A week of snow in the winter can put a big dent in your annual solar generation so learning how to remove snow from solar panels is an important part of your regular maintenance. Often there is a clear sunny spell directly following a blizzard and so it can be very frustrating to lose up to 95% of the generating capacity while you are waiting for the snow to melt naturally. Read on to find out how to do this safely and when it is best left alone!
The Wrong Kind of Snow!
There is a standing joke in the UK because every winter there are delays on the rail network due to “the wrong kind of snow”! However, when we are looking at how to remove snow from solar panels the first thing to look at is the type and amount of snow:
Just a Covering…Half an inch or so - Let Nature take it’s course. I thin layer of light snow will usually melt, slide or blow off within 24 hours and so is not really worth the effort of trying to shift it.
A Big Dump – Over a foot - If you are in area that regularly gets very heavy snowfall then you should talk to your supplier about the best options. Some of the modern panels are now fitted with low power heaters to start the melting and sliding process for example. It is not safe to try to remove a really big dump of snow yourself… don’t even try!
Any amount of snow in-between is a prime candidate for removal byYOU!
This is the problem! Snow is covering all or part of your solar panels and so the output is reduced
Check the inverter to see the actual output. Here we are only getting 98W instead of 1500W and so we really need to get the snow off the solar panels since we are losing nearly 95% of the production.
If you intend to use a ladder then you need a snow scraper to get the snow off the ground. Also useful for part of the roof.
Unless you have access to the solar panels from a window or balcony then you are going to need a long ladder….plus somebody to hold it for you.
Finally you need a soft brush or scraper. This needs to be made of plastic or wood so that the solar panels do not get scratched when you remove the snow. This is a home-made scraper with a soft plastic brush tied onto a telescopic fruit picker! Don’t be afraid to improvise with materials that you have to hand or in the garage. For example a good lightweight pole can be made from some one inch plastic water pipe.
So Once you got all the equipment ready here is how to remove snow from solar panels:
Remove the Fresh Snow as Soon as Possible - If you wait until it has melted a bit and then re-frozen then it takes ages to push of just a small corner. Get it off as quickly as you can or don’t bother at all.
Do You have a Balcony or Roof Light Close to the Panels? If so then this is likely to be the safest point of access. Simply use the long handled or telescopic pole fitted with the brush to push the snow away. If possible start at the bottom to encourage the natural slipping process.
Do You Need to Use a Ladder? If so then clear the snow away from where you are going to stand the ladder and make sure you have an assistant on hand to help you.
Clear Away the snow where you want to stand the ladder. Make sure it is firm and there is no ice under the feet
Climb up the ladder and use the snow shovel to remove the snow between the bottom of the panel and the guttering. Be careful, the snow may fall on you or your assistant! This action alone may encourage the snow on the panels to slide off.
Use the brush on the end of the telescopic pole to gently sweep and push the snow off the panel. Alsways start by trying to clear a strip along the bottom of the panel since this will encourage the rest to start slipping off. Just make sure you are well out of the way when it falls! This should be really easy if you are dealing with fresh powder or wet slippery snow….anything in-between will take longer to shift. Do not stretch to reach the corners…move the ladder instead! Don’t worry if you cant get everything off….once you start the process the natural melting and sliding will quickly finish it for you. Also, if the sun is shining the panel will heat up because it is black and so encourage the melting.
Things to Avoid
The best way to remove snow from solar panels is to either let it melt naturally or use a soft brush or scraper to start the natural sliding process. Do not be tempted to try any of the following methods:
Spraying with Water or a Hose - The water can freeze solid on the surface of the panels and make things worse. Also you run the risk of squirting water between your roof tiles which can then leak into your loft. Keep the hosepipe for the plants in the summer
Never use De-Icer or AntiFreeze - these chemicals are toxic and can cause corrosion on your solar panel. Any runoff can further damage your roof and guttering
Never Walk on the Roof or Panels to Remove Snow - This is really dangerous…you can fall off the roof and you can damage the panels
Removing snow from solar panels can be dangerous so never carry out this work on your own, it is so easy to have an accident. A slippery roof, frost, ice, snow and humans don’t mix very well! In addition pay attention to the following points:
Snow is heavy - if you make it slide off the panels make sure that you and your helper are well out of the way
Ladders can Slip - Snow and ladders are not a good combination. Always make sure that the snow around the base of the ladder is cleared and that the ladder is secure. Get a helper to hold the base.
Never Stretch Too Far – Solar panels are large so there is always the temptation to stretch out to clear the last corner. Never do this without first moving the ladder
Use Plastic or Wooden Tools - Anything metal can damage or scratch the panels
The Right Way to Remove Snow from Solar Panels:
This is the right way to remove snow from solar panels…except my assistant is taking the picture instead of holding the ladder!….and I left the snow too long so it had re-frozen!
So how come I have written these instructions in such detail? Simply to help others avoid some of the mistakes that I have made myself. This year I made a couple of bad mistakes. The first thing I did was wait until three days after the snowfall before trying to remove the snow from the solar panels. I thought it would just slip off naturally as there was only about six inches. Wrong….it slipped down a bit exposing the top foot or so of the panels so there was some production…but then it froze solid. When I eventually got up on the roof it was very difficult to dislodge. Then I made what could have been a really damaging mistake…I climbed up the ladder without an assistant. Bad move….I got to the top and lent over to push the brush over the panels and woooohah the ladder lurched sideways because one of the legs was on a patch of ice. Luckily I was able to grab the gutter and so did not fall. But then I was trapped up the ladder in minus 5C temperatures not able to move. I ran through all the options….jump….try to scamper down…just hang on and fall with the ladder etc. Eventually I was able to lean over and by edging along the gutter move the ladder into an upright position again. No harm done this time, but believe me if you remove snow from solar panels the wrong way you could end up badly injured.
Take a Tip from the MeanyGoat – If you have just a moderate amount of fresh snow on your solar panels then grab a friend and get it brushed off a s quickly as possible if you think it is safe to do so. Otherwise, let nature take it’s course and just resign yourself to losing a couple of days production…better that than risk a broken leg!