Let’s stop brushing off snow on panels problem

snow-feb-2012-houseeditors-blog-entry3I can be very stubborn (just ask my wife 😉 — especially when lots of people tell me something isn’t worth doing. That’s the case with my ongoing battle with snow covering our 5.59 kW home solar system.

The more people tell me directly, and indirectly, ‘Don’t bother with trying to get snow off your home solar system, just let it melt’, the more determined I become to get that snow off as quickly as possible.

‘Let it melt’
Especially irritating to me are those folks within the solar industry – and there appear to be quite a lot of them – who say, ‘Don’t bother, let it melt.’

These are exactly the people who should be working to find a good solution to this problem, not the ones who should be brushing it off.

Yet, I see this laissez faire attitude time and time again. For instance, check out this entry on SunRun’s blog page. Or, take, for example, of all solar industry entities, the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA), which recently ran a column in which it sought to dispel ‘myths’ surrounding snow and solar.

afCanadian Solar Association changes tack
The original version of the column asserted – without citing a source – that snow sitting on solar panel reduces Canada’s solar output by just 1% annually.

In fact, after I posted a comment below the column in which I, among other things, pointed out that roof pitch/panel pitch can play a big role in how quickly snow melts/slides off a solar system, CanSIA edited the column.

The newer version no longer references the 1% lost to snow figure. Additionally, the updated version addresses the question of roof pitch/panel pitch – anything above 35 degrees means snow will likely be shed quickly, writes CanSIA, anything shallower than that and snow could sit for days before melting.

Last year, we lost about 300 kWh of production due to snow sitting on our panels, or about 3.5% of our total output. That might not seem like much. But, as I’ve noted in other entries on the snow-on-solar-panels issue, when you aggregate 300 kWh, it starts to add up significantly.

Here’s some random math:

  • 300 kWh x 1,000 solar systems = 300,000 kWh
  • 300 kWh x 10,000 solar systems = 3 million kWh
  • 300 kWh x 100,000 solar systems = 30 million kWh

In short, small percentages of lost electricity per system add up to a lot of wasted solar potential when aggregated across large numbers of systems. I don’t understand why so many people, including many within the solar industry, don’t seem to get this – it ain’t rocket science.

aeThe marginal status of solar
The more others push the idea that snow on solar panels really doesn’t matter, the more they reinforce the marginal status of solar vis-à-vis the big boys, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power.

Solar? That’s just green window dressing we don’t really need. After all, if we really did need it, we’d actually be taking the snow on solar panels issue seriously because not taking it seriously would mean we might not be able to turn on our home computers, keep our food cold in our refrigerators, or, god forbid, that we might not be able to watch the Super Bowl.

Some have said I’m a ‘broken record’ on the snow issue. And I might be. But my goal isn’t just expressing my frustration about snow sitting on our solar system and the fact that there isn’t a good solution to clearing a solar system of snow yet, it’s also getting the attention of the big guys in the solar industry.

So far, generally, they just don’t seem to care about snow on solar panels. Until they do, I’m going to keep “ranting” about snow on solar panels.

German solution to solar-snow issue?
In fact, there’s a guy in Germany who seems to be taking this issue seriously and who appears to see it as the potentially giant financial opportunity that it is (why almost no one in the U.S. seems to see this opportunity, I don’t know).

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He’s developed a pretty cool system that uses a tracking set of sprayers to remove snow – and to wash the panels when they are dirty (did I mention that goose poop, yes, goose poop, has become a significant sun blocking issue on our system?).

I corresponded with him via e-mail (in German) and asked him what the system might cost. He wouldn’t tell me — but then I was able to find a German news video on YouTube that does say how much the snow-clearing system in the video below costs: A pretty steep 7,500 Euros.

There are other less costly options out there that I’ve found in, again — you guessed it, Germany [yup, being multilingual definitely pays off 🙂 ]. I’m going to do a future entry on some additional options I’ve found by perusing YouTube videos in German.

Meanwhile, here’s the link to the “Schneerutsch” guy’s web site — http://www.snow-and-spray-away.de/side/. Check out the video embedded at the end of this entry — this looks like it really works, though, of course, given the price, at least for now, it’s clearly for larger installations than ours.

Anyone out there want to partner with him and start getting these things installed in the U.S. and Canada?

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