Drone Clearing Snow off Solar Panels

I have an unusual application that I wanting some advice on to see if a drone may be feasible. We have a remote business here that relies on internet through an antenna powered by two small 60W solar panels. It works well, but we are having issues with snow accumulating on the tops of the panels and sitting for days during the winter which is draining the batteries excessively to the point where the link fails. The batteries can survive a day or two without sun, but this snow can sit for well over a week before being melted which is too much for the batteries to handle. 

The antenna is about 1/2 mile away up on a ridge about 300-400 feet higher than the buildings here. There is no vehicle access up there and its difficult if not dangerous to head up there with any chance of ice since there are precarious ledges and sheer drop offs in a number of spots. I am wondering if using a drone with a small camping type infrared propane heater would be feasible to clear the snow off the panels.

I know IR heaters are often used to melt snow, but I am not so sure how easy this would be for a drone. It would have to hold position well within a 2 cubic foot box. Its all line of sight from our property and every property I have to cross is leased or owned by me.  

I have some past experience with gas RC helicopters in college and could fly them well, but that was a long time ago. Otherwise, I have little experience with drones, though I find them fascinating. 

I guess the 2 questions are first if you all think this is feasible and / or recommended. Secondly if feasible, we would have a budget of about $1200 or so. Is this remotely possible for that kind of money? I might be able to justify more just for the fact that this sounds like a cool way to clear off solar panels, but when it comes down to it, anything much more expensive and we could probably upgrade the batteries for a couple thousand and fix this problem another way. 

A picture of the antenna is attached. 


LinkAntenna (2).jpg

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  • Why use something to commute to the solar panel?

    All you want to do is actuate something remotely at the solar panel.

    You could install wipers onto the panel or a geared motor that just tilts the panel down and lets the snow fall off.

    If you go down this road, may as well have it double as a sun tracker so your panel becomes more efficient as well, offsetting the power required for the motor :)

    Could be controlled with an Arduino and managed over a network or wireless with radio modem

  • Maybe your making this to complicated. If you can remotely control a drone then why not remotely control a heater?

    • Asked and answered repeatedly already.

  • Hi Noah,

    I saw this and thought you might just use more solar energy...  if there's enough to generate current why not just make some black heat-absorbing vanes and attach them to the extruded frames of the panels.  Go with black on the faces if possible too.  There should be enough energy to have it just naturally clear.  A little hydrophobic coating like rain-x if it doesn't mess with UV, a key component of solar energy, would be great.  Also keeping it clean lol...  annual cleaning before winter perhaps.

    Good luck.

    • Plus One on the Rainex the next time you hike up.

  • Thanks again for all your advice. I think I have plenty to go on so I will be leaving this thread. I probably will try some solutions on the panels with a drone to fly a deicer or chemical to melt off snow quickly. Obviously, I have to wait till winter to try all this. Thanks again for all your help and advice. I really appreciate it. 

  • You could try setting up a deicer pump from a typical car system and have it controlled by a simple moisture sensor coupled to temperature through an 8bit mcu.  Have the deicer spray a burst every so many minutes (test to determine) until either the temp goes up or the precip stops.  bring up a gallon or so and run the deicer system with a mist jet to get the best coverage with lowest usage.  Small separate battery with a small solar cell to charge. 

    Does require you going up there but hopefully only once every so often.  May be acceptable. Shouldn't cost over 100$ installed. 

  • So you need a drone to fly a maintenance robot to the site install a cleaning robot.  What could possibly go wrong?

    • If they become self-aware, they're in a position of elevated advantage.

  • Bit late to the discussion but:

    1.  I'd recommend as a first step use hydrophobic coating and local deicer ejector on the panels using a daily timer.

    2.  If needed use a one axis solar tracking linear actuator to move the panel to follow the sun, then when it's windy it can lay flat, when it snows it can go 90 degrees to avoid snow/ice buildup. Bonus is that you will increase your power output by 20-30% in the process without needing to increase the panel or system size. You'll also only need to lug up the actuator and a revised hinged panel mount along with a small controller, so only a 1 person job. You could use the wifi link to trigger the actuator controller if you wanted...that way you could link it to a web based weather forecast instead of using a local weather station for the snow and wind positions.

    Out of interest what batteries and MPPT charge controller are using? Also what wifi link gear at what range? $1-$2k for batteries sounds expensive for a 60W solar and 14W load system.

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