Snow wastes millions of solar kWh every year


editors-blog-entry3Snow season is upon us again on Colorado’s Front Range – we had about eight inches of wet, heavy snow fall here last night and today (Oct. 25-26, 2011).

That means a substantial dent in home solar production. At least it does for our 5.59 kW, 26-panel, two-string, central inverter REC Solar installed system.

I kept track of lost production due to snow last winter and came up with the approximate number of 235 kWh lost. That’s a month’s worth of electricity use for us in months like May and September.

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Snowy roof a no-go
I also learned quite a bit last year about what to do, or really, not to do, in terms of clearing one’s solar panels of snow. For instance, I learned that climbing up on a snowy roof, even one that’s not that high and which has a shallow pitch, isn’t a good idea.

I also learned that even with a 23-foot Mr. Longarm, I still need to stand on a ladder in order to push snow off of our lower 13-panel string — I cannot reach it from the driveway. And I learned – barring the creation of a 64-foot Mr. Longarm — there’s no way I’ll ever be able to get snow off our upper 13-panel string.

I also learned that solar installation companies need to do more in the way of designing systems with snow in mind, and that, if I had to do it over again, I would go with a microinverter system rather than a central inverter system due to our biggest, and only, shading issue – snow cover!

Is snow removal worth it?
I’m still learning as we enter winter No. 2 with our 5.59 kW system.

I came pretty damn close to just saying to hell with it today after I spent 30 minutes trying to shove heavy snow off our lower 13-panel string with a Mr. Longarm while standing on our 12-foot ladder and achieving only moderate success (see the picture at the top).

I know there are plenty of folks who have already said to hell with it in terms of clearing snow off their solar system, and there are almost certainly far more who haven’t ever even bothered to try.

snow-mrlongarm-oct-2011-bOf course, I’m a stubborn guy – and, as ridiculous as it might seem, I’ll probably be out there again with my Mr. Longarm the next time it snows. In fact, it’s not just about stubbornness, but about anger.

It steams me that we Americans live in a country in which a large percentage of electricity production still comes from dirty, filthy, toxic coal and that the price of that coal-fired electricity is so ridiculously — and artificially — low. All of this because the actual price of coal-produced electricity fails to take into account the billions in environmental and health costs coal incurs.

Solar is just an ‘extra’ in U.S.
It angers me as well that we live in a country that can afford to be wasteful and simply write off 200, 300, 400 kWh per snow-covered residential solar rooftop – or more – because, in the end, solar, at least grid-tied solar, is just an ‘extra’, something that’s nice to have, but not necessary.

I guarantee you we’d long ago have paid attention to snow on solar panels and found an efficient way to rid rooftop panels of snow if we actually relied on solar to power our homes and didn’t have dirty coal as a constant backup.

But, of course, we don’t rely on rooftop solar, and therefore haven’t paid attention at all to the issue of snow reducing solar electricity production.

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This even though, when you start to do the math — say 250 kWh x 4,000 (or more) residential rooftops in Colorado = 1,000,000 kWh lost to snow — you start to see that snow blocking residential rooftop solar systems, often for days and days in sunny, cold conditions, is not just a “drop in the bucket”, but that snow on residential systems creates a meaningful drag on American solar electricity production.

The Mr. Longarm solar ‘suckers’
So here we are, then, left with a few sad suckers such as me madly trying to shove a little bit snow off their home rooftop systems with Mr. Longarms, or using some other labor intensive, relatively ineffective approach while the lost kWh collectively pile up rather like the snow that blocks solar panels’ ability to produce electricity.

With all due respect to Mr. Longarm, which was kind enough to send me a bunch of attachments that appear will be great to clean my system but which it appears won’t improve my moderately effective current Mr. Longarm snow-removal set-up, it just seems so pathetic. Especially when I’m absolutely certain that there’s got to be a far better solution out there – if only we had the will, and motivation, to find it.


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