Ways to Clear Your Solar Panels of Snow
Winter taught me a valuable lesson, one that was like a big pat on the back. It taught me that I had invested wisely in ground-mounted solar panels rather than on my roof.
Snow builds up on the roof. Snow also accumulates on rooftop solar panels. And how is one to remove the snow? You need to climb up there. But that poses some interesting challenges.
How do you get up? It is risky to try to set a ladder on the uneven snow, and to do it do many time each winter. And ladder rungs can be slippery in winter.
Once up there, how does one reach all the panels? You can walk on a roof, but not on the solar panels.
Our ground mounted solar panels dont have the same problem. When a certain threshold of snow accumulates, they system rights itself literally. It turns upright, vertically, to allow the snow to just slide off.
That is the fairy tale version. Of course, the light, fluffy snow often does just slide off. But not all snow is light and fluffy. Some is thick and heavy and sticky and clings like liquid cement to the surface of the solar panels no matter how vertical they might be.
In fact, on more than one occasion this winter I have dealt with over an inch thick of snow. The thickest was about two inches covering a layer of ice. Even through two inches of snow, we were generating solar power. Yes, the suns rays cut through a fair amount of snow. But those rays are weak, and generate very little power. So the snow and the ice need to be removed.
While this is a bit of a pain, it is much better than the same snow clinging to rooftop solar panels. For one thing, the surface really is almost vertical, so snow will slide off much sooner. The trick is to help it start melting, by exposing the black, heat absorbing surface of the panels. Why does this matter? Simply because it is much better to lose a couple hours of power generation than a couple days. Think of the dollars it will cost to have your system down unnecessarily for a couple days. Or more.
For another thing, the panels come within a couple feet of the ground. Yes, I can clear off half the panels, armed with nothing more dangerous than a broom. And that kick-starts the melting process, because the cleared surface (even with a layer of transparent ice) is much darker than the snow and absorbs much faster the heat needed to melt the snow.
And for the impatient, one can always bring out an ice scraper, the kind you would use on your car windshield. But remember to be very gentle, as the glass covering the panels is not as thick as the glass you look through when you drive.
What about the upper half of the panels, out of the reach of the broom? Well, I am short, but I suppose I could bring a stool, if I could balance that in the snow. And I could buy myself a broom with a longer handle. And failing that, I could always try to grow taller.
About the Author
David Leonhardt is a solar panel owner who is eager to share what he has learned. Find out more about solar panels and snow. Before you invest in solar power generation, read David's"solar Ontario" blog for more tips and real-life experience.