editors-blog-entry3Snow cover can shut down your solar system for days and days, even in blue-sky, sunny conditions, as our own experience in Aurora, Colo. has repeatedly shown us.

We haven’t come up with the ideal solution yet – and clearly neither has the solar industry – but below are some different approaches to dealing with snow-covered solar panels.

1. Wait until it melts. This is a good solution for people with rooftop solar systems at a relatively steep pitch – at least 35 degrees or more. Chances are, especially in a place with weather patterns such as Colorado’s Front Range where snowstorms are typically followed by multiple pure blue-sky days, it’ll slide off quickly. But, again, it will only do so if your roof pitch is steep enough – which ours, at 19 degrees, clearly is not.

2. Sweeping solar panels free of snow. This can be tricky, dangerous, or even impossible for many rooftop systems. But it’s worth a try in the case of many other systems. In our case, I can reach the lower 13-panel string of our 26-panel, 5.59 kW system with a 23-foot Mr. Longarm – but only if I climb up on a ladder to do so. Another product that gets mentioned quite a bit in online chatter about snow on panels is the roof rake from RoofRake.Com.

3. Build a system on racks that put the panels at at least a 35-degree angle. The greater the tilt angle, the more quickly the snow will slide off the panels. By the same token, if the angle is too shallow, it may rarely, if ever, slide off. Of course, putting your rooftop system on tilts makes it uglier — at least I think it does — and this might be nixed by an HOA. On the other hand, a rooftop system on a tilted rack will not only shed snow more easily in the winter, it’ll be more efficient in the non-snow months. My sister actually suggested a hydraulic rack system that could be tilted to shed snow and then moved down again. I’m not sure if such a home solar racking system exists, but it is an intriguing idea.

snow-mrlongarm-oct-2011-b4. Apply warm air to the system to speed up snow melting. This seems like a decent idea – if you can figure out a way to do it efficiently, safely, and, if you live in an HOA like we do, in an aesthetically acceptable way. Some suggestions I’ve seen online, include creating a system of long plastic air hoses/PVC pipes that you then connect to a leaf blower. This system either blows snow off the top of the panels or blows warm air under the panels to speed up melting.

5. The Nerf ball approach. This essentially involves throwing a soft, spongy ball on the system to get some snow off and speed up the melting process. Though it might work for some, I’m skeptical it will help much in our case, especially with big storms that dump 10, 12, or 14 or more inches of snow. Of course, I haven’t tried it, so it could be more effective than I think.

6. Ice melt sock. I’ve seen this suggested in multiple places online, but I’m skeptical about its effectiveness. I’d also be concerned about possible corrosive damage to the system. You’re supposed to put a calcium chloride compound in a sock-like device and put several of these at the top of your system (not on top of it, at the top). Then, supposedly, the calcium chloride will quickly melt through the snow and ice and create a channel for water to flow down, creating the conditions for quicker snow slide off and melting.

7. Heat tape. Quite a few suggestions out there involve affixing heat tape to various parts of your solar panels, although I can’t find much in the way of talk about how effective this. To me, it seems like a fire hazard, though perhaps I am being too anxious.

8. Spraying snow off with a garden hose. Given the typical winter climatic conditions on Colorado’s Front Range, which often see a big snowstorm followed by a stretch of sunny days with highs in the low to mid 40s, for us, I am beginning to think this may be the best/easiest solution. That’s why I put the hose in the garage after our last snowstorm, where it won’t freeze up. I’ll be out there with our hose after our next snowstorm. However, I wouldn’t recommend spraying your system with water in freezing temperatures — which why this is clearly not a solution for everyone.

micro-inverter9. Microinverters. Microinverters, which allow individual panels to produce at their highest possible output regardless of what other panels around them are doing, are a partial solution to snow on solar panel situations, at least situations of our type in which we see a large percentage of our 26-panels become snow free, only to watch them produce nothing at all thanks to other panels on the same “string” that remain fully, or partially snow-covered.

10. A pulley-operated tarp system. One of our readers suggesting building a system of pulleys with a large tarp attached. Pull the tarp over the panels before a storm, then pull the tarp down, ideally with the snow on top of it, after the storm, and, voila, you’ve got snow free panels. A good idea! However, in our case possible aesthetic and logistical/safety issues in setting up the system are an impediment.

11. Volotek’s self-cleaning solar panels. According to Volotek – which describes itself as “a leader in the design and manufacture of high precision instruments and renewable technologies” – their solar cleaning technology “creates an electrostatic field that repels the dust or the sand and carries it outside the surface. It also determines if the surface is covered with snow, then it starts a heating element to melt down the snow.” This sounds intriguing, although it’s unclear exactly how it works, how much energy it takes, and if you can even buy Volotek products at all.

