If you live in a part of the world with cold winters and snow buildup, learning how to remove snow from your solar panels is going to save you in winter. The important thing to remember is that as long as your panels are covered in snow, they’re not getting sunlight and therefore not producing power for your house.
Below we discuss the main techniques you can use without worrying about damaging your solar panels. You can choose any one of them based on convenience for you because they all accomplish the result of snow free panels.
Let’s dive in...
Wait for the snow to melt
In a generally sunny environment where the temperatures are not extremely low and there is little accumulation of snow, simply waiting for the snow to melt may be effective. This is most effective when the roof or solar array is at a thirty-five degree angle or steeper. In this case, the snow will simply melt and slip off the solar arrays.
The challenge to this approach is that it means you have to wait, thereby losing precious time to generate the energy needed for your home. If the weather is close to freezing and generally sunny after the snow storm, then this may be a good method for clearing your panels. If not, you'll want to consider one of the other options.
Use water to remove the snow from your solar panels
You can always spray the snow with water from your garden hose. This is fun and really easy to do as long as it's not so cold that it re-freezes the water.
If the temperature is below freezing, you want to be cautious of the potential for your water to freeze on the panels. If your water is too hot, you stand the risk of cracking your solar array. If the array does not crack, you also stand the risk of creating ice on the array, which is another issue. Further, if your array is on your roof and your gutters are not clear, it can cause an ice day, which can cause many other issues with your home.
If you choose to use water to try to get the snow off, be cautious, and do so only when the temperature is high enough to prevent ice from forming.
Sweep the snow off.
One of the most widely used methods is to sweep the snow off your solar array, in part because it is not dependent on the temperature or other environmental conditions.
When using this method, it is best to use a squeegee type device. Using a standard broom or some form of rack or brush can cause damage to your solar panels.
Again, this method is most effective when the panels are at a 35 degree angle or greater. This makes it easy to start the snow sliding, and let gravity lend a hand with clearing it off, as the snow will oftentimes slide off on its own once the movement is started.
You also want to exercise caution if you are getting on a roof or using a ladder if the solar array is high off the ground. The length of a handle on your tool makes it easy to lose your balance, and increase a risk of falling.
For this reason we recommend one of two things:
Hire a professional cleaner to come out and remove the snow.
Get a squeegee with a long and extendable handle so you can safely remove the snow while standing on the ground.
Use a heating device that melts the snow
Melting the snow is a passive and easy way of getting your solar panels cleared. There are heating devices that you can install to melt snow from your solar array. Some of these arrays tie in to the power you are already collecting, while others run off other the power grid if you are tied into it.
These heaters, much like driveway heating systems, are good when there is smaller amounts of precipitation and when the temperatures are not sub-zero. However, in extremely cold climates, or when larger amounts of snow and ice are expected, these heaters may not be enough, or may take several days to clear the panels, meaning you lose some of your energy production time.
The goal of the solar panel heaters is to melt the snow as it's landing on your panels and never let it accumulate. But that’s not a perfect science and you may find your panels covered after a big snow storm. In this case, consider using a long squeegee to sweep the rest of the snow off. It’s fast and probably the easiest way to clean excess snow.
Blow the snow off
I’ve heard of people rigging up leaf blowers with a series of tubes to extend the reach and power of the blower. If you can figure this one out it might be a good option for removing up to an inch or two of snow. But if you’ve just got heavy snow fall and your panels are covered in more than a few inches, this isn't a very effective method. In that case I would use the long squeegee or something else on this list.
Knock it off.
If you have children, you could use this method to enlist their help with maintaining your solar array over the winter. Grab a box of Nerf footballs and go to town. See who can knock the most snow off the panels the fastest.
This is fun but obviously less efficient than getting the squeegee or solar panel heater to melt the snow. Still though, it makes for a fun time with the kids.
Just make sure that whatever you use to knock the snow off is soft and won't damage the panels. A standard Nerf type football is a good solution. Be sure it is not of the variety with plastic on the ends or anything stuck in it that could cause scratches or cracks.
Cover the panels.
Some enterprising individuals have rigged up tarps on a pulley system to cover the panels during snow storms. The idea is that after the storm, you can retract the tarp and pull the snow off with it.
There is an obvious aesthetic issue using normal colored tarps that may prevent using this system in your particular area (such as if you live in an HOA). Also, if you receive a lot of snow or very heavy snow, there is a concern about the weight and being able to safely pull it off without damaging the array or tearing the tarp.
But if you can figure this one out, it might be and ultra convenient way to keep your panels free from snow buildup.
Be cautious using chemical agents.
Most solar panels are sensitive to chemicals like solvents. Our recommendation is to avoid harsh chemical cleaning agents. Likewise, you will want to avoid things like chemical ice melts, rock salt, or waxes.
Some of these will leave residue on your panels that reduce the productive capacity. Others may cause physical damage such as scratches or even cracks. Further, these chemical agents are not as effective as the other methods suggested.
So what is the right answer?
The bottom line is that there is no one right answer as to what is right. If you are in a warmer climate that has milder winters, simply waiting for the snow to melt and keeping your array at a steep angle might be the right answer.
However, if you live in in a northern climate, or an area that receives more significant winter storms, you may have to plan for a couple of options depending on the intensity of the season and your own resources.