Going for Solar: Removing Snow from Solar Panels

removing snow from solar panels

Snow piled on our solar panels

I love snow, but when snow is piled up on our solar panels it significantly reduces our electricity production!  Most manufacturers recommend letting nature take care of clearing the snow from your solar array, and since we are grid-tied (meaning we are still connected to the electricity grid) we won’t actually lose power if the panels are covered for a few days. However, we want to make as much clean, green and renewable electricity from our solar array as possible, so I figured out a way to safely remove the snow from our Solar PV Awning.  Watch the video or read below for steps and tips.

Precautions 
Always be careful and don’t do anything stupid where you might get hurt or damage your array.  The few extra tens of kWh you can generate in a day are not worth a trip to the hospital.  A couple things to keep in mind when clearing snow from your solar panels:

  • Consider where the snow is going to end up.  You don’t want it falling on you while you are up on a ladder, or falling on someone below.
  • Solar panels are very slippery when wet.  I was very lucky that I didn’t get hurt when I tried to get that extra two feet reach by straddling the window sill.  My foot slipped so fast that I’m glad I was able to grab the window frame and not go sliding down our awning.
  • Do NOT use anything sharp or hard on your solar panels.  You can scratch the glass or break the panels which will degrade or stop your solar production.

First Approach

back of house with solar awning covered in snow

Using Ladder to Clear Snow from Solar Panels
(be careful)

I first started using a standard push broom to gently uncover the lowest row of panels by standing on a step ladder.  I learned the hard way that once the snow starts sliding it may keep coming and that it is really cold and hard when a big chunk of snow breaks off and crashes into your head.  In my case I have better options than this (note picture with window above solar panels).

Better Approach

Using a pole to carefully remove snow from solar panels

Using Sno Brum Sno-Pro and telescoping
pole to clear snow from solar panels

Now I use a 16′ aluminum telescoping pole with a Sno Brum Sno-Pro attached to the end.  The Sno-Pro is designed for pushing snow off of RVs and solar panels.  It is made with soft foam edges that screw onto the end of a telescopic pole.  You can use it as a roof rake for your solar panels or to push the snow off like I do.

With our solar awning, as opposed to a roof mounted system, I can clear the snow off the awning through a second story window.  I start with the pole in its shortest position and clear what I can reach pushing it down and off the sides.  Then I extend the pole and repeat the process until I cannot expand the pole any more.  I got the 16′ pole at my local hardware store.  If I could do it again, I’d get a 20′ pole so that I could clear that last panel I just can’t reach.  As mentioned before, I tried straddling the window sill with almost disastrous consequences.  Clear what you can and let nature do the rest.

Nature’s Approach

Solar panels are dark in color to absorb the light.  That also makes them good at warming up once a little sun can shine through the snow.  Also, as electricity starts flowing through the panels the minimal resistance in the wires will heat up the surface causing additional snow to melt and slide off.  Even if you can only reach one row of panels, go ahead and carefully clear that off to help the solar array clear itself off.

Sometimes, especially if the snow is wet and then refreezes, you are just not going to be able to clear the panels off with the Sno-Pro.  The soft foam is not going to break through ice like a car windshield scraper.  If there is a coating of ice on your panels, let nature handle it.  Scratching or chipping your solar panels isn’t worth it.

If you have a solar array, especially if it is an awning like ours or a ground mount system, consider helping clear the snow off with the right tools and a little hard work.  Clearing the snow is especially important for off-grid installations because unless you have lots of batteries, missing those bright sunny days after a snow storm may leave you in the dark.

Happy Greening!
Jon

Check our post on Green Snow Removal for additional tips on environmentally friendly ways to remove snow from sidewalks, roofs and driveways.

solar pv awning on the back side of house

Going for Solar Series

To learn more about residential solar installations, check out our series Going for Solar, which details every step from dreaming about installing solar, through picking a contractor and the steps in construction. We provide information and advice for every step of the way, as well as different approaches such as paying for it yourself versus leasing a system. Don’t miss the steps on how much money we saved during our first year of usage!



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Comments

  1. I’ve always been told that solar panels like that can greatly reduce energy and carbon emissions in the long run. Solar tubes brisbane have also assured me but the cost is just a bit far off my budget at the moment. I wish there are other alternatives to fit my entry-level employee budget. Cheers.

  2. Thanks for the tip, I’m sure that this will help me come winter time.

  3. Solar.Gumby says:

    So many reasons NOT to do this…
    1) Dangerous to human – falling – is it worth it? Often when the snow releases from the modules it behaves like an avalanche – ever been buried alive?
    2) Liability – who told you it was OK to do this? As an installer, I would never suggest this to a customer, in fact I’d do my best to talk them out of it.
    3) it will come off naturally. Really, how much additional energy will you be generating by doing this? Say 4h of sun, 5kW of array, maybe 20 kWh per day at $0.13 per kWh? So $2.60 for every additional day? is the risk worth that?
    4) Danger to modules – the seal around the glass face of a module can easily be damaged by compacting ice and snow into it as you push/pull. Driving moisture into this perimeter gasket, then having it repeatedly freeze/thaw will not be good for the longevity of the modules.
    5) danger to human – it is possible that you can expose yourself to a live electrical situation. If there is a ground fault on the array, the aluminum framework of the module could be live. What is the pole you are using to clear the modules made of? Is it conductive? Think about 500-600 Volts DC on the array, and you standing in snow with an aluminum pole, waving it over this energized generator. Who stands to loose the most?

    Let it go people…

  4. come on solar gumby, it’s generally beautiful up on the roof, especially on a clear night, and i guarantee you will not damage the glass/silicone/frame seal by clearing snow (if you do, these are really crappy panels). And if installed right, there is no way you will cause any wire diconnnects, most have micro inverters anyway, and all is grounded. And for me, I would loose out on hundreds of dollars if i wasn’t clearing my off my panels through the winter, no point in not getting some exercise and continuing the solar generation even through the snowy months.

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