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With the Sun Entering Its Solar Minimum, Will This Affect Solar Panels?


If solar minimum sounds ominous to you, there’s actually really no need to worry. The sun is a constant presence in our skies and is guaranteed not to go anywhere in the far distant future!

So then why are prognosticators banging on about whether the fast approaching solar minimum might have an effect on solar roof panels. Well, it actually depends on what news sources you’ve been listening to.

sunset over the sea


Solar Minimum vs. Solar Maximum

If you look through a telescope at the sun during certain phases of the sun cycle (please only do this with specialist equipment – never stare into the sun directly!) you can see it’s covered in small, blackish shadows. These are called sunspots.

Sunspots comprise of positively or negatively charged, highly magnetised surface areas. They can explode and flare out for hundreds of thousands of kilometres as something called a solar flare. The appearance of solar maximum activity occurs around every 11 years or so. However, we’re heading for the opposite in June 2020, this year: solar minimum.

What is a Solar Minimum Occurrence?

After about 11 years of sunspots and sun flares, a lull happens. This year’s lull is called Cycle 24. It is expected to usher in even less sun activity than the previous Cycle which happened between 2000 and 2001 CE.

The number of sunspots on the sun’s surface dissipate and almost disappear during a solar minimum. The good news is that this reduction in activity will have little impact on the amount of solar irradiation produced by the sun.

How Much Less Sun Are We Talking About?

The answer is: not much. The amount of solar energy reduction during a solar minimum period ranges from 0.25% to 0.08%. This very slight lessening of the sun’s output won’t be enough to render the solar panels on your rooftop obsolete. After all, solar panels have been developed to capture the maximum amount of solar energy over many years – this includes the times during minimum and maximum solar activity.

sunspot – black little spots on the sun

Image credit: NASA Space Place

What a Relief! Can I Relax Now?

Hold on a minute. While we have your attention, we might as well talk a bit more about sun flares. These happen during solar maximum phases, and well – they can be very bad news. A solar flare happens in closest proximity to a group of sunspots. If a very powerful solar flare is accompanied by what’s known as a coronal mass ejection or star burst (our sun being a star, of course), the amount of energy that is released could be massively damaging.

A solar storm containing solar flares, star bursts, and huge levels of electromagnetic radiation, happened in July 2012. It barely missed Earth. Although the upside of this was that the auroras in the extreme Northern and Southern hemispheres were absolutely spectacular, the amount of radio waves emitted by the phenomenon caused a lot of communications interference.

If one of these solar storms were ever to hit Earth directly, the electromagnetic radiation could interrupt satellite orbits and take out the International Space Station.

When you know all that, it makes it far easier to appreciate the peace and quiet a solar minimum period brings!

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