12. The mystery ‘snow melt for PV panels solution’. I came across this solution via a Google search. It appears to involve a soft material that has heat nodes in it being attached to the back of solar panels. However, as with Volotek’s self-cleaning panels, there’s no information on how to purchase this product or how much it might cost. I also have safety worries about it.

So, there you have it: An even dozen possible solutions to the problem of snow on solar panels, none of them perfect.

For us, it appears hosing panels off with water using a garden hose might often be the best approach, although I have to say, I haven’t tried it to see how it’ll work with 10, 12, or 14 inches of snow. I’ve only tried with about two inches of snow on the panels – and it seemed to show some promise.

Check back to see if it works with deeper snow after our next snowstorm here on Colorado’s Front Range 😉

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43 Responses

  1. Russ Halfwit...

    Salt LakeCity, Ut. I tried getting on the roof yesterday to break the ice damns at the bottom of my solar panels which are stacked two rows of 10 panels each. NOT a good idea! My roof is about a 6/12 pitch. The snow had melted below the panels, but the damns (at the bottom edges of the panels) were iced up and keeping the 4 to 6″ of snow from sliding off the panels. It warmed up from the single digits to a balmy 21 degrees F. The sun was out and I wanted to generate some power.

    I got on the roof, and carefully began to break the snow/ice damns from the end panels with a long (7′) squeegie while standing a safe distance from the panels I was working on. As I broke the last bit of ice from the bottom of the panel, the snow slid off both the panels (one above the other) just like I hoped. No problem!

    I backed up about 4′ and began working on the second two panels. As I finished breaking through the ice at the bottom of those two panels, the snow slid off just like the first two. No problems…Except, as the panels cleared, the three sets of panels directly above me started to slide, taking my feet out from under me and sliding me down the second story roof. Luckily for me, I managed to through my leg over a small gable at the bottom of the roof that was dry and stopped myself right as my feet started over the edge. After I quit shaking, I found the only damage to me was a dislocated finger and some skin missing from my hands from trying to grab the shingles.

    Lession to be learned! Don’t underestimate the power/weight of 4′ of frozen snow! Even with a dry roof, it pushed me almost 10′ down the roof, and would have taken me off if I hadn’t had a gable peak to help me get stopped.

    With half my panels cleared, I gingerly worked myself off the now snow covered roof and down the ladder, while my wife watched with the cell phone ready to dial 911. Needless to say she wasn’t very impressed with my thought process, even though I was excited that my system would at least be gererating about half of it’s capacity for the rest of the day.

    Be careful out there!

    • Big D

      Don’t know why you’re complaining …. your wife was about to dial 911 … you should be complaining if she were about to dial the insurance complany!! 😉

  2. Russ Halfwit...

    By the way, I like your website and the ideas you have presented about getting snow off the panels. After my experience yesterday, I’m thinking that some heat tape on the shingles just below the lower panels might save me from myself. My roof is steep enough that when the temps get around 32 degrees, the snow tends to slide fairly quickly except when the snow damns have formed and refrozen.

    • Christof Demont-Heinrich

      Thank you for your comments! It can be surprisingly slippery on a roof in winter. Which is why — after learning this by first-hand experience — I will never climb up on a snow-covered roof again. Several years after I’ve written all these entries about snow on solar panels, I don’t see that much progress has been made in terms of efforts to come up with a workable solution that could be/would be marketed to people with solar panels in snowy climates. Sadly, in those years as well, I’ve gone through a divorce and had to sell our house and, at least for the time being, am living in a duplex I rent that has no solar panels. However, I do pay extra to Xcel Energy to ensure that all of my electricity is Wind (at least indirectly), and that my Nissan LEAF is still, again, indirectly, powered by renewable energy. Be careful out/up there 😉

      • Joel

        So i just bought some black racket/tennis balls on amazon that i intend to attach to string so they dont get stuck in gutter but the idea is that i throw one on a panel it melts through on a sunny day and once there is a spot to each panel the rest takes care of itself…. After purchasing I came accross this blog and made me think of my wife and how she microwaves a sock full of rice for a minute or more when she needs a hot compress for those times of month. Its cheap and holds heat pretty well. I may worry about it being too hot? I will experiment today. We just energized 4 days ago and all panels are currently covered after last nights storm here in CT.

  3. edward

    how about using hot water for melting the snow? I have not tried it yet… but it seems logical.

