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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  • Was just thinking about other possibilities to solve the problem, and thought about silicone spray.  Spray the panels with silicone and see if the snow just slides off.  It works for snow shovels.   

  • Developer

    nano coating..

  • Salt is for roads, not electronics.

    Liquid deicer application might be a problem with the prop wash.  I see the liquid getting blown everywhere except onto the panels.  And the liquid that does hit the panels will be blown off the panels.

    Honestly, I think you should test the drone without any chemicals, flame throwers, napalm, etc first.  I would imagine the snow you get up there is all fluffy powder.  You might have 100% success with just the prop wash blowing the snow off the panels.

  • How about a salt bomb? 

    If you need dispersal, perhaps pump some salt water in a spray pattern. 

    Solar panels are used in the marine (salty) environment all the time so, the panels should not be negatively affected. 

    • Think about corrosion...you want to not use salt that will cause problems with this equipment.
      Secondly, some of you guys are forgetting that using a quadcopter to de ice the solor panel has an element of fun.
      The non drone solutions maybe cheap, but not fun to use.

  • Or try this super hydrophobic coating, water drops literally roll right off.


    It may lightly fog the glass front though possibly reducing the solar collector efficiency.  


  • UV tolerance?

  • $1350 isn't out of the question if it works well. I would only fly the thing in low wind and stable, albeit very cold conditions so I wouldn't expect any huge problems. If I wreck a drone after a year due to some equipment failure (or my failure), but have a ton of fun in the process and still keep the link active, I consider that a success over all. 

    I haven't ever used alcohol to melt snow, but I certainly certainly try that as well. Cleaning off the glass is good as well. The birds do crap on the panels quite a lot up there. Usually its pretty insignificant as far as losses from that, but if it helps remove some of that all the better.

    Now, if a drone does crash and you can find and retrieve it, is it usually a few hundred in parts or completely totaled? I guess from my RC helicopter days, a decent crash would mean a couple hundred dollars in parts on a $1500 bird, but usually the electronics were salvageable since they were protected. Is is about the same?  

    • Just a thought, it might be worth waterproofing the parts as best as possible on whatever drone you get

      A crash in on that ridge in icy conditions means the drone is probably staying out all night/week

      Might also be worth looking into if the battery pack needs some insulation it sounds like it will be flying in uncommonly low temps. 

      On the non-fun side of things a bottle of your chosen anti-freeze mix, a small pump (car windscreen pumps take a few amps but would only be used very briefly) and a drip feed from the top of the panels would be cheaper and easier, either have it triggered wireless or set something up to compare the ambient light to the panel output and have it triggered automatically. It'd surely work out cheaper.

  • That is friggin' good idea David!!!! I hadn't thought of that. You are correct. It would be world's easier than an IR heater and the drone just drops it off and comes back. I like it! A 3DR X8 looks pretty fancy. How much is such an animal?

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