VPR Header
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Molnar: Twice Warmed

They say heating with wood warms you three times: while cutting, then stacking, and finally burning the logs. So we thought we’d save on labor – and the environmental impact of burning wood – by installing solar panels. But while these may function without human labor in California, in snowy Vermont, they warm us at least twice. 
Solar panels are extremely efficient, even on cloudy days - but a coat of snow renders them nearly useless. And nobody ever warned us that removing snow from the panels would become an important new winter chore.

So how hard can it be to remove snow from semi-vertical panels? Certainly less exhausting than shoveling a long walkway but not nearly as effortless as it would seem.
Here’s the drill. We strap on snowshoes, which always feel like house slippers made to fit the Jolly Green Giant, not an average-sized woman. And let me just say that while we thought it was aesthetically wise to put our compost heap well out of sight at the bottom of a long field - now it’s accessible only on snowshoes.

Another tip for getting around in winter is to buy a house on the side of the road where most of the mailboxes are located so you won’t have to scale the giant snowbanks left by the plow on the other side of the road.
Ok. So to get to the panels, we must wear our ridiculous snowshoes and trudge into the field and up the hill, carrying industrial-sized squeegees with handles three times as long as I am tall. Then we stand on either end of the panel array and start clearing off snow - which lands at our feet, sending up flurries to coat our faces. The panels are glassy smooth; snow instantly slides down into the uncovered portions from the covered portions above, requiring multiple sweeps to clear the entire surface. When it snows daily, as it did for nearly a week in December, this chore becomes a daily adventure.

With the panels clear, we’re warm all right, and will be warmed again when those panels warm us indoors. That’s twice – not counting being hot even before starting out, from layers of clothing and struggles with obstinate snowshoes.
Solar panels are popping up all over Vermont. Three just completed projects will provide power to state office buildings and correctional facilities. This, according to Governor Shumlin, places Vermont at the forefront of the renewable energy revolution.
And I still love our solar panels - even under blankets of heavy snow.