Renewable energy | Environment | Ecotrope

When The Neighbor's Tree Is Shading Your Solar Panel

Ecotrope | April 3, 2013 10:54 a.m. | Updated: April 3, 2013 12:44 p.m.

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Jeremy Levine Design

A coworker of mine is in a sticky situation: He’s been asked to move a tree that has grown so tall it now casts a shadow on his neighbor’s rooftop solar panel.

It’s awkward because my coworker actually planted the tree as a sapling many years ago, and it’s really not possible to transplant the tree at this point. He might just have to cut it down for his neighbor’s solar panels to receive direct sunlight.

This problem is common enough that it has a name: Solar access. What happens when installed solar panels are suddenly blocked by something outside their owners’ control? As more people add solar panels to their rooftops – particularly in cities where people live in close quarters – maintaining access to the sun can be a challenge.

“It’s an issue I’ve been getting more calls about,” said Claire Carlson, executive director of the advocacy group Solar Oregon. “From people who are worried about neighbors’ trees growing over their solar panels or homes next door that get sold and replaced by bigger homes.”

Carlson said Oregon doesn’t have a statewide solar access law that would protect solar panel owners from unwanted shading, but cities do allow panel owners to request a voluntary easement from neighbors to help maintain an open line to sunshine.

It helps to plan ahead so growing trees don’t become an obstacle to generating solar power, said Carlson.

“Solar and trees go really well together, but there needs to be more thought put into where and how to plant trees around houses so they’re essentially solar-ready,” she said. “A little forethought goes a long way.”

Teri Ruch with Friends of Trees said her group gets some calls from people who want to know what kind of trees they can plant that won’t interfere with their own solar panels, and the group has actually teamed up with Imagine Solar to avoid solar-tree conflicts.

They have a diagram illustrating the best way to plant new trees so they won’t interfere with existing or future solar panels, and they offer some advice: don’t plant trees too close to the west or southwest face of your home, and if your roof faces west, don’t plant a tree directly to the west.

As Greg Tudor, Friends of Trees development manager, asserted in a recent blog post entitled “Trees Love Solar”: “You can have both trees and solar panels.”

California has laws that restrict new tree and plant growth from blocking solar panels. What do you think about that?

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