I was introducing myself to someone at a birthday party this weekend, and the subject of the viability of solar energy in Florida came up. The person I met was clearly an accomplished and intelligent person, and definitely interested in environmental conservation and renewable energy. I was surprised when she hypothesized that solar energy hasn’t taken off in Florida because of “all of the clouds.”
Despite Florida being called the Sunshine State, there is still this misconception that solar panels do not perform well where clouds exist. It’s true that our summer days are punctuated by billowing clouds and violent thunderstorms, but several factors allow solar energy to flourish in Florida.
Contrary to popular belief, solar panels continue to produce power during hazy and cloudy weather. The same way that you can get sunburned on a cloudy day, solar panels can produce power. What’s important is the amount of radiation hitting the surface of the panel, and how well the panel can turn that radiation into usable electric current.
Solar panels produce the most power when the sun is directly perpendicular to their surface (all else being equal). The closer a panel is aligned to the position of the sun, the more power it will produce. We typically pitch solar panels to the south to take advantage of the best average alignment possible. The key here is the average – while we may experience cloudy weather at times, we know that there is an optimal pitch and orientation for panels based on past weather patterns. Incidentally, solar panels perform slightly better on east roofs than west in coastal western Florida because in the summer the afternoons are cloudier.
Fortunately our winters are very clear with brilliant blue skies. Summers typically have good weather around mid-day when solar production is most critical. Despite clear weather, winter days are short. Despite long days, summer days have clouds. Everything balances out. In fact, our best solar month is usually April when we have spectacular weather, and days of average length.
Perhaps the main reason for the misconception about clouds disrupting solar energy in Florida is that many believe that solar energy must be produced precisely when we consume it. It’s true that we need to use all of the solar energy we can when it is produced to make it a viable energy resource, but it’s not true that we need to produce it at the time of consumption. The key is storing solar energy, but I’m not talking about batteries…
Most solar energy systems installed today are grid-interactive – they work in parallel with the utility grid. The utility grid is effectively the “battery” in a solar energy system. When we produce more energy than we need, we send it back to the grid for our neighbors to use. When we need more energy than we are producing, we buy it from the grid. This all happens seamlessly, and we only pay for the net amount of energy used. This “accounting system” of credits is called netmetering.
While clouds do (obviously) have an effect on solar power production, what’s critical is the energy produced, not the power. Energy is power over time. On average, Florida has a remarkable solar resource, behind only a handful of states in the southwest; and Southwest Florida happens to have the best solar resource in the state of Florida! If you still don’t buy the viability of solar energy in The Sunshine State, take a look at the solar resource in Germany, which has the most solar energy installed per capita in the world:
So don’t let gloomy weather get you down. Solar energy is completely viable in Florida despite the frequent clouds we see! If you want a demonstration of an actual solar energy system operating on a sunny versus a cloudy day, come see me! We have remote data monitoring available from hundreds of sites!