Mr. Longarm not perfect for solar snow problem

After a rough week for solar production for our 5.59 kW solar system (7 kWh produced), made more frustrating by the fact that we had small snow amount totals and considerable sun in between our snowfalls here in Aurora, Colo., I went out and bought a 23-foot Mr. Longarm extender pole.

As I suspected, even with the Mr. Longarm, there is no way for me to push snow off our 13-panel lower array, which is on our garage, without me at least getting up onto a ladder. That’s because of the unique and, at least in winter, frustrating solar set-up we have.

We’ve got a shallow-pitched roof at 19 degrees (this our biggest problem, because our panels don’t really shed snow). Plus, there’s about eight feet between the bottom of our garage-roof-array (our garage is attached to our house) and the beginning of the array.

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The result: I lose essentially all of the Mr. Longarm length because I have to stand back from the roof in order to reach it, plus there’s the eight feet from the bottom edge of our garage roof to the array itself.

And there’s no way that Mr. Longarm is going to give me the reach to get to our upper array from the ground, or from a ladder.

So, here are my options:

  1. Keep the $50 Mr. Longarm and push snow while standing on a ladder: Question is, is this any less risky than getting up on the roof itself?
  2. Return the Mr. Longarm, and continue to climb onto the garage roof (but not when the roof is icy);
  3. Take a deep breath, and let it all go – meaning what I’m guessing will be something between 150 kWh and 300 kWh of production per winter. (As I’ve noted before, that’s not a ton of electricity, although, if you think of 300 kWh as replacing gasoline for a car, at 4 miles per kWh, 25 miles per gallon, and $3 per gallon, that’s $144 worth of gasoline – plus, if you multiple 300 kWh lost times , say, 4,000 other Colorado households also losing 300 kWh to snow per year, that’s 1.2 million kWh!)

mr-longarm-roofLet-it-snow and let-it-go?
My wife – and others – are telling me that we can’t control nature and to take the deep breath, let-it-go route. In other words, the problem is that I can’t accept the inevitable: nature running its course.

I don’t accept this logic, at least not in this case. The problem isn’t me and my refusal to cave in to nature. The problem – with all due respect to Mr. Longarm — is that no one’s developed a good, safe way to keep solar panels free of snow.

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In my view, this reflects: a) the comparatively small number of homeowners with solar panels in snowy climates; b) a larger, wasteful societal attitude which holds that a few hundred kWh per solar household lost to snow don’t really matter. This, even if the collective kWh loss pushes into the millions, even tens of millions . After all, we can just rely on King Fossil Fuel to make up the difference, right? (Imagine how different we’d view letting snow sit for days and days on solar panels if we actually “needed” them to sustain our modern lifestyles).

So, to return to Mr. Longarm: At this point, I’m leaning toward keeping Longarm and doing the work from a ladder (it’s a heavy duty construction ladder that’s plenty long enough to lean at a safe, no-rocking angle onto the garage roof). But again, I have to wonder if this is really much safer than getting onto the roof itself?

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

Jan 19, 2011

1 inch

Jan. 20, 8:15 a.m.

6 kWh

Jan. 31, 2011

2 inches

Feb. 1, 9 a.m. (roof too icy; failed to sweep much snow off)

0 kWh (failed snow clearing attempt due to icy roof conditions)

Feb. 5-6, 2011

5 inches

Feb. 6, 9 a.m. (from ladder with 23′ Mr. Longarm pole)

13 kWh

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