can be really helpful.

Bifacial panels, which can capture sunlight from both sides, make the most of albedo radiation, boosting overall energy production. And for the best energy output, solar panels can be set up on flat or differently angled surfaces, like garden frames or strong structures such as sheds and garages.

How Solar Panels Work in Different Weather

Solar panels work best in cooler temperatures, as high heat can really lower their efficiency. For every degree above 25°C, a solar panel becomes less efficient, so they’re better suited to colder climates. This is because the photovoltaic cells make more voltage when it’s colder, which helps them generate more electricity.

Influence of Weather Elements on Solar Panel Output

Cloud Coverage and Rain: Solar panels can still function under cloudy skies and rain, but their output is reduced. On overcast days, panels might only produce between 10% and 60% of their normal output, depending on the thickness of the cloud cover. Additionally, while rain can decrease production temporarily, it also cleans the panels, which can improve performance post-rainfall.

Snow and Ice: Heavy snowfall can block sunlight entirely, ceasing energy production. However, most solar panels are designed with a tilt, allowing snow to slide off. If snow doesn’t slide off automatically, it can be manually removed to restore function. Ice build-up, particularly without silicon coatings, can reduce efficiency by 25% to 100%, depending on the extent of coverage.

Wind and Humidity: High wind speeds can improve solar panel efficiency by aiding in heat dissipation, which keeps the panels cooler and increases their output. Conversely, high humidity can lower efficiency by promoting the accumulation of dust and debris on the panels. Wind also helps by clearing debris from the panels, maintaining a clean surface for maximum light.

Do solar panels need direct sunlight to work properly

Choosing the Right Solar Panels and Installation for Optimal Performance

Optimal Solar Panel Types and Technologies

When selecting solar panels, understanding the different types available and their respective efficiencies is crucial. Monocrystalline solar panels are highly recommended for areas with frequent cloudy conditions due to their superior low-light performance, boasting efficiencies between 15-20% . Polycrystalline panels, slightly less efficient at 15-17%, are cost-effective and perform well under varying weather conditions. For those prioritising space efficiency and longevity, monocrystalline panels are optimal despite their higher cost.

Advanced Installation Techniques

To maximise solar energy collection, consider installation technologies such as single-axis or dual-axis solar trackers. These devices adjust the panels’ orientation throughout the day to align optimally with the sun, significantly enhancing energy efficiency . Additionally, integrating microinverters or power optimisers can ensure that each panel operates at peak efficiency independently, which is particularly beneficial in weak light conditions.

Energy Storage Solutions

For continuous power supply despite weather fluctuations, incorporating battery energy storage solutions like lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries is advisable. These systems store excess energy produced during sunny periods, making it available during cloudy days or nighttime, thus stabilizing energy availability.

Performance in Various Light Conditions

Intensity of Light: Solar panels produce more electricity when exposed to more intense light. This is particularly evident during midday when sunlight is strongest.

Solar Radiation: The power received per unit area from the Sun, known as solar radiation, directly influences the output of solar panels. Higher solar radiation levels lead to increased electricity generation

Time of Day: Although solar panels generate the highest output around noon, they still produce significant energy during early morning and late afternoon. However, the rate of energy production is reduced during these times

Seasonal Variations: The output of solar panels is generally higher in summer due to longer days and more direct sunlight. Conversely, winter months see a reduced output due to shorter days and lower sun intensity

Geographical Impact: Locations closer to the equator experience higher solar panel output because of the more direct and consistent sunlight. In contrast, regions further from the equator see diminished solar energy production

Optimal Installation Angle: The angle at which sunlight strikes the solar panels, known as the angle of incidence, significantly affects their efficiency. Panels should ideally be installed at an angle that maximises sunlight exposure

Output Capacity: In optimal light conditions, solar panels can generate between 400 to 450W of energy. This output is crucial for sizing systems appropriately, with a typical installation covering 10 to 20m2 and providing around 3.5 kilowatt peak (kWp)


In exploring solar panel efficiency in different light and weather conditions, it’s clear that while direct sunlight is best, solar technology can still generate energy in less-than-ideal situations. Even on cloudy days or in shaded areas, solar panels remain a strong source of clean energy, making use of both direct sunlight and diffused light during overcast conditions.

It’s crucial to position solar panels optimally, ideally in an unobstructed, south-facing location, especially in regions with sunny climates. This maximises the energy conversion process, highlighting the importance of geographical location and installation strategy in boosting solar panel output.

With the increasing demand for renewable energy sources, understanding and implementing solar panels in optimal conditions, such as climate and positioning, can significantly improve their efficiency and output. This contributes to a more sustainable and cost-effective energy future. The potential of solar power remains high, whether it’s adapting to different weather impacts or optimising installation techniques.


Some questions

Frequently Asked Questions


1.Is it essential for solar panels to be positioned in direct sunlight to operate?

Solar panels are designed to function without being in direct sunlight. They achieve their highest efficiency when exposed to direct sunlight, but they can still generate electricity on overcast days and throughout the winter months. However, they do not produce electricity at night, which can be mitigated by using a storage system.

2.Can solar panels generate power on cloudy days?

Yes, modern solar panels are capable of operating effectively even when it's cloudy. The sunlight on such days is weaker, but it's still sufficient for the panels to produce energy. Interestingly, rain can be beneficial for solar panels as it helps clean them, removing any dust or dirt that might impede light absorption.

3.Will solar panels produce energy if they are not oriented towards the sun?

Solar panels need some level of sunlight to generate electricity, even if they are not directly facing the sun. They won't produce power at night, but they can still convert available sunlight into electricity during overcast conditions. The amount of electricity produced is directly related to the intensity of the sunlight they receive.

4Are we approved installers? 

We are approved installers of SolaX, FoxESS, Growatt, BYD & Victron Energy. Each Project is assessed to ensure the systems designed will match the specific requirements for our clients & to gain the best benefits from the solar technology, maximise the capacity of the energy storage solutions to ensure a short payback period and positive life cycle costs.

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