Millions of Americans living on the East Coast are bracing for the furious winter mix that may occur if Hurricane Sandy collides with early snow storm cells. As the cold and precipitation approaches, many are concerned about travel conditions, and how they’ll keep their homes warm without a giant energy bill.

But what about houses that have already gone solar? I’ve never really thought about it before, but what happens when they’re buried by a winter snow storm? According to research out of Michigan Technological University, winter snow poses little to no risk for home solar panel systems. In fact, a covering of snow might even boost photovoltaic production.

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Together with researchers from St. Lawrence College and Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario, and a team of 20 industry partners, MTU’s Joshua Pierce created a computer model to predict how much power generation would decline in various amounts of snow cover and on different types of solar modules mounted at different angles, from flat to steeply pitched. Results shows that even during the dark and stormy winter, power loss was minimal across the board.

“Sometimes snow actually helps solar cells,” said Pearce. Wondering how that can be possible? Well, Pearce is referring to the albedo effect, when sunlight reflects off snow. When piled up around a solar array (not directly on top of, that snow needs to be brushed off) snow can make a panel generate more electricity in the same way that it gives skiers sunburn on sunny winter days.

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