Our recent story on a net-zero town hall in Upstate New York prompted a question about what impact snow might have on the solar panels that are installed, at a slight angle, on the building’s flat roof.

This is a darn good question – and it turns out the scientists at Michigan Technological University’s Keweenaw Research Center are right now looking deeply into how snow affects solar generation and what might be the best way to ameliorate any losses caused by the stuff.

michigan tech solar snow
Researchers are testing how putting the solar panels at different angles can affect power generation in snowy places (image via Michigan Tech)

Being way up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, snow is something Michigan Tech folks know well – last winter some 225 inches fell at the research center – and the scientists there have been studying the snow/PV relationship for a while. You might recall that last year they found that solar losses from snow were minimal, just a few percentage points at most, and that the albedo effect of sunlight reflecting off snow can actually sometimes boost production.

Still, other studies have found larger losses – and forgoing even a few percentage points in generation can make a big difference for a large solar power array.

So with this new, two-year study, the researchers are working with project developer DNV GL to test their predictive model at sites in Colorado, Pennsylvania and California – and at their own research center. According to the university, DNV GL has built an array of solar photovoltaic panels behind KRC, each set at a different angle, from 0 degrees (flat) to 45 degrees. “If you tilt them at 60 degrees, almost no snow sticks to the panels, but you also lose a lot of sunlight when they are not facing the sky,” Tim Townsend, a principal engineer for solar services with DNV GL, said in a statement.

Michigan Tech’s Joshua Pearce said the research is increasingly important: “In the olden days, you’d only see solar farms in places like Arizona, and Spain. Now, large solar installations are found throughout the northern US and Canada.”

True enough – we just wrote about the Grand Renewable Solar Project in Ontario, a 100-megwatt power plant that is now under construction.

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