Renewables and the challenges of snow, cold

In discussions about renewables such as wind and solar we often forget to talk about the challenges of using these technologies in certain climates. The same goes for electric car batteriesĀ and biodiesel. Folks in California probably don’t give this much thought, but being Canadian — and having shovelled my driveway four times this month — it’s a reality that can’ t be avoided.

Take earlier this month. I was supposed to visit OptiSolar’s solar farm in Sarnia but the forecast called for snow — lots of it. We cancelled the visit, thank god. Later on the news that night I watched as police on snowmobiles rescued people whose cars were stranded in snow-filled ditches at the edge of the highway — the main highway into Sarnia that I was supposed to take. Needless to say, OptiSolar’s panels got blanketed by snow, again, and again, and again this month.

The New York Times has an interesting story about winter and its impact on renewables. It talks about snow on solar panels, ice on wind turbines, and how the cold can turn biodiesel into thick goo. But winter, it should be pointed out, does have some advantages: the wind blows better in the winter and solar panels are more efficient in the cold (though the days are shorter).

The story also talks about the new work opportunities that winter presents. Removing snow from neighbourhood solar panels or solar farms could be the new “green-collar job” for local kids!

5 thoughts on “Renewables and the challenges of snow, cold”

  1. The photo certainly nicely sums up one of the challenges in cold weather climates. Nevertheless, we tend to forget two of the greatest tools we have in cold weather climates: the first is old fashioned insulation, and for a good renewable technology, geothermal energy just doesn’t seem to its fair due relative to ‘sexy’ solar.

    Insulation is the most strikingly underutilized tool that could make renewables really shine, only our building codes, developers, and home buyers are still too ignorant of its potential. There’s a nice summary of insulation strategy here: (Personally, I can believe how many new homes I see that seem to have no better insulation than my 75 year-old, partially upgraded home).

  2. As a New Englander (Worcester), I can indetify with challenges and benefits of having four very distinct seasons. I think most technologies are adaptable enough to be useful no matter what.

  3. One thing that comes to mind is that areas that get a lot of snow are mostly located far from the equator (with the exception of mountainous climates) and that means the optimal inclination angle for a fixed solar collector system will be steep. That means the snow will slide off easier.

    Snow can actually help getting more radiation onto the solar panels, considering it’s reflectivity. In addition, colder temperatures tend to provide a bonus on PV system efficiency.

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