Solar Panel Snow Removal
By Cam Mather
I just did a questionnaire for a profile that will be published in Mother Earth News Magazine. One of the questions had to do with my “daily chores.” I filled out the questionnaire in the evening and managed to forget all about one of my most important morning chores around here during the winter – cleaning the snow off of my PV panels! Recently we had a big snow overnight so it was a priority first thing the next morning. While it’s true that a day of sun will usually melt most snow off of the panels, I am obsessive about energy, so as soon as the sun hits my panels I want them to be free of snow or anything else that might reduce their efficiency by even a single watt!
The first tracker that my neighbor Ken designed and built for me is easy to clean off. It’s nice and low to the ground and a regular wide broom works fine. As Ken refined his design he decided to make the second tracker much higher. Initially I told him that I didn’t like it so high, but after we’ve had a lot of snow and the piles get high enough to shade the first tracker, he reminds me why he built the second one higher. I can’t argue with logic.
The second tracker is higher and the panels are larger (175Watts vs. 75 on the lower tracker) so it’s much harder to reach. I used a long piece of scrap wood from my neighbor Don Garrett’s woodshop and screwed a firm bristled wide broom head on to it. It does a great job. I also fashioned some hangers on the back of the tracker so that I can keep track of the brooms.
Our Enerworks solar domestic hot water heater has glass on the flat plate collector. It’s on our back porch so I use my snow rake to clear it off, but rather than dragging the hard plastic down the glass I throw an old rug over it. The glass can handle hail so I’m not sure if this is necessary, but I figure why risk it?
The snow rake I use is one I bought years ago to clear off the roof. The snow on the south side of the house melts in the sun but on the north side the snow tends to melt just a little and then the water flows down into the eaves troughs and freezes before it has a chance to drain. It can be a bit of a mess. So I try to be proactive after a big storm and clear some snow off the north side. I also clear snow off the roof of the woodshed because it is not as steep as the house and snow tends to accumulate there. If I clear enough off after a big storm it makes a great pile to jump into!
I probably obsess a bit too much about clearing snow off of my panels. It seems like many of the big industrial installations (like the panels on the new truck garage at Stone Mills Township) are designed with a very gradual pitch so snow just sits on the panels for days. It breaks my heart. Wasted energy. That would never happen at my house.