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DayCreek Journal

December 4, 2005

Will it be a Cold Winter?

Well I guess Mother Nature is attempting to even the score. Above normal temperatures are now a thing of the past and winter has set in with a vengeance. Temperatures are well below normal with daily high temperatures reaching what are commonly the daily low temperatures. Will it warm up again? I wouldn't be surprised if temperatures rebound to near normal on occasion, but with snow on the ground through most of the upper midwest, I suspect winter is here to stay.

One of the fun tasks during the winter is to attempt to keep the solar panels free from ice and snow. As you can see from the above photograph, a long handled squeegee does a decent job of removing snow from the panels. This of course is easy if the snow is dry.

Such was not the case earlier in the week when temperatures were in the mid 30's when the snow began. This meant that the snow was melting as it fell and eventually as temperatures dropped, it left a thick coating of rough ice on the panels. Then on top of the layer of rough ice came about 2 inches of snow that just sat there on the panels. I was able to remove the layer of snow, but the ice was stuck on the panels until the sun was to shine again.

On Wednesday, enough solar radiation was able to penetrate through the layer of ice and heat the panels up enough to melt it off. If I had left the snow on the panels, they probably would stay covered for quite some time since daytime temperatures have been struggling to make it up into the 20's (F).

As you can see in this photo, the snow has been cleaned off of the panels, but a quarter-inch layer of frozen slush has left a rough surface of ice on the panels. About an hour after this photograph was taken the sun was able to penetrate through this semi-clear ice and heat things up enough to melt it off. With white reflective snow left on top of this, it would have taken much longer for it to melt off.

This can be a major problem for roof mounted solar panels. Unless you have a means to reach the panels with a long pole, many days of good solar heating and/or electricity production would come to a halt. This problem has been noted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce who are responsible for monitoring production of solar electric systems that have been installed through the state's solar rebate program. Some of the sites show lower than normal production during winter months and it is the department's opinion that it is due to snow and ice stuck on roof mounted panels.

My suggestion to anyone considering the installation of solar panels is to ground mount them if you can. If you can't, I would incorporate some kind of method that would allow someone to brush the snow off of them. Either a long pole that can reach the distance, or some form of scaffolding that will allow for someone to reach the panels safely on the roof. I have seen houses built that have a cat walk up on the roof, but that could be a risky way of cleaning panels when conditions are icy. I'd much rather be firmly on the ground when attempting to do this.

I guess if there is any silver lining to this cold snap, it is that the snows that have fallen of late are quite dry and will slide off the panels on their own given time. I may lose a few hours of production before this happens if I am not there to clean the panels in the morning, but without the rough ice underneath it shouldn't be too terrible of a problem.

Family Update
I want to thank everyone who have sent along their thoughts and prayers. Jo's father has been making strides towards regaining use of his left side and we're hoping that through therapy he will regain use of his left leg and arm again. Unfortunately, his insurance (Humana Gold Plus) is not so gold. He cannot be left on his own for extended periods of time, yet insurance is pushing him out the door of the hospital's rehab program. Insurance will only cover day care therapy for a few hours, three days per week.

We are presently attempting to work out a schedule amongst family members that will allow us to care for him when he is not at rehab and we are looking into other state and locally funded programs that might be able to assist him. Getting him back on a non-HMO Medicare plan might help on this, but we are still sorting things out.

How sad that here in the U.S. we have such a poor medical plan for our seniors in need of care. And things aren't getting any better. Trying to weed through the latest government health care plans requires reading and rereading pages and pages of instructions. Even after reading and rereading, it isn't clear as to which plan is best for my father-in-law. Our seniors deserve a much better plan!!!

Okay, I will admit that opossums aren't the prettiest species of animal on the planet, but they are America's only marsupial. That has to at least count for something.