Man on a solar snow mission


editors-blog-entry3It’s 7:30 a.m. on a biting cold January day.

Outside, the sun is beginning to break up low, puffy gray clouds, the remaining vestiges of a winter storm that’s just dumped six inches of powdery white snow on Colorado’s Front Range.

Inside, an admittedly sometimes obsessive man in his middle 40s is contemplating the question he’s pondered for each of the year’s four meaningful snowfalls so far: ‘Should I, or shouldn’t I?’

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No, he’s not fretting over whether he should, or should not, shovel the driveway: With a half a foot of snow on the ground and extremely cold temperatures forecast for the next three days – highs in the teens and 20s, lows to 0 or below, it’s clear that even a south-facing driveway in sunny Colorado needs to be cleared of snow, or no one will be getting a car into the garage for a couple of days.

Instead, he’s thinking: Is it worth it to clamber up on the roof and brush the snow off the 50 percent of his 5.59 kW home solar system that he can reach and clear in a reasonably safe manner?

Yes, it’s worth it
As the clouds evaporate and his surroundings are transformed into a gorgeous set of contrasts, with a wildly blue sky and a blindingly white sheet of clean, crisp snow playing the starring roles, the man reaches the answer he knew he would all along: Hell, yes, it’s worth it!

The drudge work of pushing snow away from concrete on the ground behind him, the human-snow-removal machine – dressed chicly in a blue-and-yellow, 1997 Colombia ski jacket, complete with two large pocket holes and a missing zipper grip that’s been replaced by a paper-clip secured with industrial strength gray duct tape, groans as he drags a 50-pound stretch ladder out of the garage.

He carefully sets the ladder against the roof, then retreats into the garage to prepare his custom solar-system snow-clearing machine: A plastic broom with nylon bristles that’s duct-taped, at the handle, to a mop swiffer. It’s a double-sided snow-whacking tool with extra length to help get to the upper areas of the hardest-to-reach solar panels on that solar array that’s just itching to produce some kWh.

Armed with what he hopes is a snow-sweeping tool soft enough not to scratch the glass of his system’s panels, but sturdy enough to push away snow that’s six inches deep, and, in some places about 15 feet away, he carefully, and deliberately makes his way up the ladder.

snow-removal-vertPushing snow off the roof
Next, clear a small, safe, path to the front edge of the lower 13-panel array. Then, a horizontal path spanning the front, south edge of the array. And then, finally, start attacking the snow on the panels themselves.

The custom solar-panel-snow-removal machine works seamlessly. Still, it’s harder to work than the last time this somewhat solar-obsessed man was up on his Aurora roof trotting around in snow. Not surprising: This time the white stuff is twice as deep as the last time.

Halfway through the 20-minute job, the neighbor’s yip-dog gets his morning pee-time outside and begins to yap at the strange-looking creature (could it be the goofy looking ear-warmer?) on a snowy roof in the middle of January sending white, powdery stuff thudding to the ground below.

By now, the man has broken into a decent sweat, despite an outdoor temperature of about 8 degrees Fahrenheit.

He takes a break to catch his breath. A neighbor drives slowly by, staring incredulously at the strange site of a man on a snow-covered roof.

A solar snow shovel
About 20 minutes after he begins his solar snow job, the man finishes. But he’s not quite done with his up-and-down the ladder in the winter routine. This time, he wants a picture of himself up on that snowy roof, on this beautiful, bright blue day.

He backs carefully down the ladder, opens the door leading from the garage into the house and shouts, “Christine, can you please get the camera and take a picture of me on the roof?”

The wife groans, but doesn’t protest further.

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Snap, snap, snap – and she’s done. Mission accomplished: Goofy pictures of a goofy (crazy?) man on snow-covered roof clearing his solar system.

After one more trip down the ladder with his solar-“shovel”, the man’s done too, at about 9:15 a.m. on what is now a completely clear, sunny Jan. 10, 2011 Colorado day.

Free of snow, solar array produces
Oddly, the solar system doesn’t kick in when it should, despite one of two arrays now being clear of snow. It takes two hours before it functions properly. But when it does – and it does – it does what it’s supposed to do: It produces electricity.

By the end of the day, the system’s produced 4.5 kWh of electricity it would not have produced without the man’s hard work.

Cold weather rolls into the next day, and, this time, 10 kWh are produced. A third sunny, but cold, day is coming too, meaning, quite possibly, another 10 kWh which would have been lost beneath a layer of snow.

Still, the man isn’t satisfied. He’s thinking about the 2nd array that makes up his 5.59 kW and calculating how much electricity production he would gain – if only he could figure out a safe way to clear snow off it as well…



Sweeping the snow off solar – An ongoing tally of kWh gained

Snowfall date(s)

Snowfall Amount

Date and time of snow sweeping (lower of 2 arrays of 5.59 kW system only)

Estimated kWh gained from sweeping (gain may have been across multiple dates)

Dec. 30-31, 2010

2 ½ inches

Jan. 1, 2011
12:30 p.m.

7.3 kWh

Jan. 9-10, 2011

6 inches

Jan. 10, 2011, 8:30 a.m.

33 kWh

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