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Sunday, January 6, 2013

EV + PV + Snow Can Equal Driving on Grid Power

The snow was just starting to slide off two days after a major storm last year.
After driving the MINI-E for a while it became very clear to me that I wanted to drive electric from that point on. That's really the main reason I'm convinced electric drive will become the preferred powertrain in automobiles; the driving experience is simply better.

I know there are many hurdles to overcome before electric vehicles dominate the roads, but the simple fact that people will prefer them to gas cars once they have the opportunity to experience them, is enough of a driving force to assure they will win in the long run. It will take some time, but eventually electric vehicles will outnumber internal combustion engine vehicles, and by a wide margin.

Once I realized I'd be driving on electric instead of gas, it was an easy decision to install solar electric on my home. I never had the opportunity to make my own fuel when I was driving gas cars, so the prospect of being able to be "fuel independent" was too much for me to pass up and within a year of driving the MINI-E, I had a 8.775kW solar array on my roof. The system generates about 10mWh's per year and powers most of my home and driving needs. I've seen many others do the exact same thing once they get their first electric car, and I'm certain that trend will continue as more and more people get turned on to electric drive.

The next morning after a snowfall
I've had no problems at all in the nearly three years I've had my array and the production has even been slightly higher than my installer predicted. The only thing that bugs me is when it snows I have to wait for the snow to melt off the panels because there is obviously no production with snow covered panels. I really shouldn't complain though because my panels seem to clear off pretty quickly unless it's a very heavy snow fall and the temperatures remain very cold after it snows. My panels seem to be on a good enough angle so that the snow does melt and slide off once it stops snowing and the sun comes out. Others aren't as lucky like a friend of mine Christof Demont-Heinrich, editor of Solar Charged Driving. Christof's panels aren't on quite as much of an angle and the snow seems to sit there for a long time and it really bothers him. He lives in Colorado where they get even more snow that I do in New Jersey, so that only exasperates his woes.

About 20 hours after the snow stopped
About a year ago his frustration over this issue motivated him to do this blog post on the subject. Christof uses a snow rake to clear his panels off but his system isn't as high off the ground as mine is. If I wanted to do the same it would be a difficult and possibly dangerous task so I fall into the "just wait till it melts" category. My roof pitch is 32 degrees while Christof's is only 19 degrees so my snow slides off much easier. Sure I'm still losing some production, and it makes me drive on "dirty grid power" but hey, nobody's perfect!

Two days after snowfall - just about clear
I would suggest discussing this with your solar installer if you live in an area that gets snow before they install the system. Perhaps they can manipulate the racking system so the panels are at a steeper angle allowing the snow to slide off easier, but I'm not sure about that so ask. Of course they would have to make sure that didn't reduce the efficiency of the panels in the first place or you could end up generating less electricity over the course of the year. I'm not an expert on this, but I'm sure your installer can offer some advice on this and it's worth inquiring about. It's not something you really think of when you are ordering the system, but when you look up at your roof in the winter and realize you aren't generating any electric for days at a time, you'll wish you asked and perhaps figured out a way to help alleviate the issue in the first place.
A roof rake can be used to clear the snow if the panels are accessible. My roof is just to high for me to mess with it safely


  1. Nice piece, Tom! My (smaller) PV only generates about 6kWh on those December days, as the sun angle is so low and the days shorter...
    At least I don't have to worry about that white stuff! That's why I moved long ago to 'greener' pastures! ;) NJ has some of the dirtier grid energy, but you're showing folks the way of the future. Thanks for that.
    EV+PV=success! Sunshine will never cost $4/gallon either.

  2. Enjoyed the entry Tom :-) Thanks for the mentions. Snow on solar panels is beginning to get more and more attention -- as well it should, as more and more solar is going up in snowy areas in the U.S. In Germany, they're way ahead of us on this issue (and on solar in general). In fact, one of my favorite snow on solar panel videos =