    • Christof Demont-Heinrich

      I’m sure that would work — if you can figure out a way to easily spray warm water up onto the panels. Most people have only cold water coming out of the external faucet’s on their home.

  4. Keith Elder

    I haven’t tried this yet, and it may apply more to ground mount systems, which is what I have. Tie a nylon rope to the top center of the panels. Attach a weight to the bottom so it always hangs between two columns of panels. When it snows drag the rope in an arc in either direction, clearing a large portion of the panels. This might require a significant length of rope (and run room), even for a ground mount system.

    • Joe Mogen

      Has this worked? I just thought of it myself, trying to figure out how to attach it above the panels. Just have had 3 sunny days with panels covered with snow!

  5. Netmammal

    I have thermal solar, but similar issue (probably worse, ’cause the tubes do not heat up and transfer the heat)

    Nervous about damage, I have used a foam snow broom head meant for cars, attached to extension pole meant for window washing. They use same threading.

    The pole is heavier than regular roof rake though.

  6. Wexpat Guero

    Use a find sand or shot blaster. Once you get down to the panel level, any residual blast will increase the sun interaction with the panels.

    • Richard Settembre

      I do not have solar but I have sold product to solar users. My comment below may not count.
      Time and equipment are money spent and understandably Snow cover on panels is money lost. Run the numbers to see if the problem is worth ($) solving. What percentage of the total annual hours of available useable sunlight are the panels not producing with the average annual snow fall in your area?
      No system is 100% perfect.
      To greatly reduce the time factor,
      I will provide a deep discount for someone who wants to take part in testing our Roof Blaster to safety remove snow from the panels.

      • Robert Simmler

        This is our first year with solar,46 of them! Would be interested in snow removal.

      • Christof Demont-Heinrich

        Hi Robert,
        Congratulations on your solar system 🙂 I no longer am in the house I had with the solar system, so, unfortunately, I have not been keeping up with solar panel snow removal techniques and technologies. However, I am going to assume more and more will be invested in snow removal from solar panels as more and more solar panels continue to go up around the world and provide a bigger and bigger share of electricity.

      • Carole

        Hello Richard! Just to congratulate you on your initiative and I sincerely hope it pays off! I’d gladly volunteer our roof and it’s 19 mostly hard to reach panels but we’re in Switzerland so logistically impractical – – or not? I’m sure there’s a few here that would benefit from a roof blaster.
        Good luck and success!

      • Christof Demont-Heinrich

        Thank you for your reply. Snow on solar panels has been one of the most widely read topics that I have published on here at SolarChargedDriving.Com. I never did come up with a great solution to our snow on solar panels problem at 4000 S. Atchison Way, Aurora, Colo. In fact, ended up moving out of that house and selling it due to divorce. I hope there are some better solutions to snow on solar panels than 3-5 years ago 🙂

  7. Joe Mamma

    The easiest way is to put a roof hatch on the roof, near the array, and access it through your attic. Use a broom or a roof rake to shove the snow down from the top.

    • Susanne Couture

      We go up on the roof with shovels and wide brooms, attach ourselves to rock-climbing harnesses that can lock into anchors at various spots on the roof. Works well and we keep safe but still lots of work. Would like something easier like some kind of system to melt the snow. Do not want to be shoveling the roof when hubby and I are 70! 🙂

      • Rich Settembre

        I have these Roof Blasters in 24″, 36″, and 48″ wide. Soft rubber , backward angled Neoprene blades (no scratch/no catch/climb over hard snow without digging in and hurting anything/climb back up on snow on the “pull back” )
        Fiberglass handle is electrically non conductive and 72″ long

      • Rich Settembre

        Hi, I just posted on this site about my Blaster products which I personally build in Liverpool NY. I have sold to a couple of people who use them for their PV panels snow removal.

  8. Beau Bennett

    I gave mine a nice coating of RainX and the snow slides off easily now by itself. But the pile of snow at the base that results is preventing a full slide after a few months. RainX is great on aircraft windshields, motorcycle visors, car windshields, etc because its super slippery and causes smooth water runoff. On my car at freeway speed, I do not need my windshield wipers at all.

    Try it on your CLEAN solar panels and you’ll see results. Easier to clean bird droppings too.

    • Christof Demont-Heinrich

      Sounds like a good idea! Thanks for sharing that.

  9. Richard Settembre

    Perhaps someone could post a comment on the ideal return on investment mathematics for different types of commercial and residential snow mitigation systems. Are there commercial systems that could be downsized and adapted to residential use?
    That would be interesting to see.

