Solar panels shine despite winter's blast, NAIT study finds

Solar Array at NAIT

Published on July 12, 2018

EDMONTON – Results from a study led by NAIT’s Alternative Energy Technology program include good news for Canadians looking to install solar panels.

Until now, the industry estimated photovoltaic solar panels lose about 20 per cent of their energy because of snow buildup in winter. The five-year NAIT study found the energy loss to be much less – only about three per cent.

The study, done in cooperation with the city of Edmonton, Solar Energy Society of Alberta and Howell-Mayhew Engineering, looked at 12 solar modules installed atop the Shaw Theatre on NAIT’s main campus. It measured the impact of snow on the system as well as how the tilt of each module affected energy production.

Researchers found the angle of the solar panels has a far greater impact on energy production than snowfall. The ideal angle for maximum energy production with snow accumulation was 45 degrees.

Data was collected from the solar modules every five minutes every day for five years – enough to fill 6,000 spreadsheets. Two Alternative Energy students analyzed the data as part of their final course project.

Tim Matthews, NAIT Alternative Energy technologist and one of the study’s leads

“Having this information raises the level of precision when it comes to engineering, design and production modelling. A company that’s doing solar installation and design can go to a client and say, ‘This is precise. You can take this to the bank.’”

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Find out more about NAIT’s Alternative Energy Technology program