Can Solar Panels Generate Electricity From Moonlight?

Last Updated on July 11th, 2023

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Moonlight comes from the reflection of the sun’s light off of the moon. Based on that knowledge, it makes sense that the reflection will have similar light wavelengths to the sun and be able to power solar panels. 

During most nights, it might be too dark. However, one might think on clear nights with a full moon present, you could get energy from the sun to power your solar panels. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite that way. While it is a good idea in theory, there are several reasons that solar panels don’t get power at night, even during the full moon. Continue reading below to find out why. 

Is it Possible?

If solar panels were incredibly efficient, it might be possible. However, at best, most residential solar panels are only around 20 percent efficient. This means that for every bit of sunlight that goes into the solar panel, only 20 percent of it gets used. 

The rest is wasted or lost as heat. And that is just what the solar panel loses. You also get a loss of power from wiring, the inverter, transfers, and so on.

While this is fine when there is a lot of sun during the day and several hours of it, at night, it isn’t quite the same. This is because the sunlight’s strength based on the moon’s reflection is already so low that almost nothing can get converted into power. 

While theoretically, a solar panel could get power from the moon, it is so little that it needs more energy to do the conversions and move the power from the solar panels to the rest of the system that it isn’t worth it. 

At low enough levels of power, solar panels are set to just turn off and no longer try so that they don’t drain too much energy. 


How Does it Work?

The moon provides about 2.3 million times less energy from light than the sun does. So where the sun provides around 1,368 watts per square meter, the moon, even when brightly lit, does a million times less than that. 

There are benefits to getting solar panels at night. One big advantage is the heat. Solar panels need direct sunlight but grow less efficiently under heat. So being able to generate power under cooler night temperatures would be better. 

But for that to happen, much more efficient and stronger solar panels are needed, which is still quite a ways out. 


What is the Minimum of Sunlight the Panels Need?

Most solar panels need about 1000 watts per square meter of sunlight for maximum output and to produce their peak amount of power. This is only possible when there is direct sunlight and ideal temperature conditions. 

Additionally, having the right angle on your solar panels ensures that they absorb the maximum amount of solar energy they can at once. 

Solar panels are also designed to get at least four hours of sunlight a day. If you get less sun than this on average, your panels might not be worth it as they aren’t able to produce as much as they are expected to. 


Can Solar Panels Charge on a Cloudy Day?

Solar panels can charge on a cloudy day. However, the power you get will not be nearly what you get on sunny days. It is hard to say how much power you will get on cloudy days as it depends heavily on how much cloud cover there is and how efficient your panels are. 

You may not get any power if it is very dark and cloudy, such as right before a big storm. This is also true of very misty days. However, if it is a light cloud covering, you may get almost the same amount of power you get during a sunny day. 


How Strong is the Electricity from Moonlight?

While the moon does provide some level of solar energy, it is just not enough to be practical. Generally, lunar energy is only 0.0034 watts per square meter. 

To put it into more understandable numbers, if your solar panel can produce 300 watts of energy when the sunlight hits it, it will generate one watt at best during the best full moon. 

There is likely some loss of power from it being only the reflection of sunlight as well. In addition, since the moon doesn’t produce its light and heat, there will be a loss of energy from the transfer to the moon from the sun and to Earth from the moon. 


Final Thoughts on Can Solar Panels Generate Electricity From Moonlight

While it is a great theory that solar panels could run off of moonlight, and it would solve several of the problems currently affecting solar panels, the fact is that it just isn’t practical at this moment. 

Solar panels just aren’t efficient or capable enough to take the minor amounts of solar energy that comes from the moon at night and turn it into enough power to be useful. 

Even at maximum efficiency, if we can push past the 25 percent or so that is the norm for solar panels, solar panels would likely only be able to generate energy from moonlight when it is a full moon or very close to a full moon. 

Additionally, places higher in elevation will likely have a better chance to generate power than those close to sea level. 


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