‘Tis the Season for Snow and Solar Panels. What to do?

NREL solar snow_Tis the season for snow and solarOne of the myths of solar is that it doesn’t work in cold climates. In fact, solar panels are more efficient (produce more energy) in colder climates, such as Colorado and New Jersey, two leading states for solar installations.

The downside of winter is that there are fewer hours of daylight, so there are fewer hours of solar production. And then there’s the occasional snowstorm….

How do you clean off snow from rooftop solar panels?

Believe it or not, the best and easiest way to get snow off a rooftop solar array is to do nothing. Zip. Zero. In the words of Tony Soprano, forget about it.

There are several reasons for this method. First, it works! The winter sun does a great job of melting the snow off of the solar panels. It may take a day or two after the storm, but roofs typically have enough of a slope to let the warm sun and gravity do the trick.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, you could be risking your life or cause yourself serious injury if you try to brush the snow off yourself. Even without snow, rooftops are dangerous. With snow and ice, they’re even more hazardous. Having snow on your panels for a day or two will lose about five dollars or less of your energy savings, so it’s not worth risking a fall for that.

“Don’t go up on a snow covered roof unless your name is Santa Claus or you have some other kind of magic. Not worth it,” says Carl Siegrist, a solar consultant and member of the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), the leading solar installer testing and certification organization.

You might think about getting a long pole squeegee or brush and combing the snow off, but here again, it’s dangerous. You could have 100 pounds or more of hard, frozen snow fall on you, once again, risking injury.

Finally, consider that improperly cleaning off snow or ice may damage the solar panels. Jeff Spies, a solar roofing expert and board member of NABCEP cautions, “If you are going to remove snow, take great care to avoid scratching the modules. If there is ice buildup on the glass, do not try to remove it by scraping, as you can damage the micro-etching of the surface of many glass modules, reducing module efficiency.”

Whether in the sun, rain, or snow, Spies recommends never cleaning solar panels with harsh chemicals or abrasive materials. Even a dirty mop could scratch the solar panel’s micro-etching. If your solar panels are soiled, some water with a little bit of soap and a hose is all you need.

Removing snow from ground or pole mounted solar panels

For ground or pole mounted solar PV panels for home or commercial applications, you’re on the ground, so it is safer to remove snow with a soft brush. However, the same scratching risks apply.  So, just brush off the loose snow, and once again, don’t try to scrape off any frozen snow or ice.

If you have more questions about snow and solar for homes or commercial applications—or any questions about solar at all, please feel free to contact an REC Solar expert. Start here.

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