Why I Built Ground Mounts For My Solar Panels — SNOW REMOVAL

Solar Panel Snow Removal

It’s a constant battle here in the mountains of New Hampshire. As you can see by the picture I took this morning, I’m sure glad that I have my solar panels mounted on ground mounts. Another two inches of “snow showers” overnight.

One of two types of weather events will prompt me to get out the broom and get to work on removing the snow:

  1. A winter snow storm
  2. The nearly constant (but accumulating) snow ‘showers’ or ‘flurries’

I live in the mountains. Mountainous areas have their own unique weather. While a major winter storm will affect a significant part of an overall region, these mountains create pesky snow showers that accumulate over time. This frequently results in an inch here, two inches another day, half an inch the day after that… The next thing you know you’ve got another 6 inches more on the ground after a week of this (without a “snow storm”).

Anyway, it should go without saying, you’re not going to get much of any charge from your solar panels when they’re covered with snow. I don’t care what any sales person may tell you… Charging will be comparatively insignificant with snow cover.

This is (one reason) why I decided NOT to mount my solar panels on the roof. Rather, I built my own ground mounts.

It’s not rocket science. I use an ordinary floor push broom. Pull the snow down from top to bottom.

Once the dark panel surface is partially exposed, the sun will usually enhance the melting – finishing the job. However, if it’s too cold, it’s not going to happen. But eventually it will.

As you can see in the picture below, this morning I swept the panels. But there was still some frozen stuff near the bottom. Today is very overcast and cloudy. 25 degrees. It’s not going to melt. But that’s okay, I’ll still get ‘some’ bit of charge.

There are a number of ways to mount your solar panels. Typically, the solar panels you see on the roofs of houses are simple “Grid Tie” systems. Solar energy is fed back into the grid and you get credit for it. If it snows, no big deal. You’re running off the grid anyway.

However if you’re Off Grid, or have a side-by-side Off Grid energy system with transfer switches (as I do), snow becomes a pretty big deal. Winter is difficult enough with fewer hours of sunlight and low angle sun. Snow just makes it all worse.

So my recommendation to anyone setting up Off Grid solar power, if you’re in a snow zone, consider your solar panel mounting methods with regards to snow removal.

That’s it. Short and Sweet.

By the way, if you have any design questions or interested in battery bank options, you might consider contacting IronEdison.com, one of our sponsors, who does this for free (recommendations)…

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31 Comments

  1. Ken
    What material style of bracing are you using to support the panels in the photo? What size wattage is each panel?

    1. @Antique Collector,
      I used 10′ Galvanized SuperStruts from Home Depot — and associated hardware to put it all together. My panels are rated 315 watts each. I have 12 total for a theoretical 3780 watts.

      1. Any problem with the galvanized struts and the aluminum solar panel frames having galvanic corrosion between the dissimilar metal valances?

  2. Concrete piers? That’s a great looking array. And detailed pics/build write ups?

    1. Yes, they’re fastened to concrete support piers. One day I might write up how I built the ground mounts. Good idea.

      1. Thanks! Did you ground yours too? I built two 500w arrays from 2x4s and slotted angle iron. I can get them assembled and hooked up to my solar generator in an hour in the event of a prolonged outage. During our normal operation our grid tied panels on the roof keep things running.

        1. Yes, the panel’s exterior frames are bonded together and grounded with a ground rod at each frame location (per code). I have 3 panels per frame. Each panel is tied in series for higher voltage (less loss). Each frame location has a junction box. The electrical (DC) is sent back to the house via conduit that I trenched underground. The rest of the system is inside the house.

  3. Wow, that is a lot of snow and it’s beautiful! How do you continue to get a bit of charge in such cloudy weather and little sunlight?

    1. @T,
      Well, it is HIGHLY dependent on how overcast it is. Actually, heavy overcast I’ll get next to nothing. But light to medium overcast I might get 250 – 500 – 800 watts all day. But if it’s partly cloudy, when the sun breaks through for those periods – it goes full-on max charge up to 3800 watts (ish). So, it really “depends”!

      1. Thank you for explaining. I didn’t realize even short amounts of sunlight will help keep the charge.

      2. Ken, on your panels, what is the drop off % when a cloud goes across them ( is there a 5%, 10%, or more drop in output)? If you can, who made them ?

  4. I have solar lighting and one of the maintenance chores is brushing the snow off, but have a heck of a time brushing the snow off my TV dish on the roof, so I understand the difficulty for those in snowy areas NOT to have roof mounted solar panels.

