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Posted by Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 12/9/2012

I awoke this morning to find that a solid 4" of snow had fallen overnight! This is on balance fantastically good news, as the very light snowfall we'd gotten a few weeks back really wasn't enough to do more than get things a bit wet.

However snowfall means snow on the panels, and solar panels don't do a very good job of making power when they're buried under a few inches of the white stuff. So I pulled on some boots and put on a heavy coat to head up to the panels to brush 'em all off.

I've gotten quite good at doing this so there weren't any problems, but while working some thoughts I'd been having concerning my panels came to the fore. I've decided that my panels really aren't tilted enough for this latitude.

There's been lots of work done in this field over the years, but the general rule of thumb is that your panels should be tilted based on your latitude plus 15 degrees. This theoretically optimizes their output for the winter months so that they're better facing a sun that runs low across the sky. In summertime you're not producing as well as you should, but sunlight is so much stronger and the days so much longer that you still come out ahead.

Of course that's for a fixed angle setup (such as my ground mounts). Even better are mechanisms that would allow you to adjust the tilt based on season or, for absolute best performance, a full up tracker.

I had ruled out trackers mostly because I didn't want to deal with yet another mechanical thing that inevitably would require maintenance at some point. Looking at my current mounts, however, I think that I might be able to upgrade them from being completely fixed angle to something that lets me adjust the tilt. Even if the new mounts only permitted three positions that would take care of all four seasons (as spring and fall would essentially be the same), with the panels gradually becoming more "vertical" over the year until the winter position is much more steeply angled to face the lower winter sun. An added advantage of this is that snow is considerably less likely to stick to the panels, thus reducing or eliminating the need to sweep them after a night of snowfall.

So this is something I've decided to bounce off Solar LeRoy at some point, and I might stick it on the "to do" list for next summer or the year after. There's no real rush at present and I certainly have plenty on my table so I'm not lacking for things to do, and besides I can't work on this during the winter anyway. But I am indeed pondering it... the panels are attached with larger L-shaped aluminum mounts that presumably would need to be replaced with larger C-shaped mounts that allowed movement, rather like a desk drawer slide. Some wiring might be too short to move freely and would have to be replaced, but I probably won't know that before I get at least a prototype mounting option in place to see how it might work.

Amazing what kinds of thoughts a little bit of snowfall can trigger, huh?


Steven in Colorado

Photos

My driveway this morning. There wasn't really all THAT much snow (about 4"), but it sure was a welcome sight.
Well, MOSTLY welcome that is. Not crazy about it socking in my panels!


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