Posted by: Li Ling Young | December 31, 2013

Icepocalypse, 2013

The weekend before Christmas it started raining on a Friday.  It didn’t stop until late Monday and the temperature stayed in the 20’s F the whole time.  The beautiful snow we’d gotten earlier in December first got a crust on top, then turned to 6″ of ice, then a thick coat of clear, slick ice covered the whole thing.  Then Jack Frost came to stay for the holidays, and after a few days in the single digits that snow-ice-concrete sandwich was tenaciously and treacherously stuck on everything.  Stuck.  Everything.  Then another round of freezing rain.

Freezing rain fell for 4 days.  Some lost power; there were road accidents; others got to enjoy the beauty.

Freezing rain fell for 4 days. Some lost power; there were road accidents; others got to enjoy the beauty.

Some of it was neat.  Trees glittered beautifully with a glaze of ice.  The car yielded up curved slabs of crystal exoskeleton.  A little breeze let loose tinkling shards of glass-like ice from the long-needle pine tree behind the house.

But there is a lot about Icepocalypse, 2013 that wasn’t cool at all.  All the folks who lost power, and STILL haven’t had the power restored, don’t think this epic ice storm is neat at all.  And everyone who has fallen on the ice, or slid off the road, or had to cancel travel plans is probably well done with this cute little storm.  We’re right in the heart of the area hit hardest with ice, but we’ve been lucky to escape unscathed.

The solar panels got covered with the whole snow-ice-concrete sandwich.  By the time the precipitation stopped there was no way to budge any bit of the ice.  We couldn’t even put a ladder against the roof with all the ice in the front yard.  There were a few, brilliant sunny days in there, when the temperature was around 2 deg F.  But the sun couldn’t penetrate the snow-ice-concrete.  Nik started getting calls from customers asking what could be done about their ice-bound solar panels.  At one point, when the temperature warmed up into the 20’s, Nik tried spraying hot water onto the panels.  That made the driveway pretty interesting, but did nothing to shrink the roof ice.  It was about this time that I saw a lady swinging an axe at her front steps.  Not a frontier farm wife: a suburban lady with an axe!  I’m sure many people have considered antifreeze, rock salt, electric heat tape and various sharp instruments for removing ice from roofs.  But when it comes to solar panels, this advice I overheard Nik giving to one of his customers is probably right on:

  • With the sun so low in the sky, the amount of energy you’re missing out on is pretty small
  • You’ll use up more energy trying to melt snow (with electric heat tape, hot water or hot air) than you’ll gain by clearing the panels
  • Just have some patience, the next warm day will give you a much better shot at clearing the panels without endangering yourself or your solar system
Nik and the only thing that will budge the ice: a 2X4.  The lower panels had been cleared a few days before, using a windshield scraper.

Nik and the only thing that will budge the ice: a 2X4. The lower panels had been cleared a few days before, using a windshield scraper.

Eventually we had a 40 deg F day and Nik fought his way onto the roof with the only thing that could safely knock loose some of the ice.  He managed to get about 80% of the snow-ice-concrete off, but underneath it all was a firmly stuck-on layer of frozen rain.  The next day was much colder, but sunny, and the sun-warmed panels warmed up enough to melt most of the remaining snow-ice-concrete, very slowly.  At the end of the day only about 10% of the panels was still covered.  We made 21 kWh of electricity.  Following on our lesson with the leaf, that 10% probably really hurt the energy output, but now with most of the panels exposed the sun will eventually do its job and melt the rest away.


Responses

  1. We had about 4 days in the snow cave for our panels and I ordered a nice soft roof rake make for panels. I don’t like not producing!

  2. This entry with it’s magically strange photo at the start may be your best yet!


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