February a home solar loser so far

snowstorm-house-fronteditors-blog-entry3The beginning of February’s been a dud — as in a solar production dud — for us and our 5.59 kW solar system in Aurora, Colo. In six days, we’ve managed to produce 6 kWh of electricity.

That’s a whopping 1 kWh per day.

I wouldn’t be so frustrated if we were living on the East Coast, where they’ve been getting hit by one giant snow storm after another pretty much the whole winter. We’ve been getting piddly one- to four-inch snowfalls, though there was one which actually hit six inches about 10 days ago.

This week – our worst for solar production by far since we went online with our system on June 28, 2010 – started with a two-inch snowfall on Mon., Jan. 31 that went into Tues., Feb. 1.

sunny-post-snow-houseI’d been going up onto our garage roof and sweeping snow off the lower of the two 13-panel arrays that make up our 5.59 kW system – but ice underneath this weensy snowfall stopped me in my tracks, and sent me scrambling back down the ladder.

As a result, both our upper solar array – which is impossible to reach – even, as I discovered today, with a 23-foot Mr. Longarm extender pole – and our lower array stayed snow-covered for the better part of three days.

Lost solar production
Tues., Feb. 1 was about 70 percent sunny, and we lost about 15 kwh of production due to snow-covered panels. Wed., Feb. 2 was a 100-percent blue sky day, but the high temperature never got above zero degrees Fahrenheit, no snow melted, and we lost 24 kWh of production.

It snowed again on Thurs., Feb. 3 – about three inches. It actually warmed to the mid-40s on Friday, and much of this snow miraculously melted off our panels.

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That paved the way for 3 kWh of production this morning (Sat., Feb. 5) before we got another 4 inches of snow which started falling this afternoon.

Thanks to the new snow, tomorrow – Super Bowl Sunday — is not looking good for solar production. Worse, several nuisance-type snowfalls are forecast for Colorado’s Front Range next week.

System production predictions vs. reality
Basically, things aren’t looking good for February living up to the 520 kWh of production our solar company, REC Solar, predicted for our 5.59 kW system. Using REC Solar’s monthly production predictions as a benchmark, it’s been a bummer of a winter so far. In December, we produced 450 kWh, — REC Solar predicted we’d put out 463 kWh.

In January, REC Solar said we’d get 520 kWh – we produced 450 kWh. With just 6 kWh of production in the first week of February, I’m guessing we’re not going to come anywhere near 520 kWh for the month, though it’s theoretically possible – we’d need to average 24 kWh every day from now until the end of the month to make it. (To be fair, our system far exceeded REC Solar’s monthly predictions for July, August, September, October and November, in some cases by more the 100 kWh per month.)

Yes, of course, I expect it’s going to snow in the Denver area in the winter, potentially a lot. That’s part of the beauty of living in a distinct four-season climate such as Colorado’s. What I didn’t quite expect – and I fully admit to being a total home solar beginner – was just how much snow would cut into our solar production and how difficult it would be to come up with a safe way to remove snow from our system in the winter.


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