    • Christof Demont-Heinrich

      Good questions. I do think snow on solar panels is an understudied, underdeveloped area, technologically speaking — and there is a lot of opportunity for someone to make money with a good, cost-effective solution. Especially as the world moves toward more and more and more solar, which is exactly what is happening.

  10. George Carvill

    I have been using a roof rake similar to your “Mr. Longarm” for a few years now. I looked at your video and wondered what is attached to the end of the pole. I have a fiberglass/plastic scraper on mine, with a towel wrapped around it an taped. I don’t want to scratch my panels.

    • Christof Demont-Heinrich

      Hi George,
      Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, I am currently without home solar. Had to sell the home with solar 2 years ago due to divorce. I cannot remember now what I had attached to the Mr. Longarm. Best of luck with your get snow off solar panels approach, whatever it is 🙂

  11. glenn

    how about just putting your solar panels on a platform that allows it to be inverted to make the snow drop off. sort of like a pivoting system.

    • Christof Demont-Heinrich

      Good idea. Someone should design solar panel rails that can tilt up and go back down to be flush with a roof with just the push of a button.

  12. William H Clarke

    I live in Missoula, MT, and installed my panels on a pole, partly because of snow problem, partly so I could adjust panels for sun angle in the sky throughout the year. I do NOT think that placing roof-mounted panels at 35º is a solution, as in winter my panels are at 52º and snow will still often not slide off. So I use a 8′-to-16′ expandable pole (from Ace Hardware) with a squeegee on the end to remove snow. Also, the entire panel has to have snow removed, or remaining snow will affect how much generation you can do. This means that if your panels are covered by snow along the bottom third, you will generate proportionally way less power than if the panels were fully cleared. I observed this for a long time, watching what my inverter reported, and finally asked my installed about it; he explained why what I had observed was true. So even if your panels are “mostly cleared”, that won’t be “good enough” if you want to do maximum generation. Incidentally, when I had first asked installer about snow on panels, he told me to forget about it, saying, “If the sun isn’t bright enough to melt the snow, you’re not going to generate much power anyway.” But, even if you’re only generating 200 watts, if you do that throughout the day, it adds up! I’ve been glad that I didn’t pay attention to my installer’s advice.

    • William H Clarke

      Dear Christof, I wanted to provide clarification for what I wrote about having part of your panels covered by snow. It’s bigger issue only if your panels are mounted in portrait mode, while I suppose most roof-top installations are done in landscape mode. Here’s what my installer wrote: <> If you wanted, I could rewrite my submission above (I also found a couple of typos) to clarify this issue.

  13. Osiris Stevens

    Hello everyone look at the NextStep Electric Inc. Solar panel snow warming system, they have a great way to melt snow off of solar panels, and it won’t hurt the solar-panel. It is a peal and sticks solution, that adheres/installs to the back of a solar-panel in 10 seconds. They have kits for sale around $1,600-$2,000 dollars for a 2 and a half kilowatt system. Their web site is take a look.

    • Christof Demont-Heinrich

      Interesting suggestion. I wonder about the impact on the panel of a warming system such as this, but it does seem like it could work.

  14. Carole

    Hello Orisis,
    Thank you I’m sure this will be a help to many. Unfortunately for us the panels (German) forfeit their guarantee with this solution ! Back to the drawing board….

  15. Chris

    BAAAAAD IDEA.. don’t spray hot or even warm water on solar panels.. they are tempered glass typically (much like a car windshield) and if they take a thermal shock like that it can crack if not shatter the glass.. No bueno!

    • Christof Demont-Heinrich

      I wasn’t suggesting to spray warm or hot water onto the panels. Hose temperature cold water was what I was suggesting. But this isn’t a good option in most cold weather places because it’s just too cold to do this. It might be okay on a 40 degree day after a snow, but water could freeze on panels, of course.

  16. Mel Lauria

    What state are you in, and did one coating last all winter? we are in Edmonton, Alberta Canada

  17. Spayer

    Hot water? Melts the snow…do all that snow, PLUS the new COLD water can create an ice rink on your driveway. And, where are you going to get that much hot water???? And how do you suppose you’ll get it to the roof?

  18. Charlie Robertson

    Which Rain X product did you use? Original or windshield washer fluid/de-icer? How did you apply it? Hudson sprayers? Buckets and window washing gear? Great idea. Let us know please. I’m working on aGeo-air concept to warm the backside of panels at the lower edge s. Still too costly at this point. Less than $.85 to operate per day, but costly to build. Need cheaper/safer solution. Charlie here

    • Dana L Dawson

      Any luck with the RainX I’m down in Pueblo and panals are covered. Keep us posted please.


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