My Clean Break column today in the Toronto Star (it’s only online at the moment) looks at research underway at St. Lawrence College and Queen’s University in Kingston that is looking at how snowfall impacts the performance of PV panels from a variety of suppliers (crystalline and thin film) and in a range of configurations. I’ll let you read the column, but the interesting part for me is that preliminary study has indicated an albedo effect that partly compensates for lost performance due to panel snowcover. Seems for the short period of time panels do have snow on them, the longer-lasting snow that surrounds these panels amplifies the sunlight and improves the output of the panels. The benefits vary depending on panel angle and design. The higher the angle, one would presume, the better the albedo effect, and I would also imagine that thin film — which better captures the energy in ambient light — would also benefit more from the albedo effect. Will be interesting to see the results of the second phase of their study, which is taking place at four test sites in southern Ontario. Many of the regions of the world offering generous solar incentives (such as feed-in-tariffs) and experiencing some of the most rapid growth also happen to be in snowfall zones. So this kind of study will be valuable in several solar PV markets, including Canada-U.S. borders states.
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 batteries 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!