Removing Snow from Solar PV Sites – Key Considerations

Snow covering a Solar PV System in MA January 7, 2018

January 10, 2018 – After the recent heavy and unexpected snow fall and the frenzy around this month’s “bomb cyclone”, your Solar PV sites in the North East may be under a deluge of snow.  Many of you may be scrambling to find vendors and make the decision to remove snow. Make sure you keep this consideration in mind: snow removal is risky.  Vendors, removal process and timing considerations should be thoroughly thought through.

Choosing a vendor who can be dispatched with very little notice is as important as understanding their removal process and the price to do so. The snow removal process can determine the future health of your projects. Are you voiding equipment warranties? Each module manufacturer is different. Certain seemingly innocuous snow removal actions such as using a brush to clear snow, can void the original module warranties. Always inquire with the OEM and your vendors to ensure a compliant snow removal processes, whether it is using a brush or a blower.

Now that you’ve identified a vendor who won’t void any equipment warranties, knowing when to dispatch vendors is key.  Many factors are involved in this decision: site conditions, forecasted weather, loss of revenue, cost. Is the expense worth the lost revenue? A cost benefit analysis of the dispatch is key to knowing when the expense is worth it. Knowing your expected production for the time frame and its subsequent loss of revenue is the first step in any worthwhile cost benefit analysis. In some areas of the US and Canada where the revenue associate with the PPA and SRECs is high, the difference can be a matter of hours and not days when discussing loss of revenue. However, cost is not the only factor.

There is a lot going on with snow on a solar plant that is hard to predict and understand without extra research and intimate knowledge of the site. What are my site conditions?  Does the site have significant shading? Does the site have a lot of wind exposure? Knowing the conditions and layout of the site can help mitigate ice damming and the kinds of conditions that make it difficult and costly to remove snow and ice. What does the weather man say?  A big concern in removing snow is the weather report and the thaw/freeze cycle and the effect it has on the system. The weather in the days following a snow event is very impactful. A combination of temperatures and irradiance could accelerate the melting process enough to avoid the need to clear the snow.  This fact pattern is especially important for light snow followed by a clear day. Alternatively, there could be snow predicted a few short days later. Knowing what’s coming down the line, is a helpful indicator to keep from making a hasty decision.

However, when it comes to snow removal and the thaw/freeze cycle, time is of the essence and immediate action could allow you to remove snow before a layer of ice builds up. Once a thaw – freeze cycle occurs it can be difficult to remove ice.

Make sure to think ahead and know the costs, risks and conditions before dispatching your snow removal vendors.

Contact Radian today to learn more about our technical asset management and advisory services. 415 – 901 – 3430