Will climate change hurt the productivity of solar panels?

While solar energy is one of the most important tools available to transition away from the fossil fuels that are causing climate change, do warmer weather conditions ironically reduce the ability to generate solar power?

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer given the variable impact global warming will have in various regions and the following five factors that govern the productivity of solar panels:

  • Irradiance (the measure of the amount of sunlight falling on a surface)
  • Temperature
  • Shading
  • Soiling or how much dust, dirt, and other debris is covering the panels
  • Snow

In general, the more sunlight that falls on the solar panels, the more energy the solar panels will produce. Regions exposed to more sunlight throughout the year are obviously able to produce more energy. However, the efficiency of solar panels also decline the warmer the outside temperatures they are exposed to. To further complicate things other factors like soiling may have to be taken into account. For example, in southern California, very few rain clouds cover the solar panels and snow is not a problem, but dry, looser soil may be picked up by wind and settle on the panels very easily.