  5. Is there any benefit to applying something like Rain-X to make the panel surface more slick during the Winter months ?

    <bb

    1. bb
      I use rainex winter mix for windshields during the winter. I shoot it on with a bug sprayer or a worx hydroshot battery powered pressure washer to remove any snow build up without having to climb up on a ladder. It works for me.

    2. I looked into that and it was not recommended. The panels are not glass so there may be some adverse affect.

  6. The retirement house I’m building will have two wind turbines (Air 30’s) and 8 solar panels-48 volt system in two strings of four. Only running lighting, fridge and freezer, security cameras and garage door openers on it. I’m putting the panels on the second story roof (2/12 in 12 pitch, so fairly flat) to prevent theft/vandalism in my isolated AO (It’s already happened with other items on my property). I drafted into the design for a roof access hatch from a room on the second floor. Also bolting a heavy security harness at the peak of the roof for safety, since I live alone. Then again, it only snows about three or four days a year here. But hey, stuff happens!
    The nice thing about the wind turbines is that during the shorter days of winter, it gets much more windy here, particularly during middle of the night… A win-win.
    Ken, your mounting system looks nice!

    1. jon dowe
      Heads up on the wind turbines, if they do not have a cage around the blades they will take out native birds flying in the area. Neighbor placed a large one on their property, I heard the bird hit it when it was chasing a meal in flight.

      Thought you should know, they are nice but cause a lot of damage to the mother natures population control.

  7. I have two 600-watt arrays, each framed with SuperStrut. One is on a low roof that we can reach with a push broom. The second is freestanding with the panel frame bracketed to a galvanized fencing pole mounted horizontally on top of a couple 4″x6″ treated lumber posts sunk in concrete. We sweep snow off when taking care of animals in the morning, typically.

    The idea with the horizontal pole was to be able to pivot the array down in the winter here in the higher latitudes. In practice, there’s more than enough summer sun for my needs even without sweating the angle and there’s not enough output difference at the steepest (winter) angle over the middle (equinox) angle to bother with repositioning – at least for my needs. Cold temperatures really pump up the output, too.

  8. Those panels have the short circuit current rating (Isc). Makes you wonder what would happen if you did short circuit the solar panels and use that internal resistance to melt the snow. I^2R is power (heat) across your internal resistance.

  9. I have a small system for limited emergency use, battery chargers, live stock water heaters, circular saws, etc. I placed a 4×4 pressure treated post in the ground and mounted a 8 ft cattle gate to it. I put a wheel on the far end to help support the weight of my panels, and so I could also swing the panels from East to West, for manual solar tracking, if I should feel the need. Than I built a wooden frame on the cattle gate to mount the 800 watts of solar panels, feeding a small battery bank in my storage shed. I also have a 5,000 watt diesel generator for the house back-up needs.

  10. My plan is to build a wooden deck behind my garage (Southern Facing) and mount my Solar Panels on the deck. Makes it easier to access and I’ll have the ability to run the wires under the deck into the garage that will house the batteries, inverter etc. Kind of like a raised access floor. No mud, no grass to maintain and of course no roof to climb on when you have to do maintenance.

    1. Sounds good! One very important general aspect of mounting… Make sure they are very secure because the wind will present powerful forces seeking to turn them into flying kites.

  11. Way easier to do maintenance, over here snow isnt a problem, most remote areas its mildew, humidity and airborn contaminates are high.

  12. Nice set-up Ken. I have only 800 watts of solar panels, on the roof. Off grid system(s). Also two small 400watt wind turbines. Grand total of 1600 watts if sun is shining and the wind is blowing. In reality it isn’t a ton of power. I use all I can gather. I’m very glad I’ve done this much at least. It certainly isn’t a cheap power source, but I’m in control of it.

    For now, I’ll leave things as they are. If grid down, I have plans to mount them on a small trailer and follow the sun by swiveling the trailer by hand. Tedious? absolutely. I have large trees that hinder solar collection. If moved onto the trailer, I’d likely improve power production dramatically. With no internet or cell phones or tv, I’ll need something to do anyway. Not even I can stand ham radio for too long.

    I researched some of the sun tracking things, not very good return on investment. Likely cheaper to just buy more panels. For anyone just starting with solar, I’d recommend buying a cheap solar kit maybe even Harbor Freight. It will give you an idea of how many watts of panels you’ll need. Even a little bit of solar is better than none. I learned a lot by playing with a small kit.

    1. I looked at the trackers too. Way too expensive (for me). Like you said, it’s cheaper to just buy more panels and face them due South.

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