“What about snow?”
Gordon Howell has been asked this question with a relentless regularity for the last 32 years. He was the first guy to bring solar to Edmonton. If someone is going to stare down this line of questioning, it’s going to be him. Solar sounds great, but “what about snow?” How do you plan on getting energy from the sun, when the panels are packed with powder? It’s a fair question in a city synonymous with the stuff.
It was a wintery Sunday morning in Edmonton when we met with Gordon, staring at a steep curve of solar cells reaching into the sky on the roof of NAIT. We met with Gordon to learn about household solar in Edmonton, and how the technology works when faced with snow.
Turns out that snow — not such a big deal. As if to illustrate that Gordon and his community have been working on the problem, next to Gordon stands the Alberta Solar Performance Data array. It helps to picture the top of a building covered in solar cells; two by two over the surface of the roof. But rather than laid flat, each row of solar panels is angled up at a slightly steeper angle than the last. The effect is almost like the wall of a half-pipe, curving up in a graceful swoop.
The goal is to test at what angle solar cells best rebuff snow while soaking up sun. What slant lets the snow slide off without sacrificing energy?
There are issues with solar. Supply chain issues and a suite of cost issues. There are even mushier issues like communicating its benefits and fighting the myths that surround it. But climate issues? Snow? The numbers make a better argument than I can. Designed and positioned properly, by a firm that knows how to make solar work in a climate plagued by sleet and slush, snow only reduces the annual power generation by about 5%. It’s an issue, not an impasse.
In Gordon’s episode of Renewable we look at the story of how, 32 years ago, Gordon installed solar on his roof. We look at how he brought the tech to Edmonton and never looked back. We examine the community that has formed around Gordon and the solar industry, and how you can get solar working on your house. You can find additional source to that effect below. We answer a lot of questions about solar, but we don’t really make it about that one specific question. That dogged question that follows solar advocates in Edmonton —
“What about snow?”
Because the episode would be five seconds long.
“Not a big deal.”
Sources for additional information
Renewable is a series about visionaries, creators, community leaders and above all else, Edmontonians, each with a unique vision of a sustainable future in the heart of Canada’s fossil fuel industry.
The Renewable Series Team is composed of the City of Edmonton’s Energy Transition group and the creative minds at Sticks & Stones.
For more information visit Edmonton.ca/RenewableSeries