For weeks, Anchorage Muni solar panels covered in snow - Must Read Alaska
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Tuesday, February 25, 2020
HomePoliticsFor weeks, Anchorage Muni solar panels covered in snow

For weeks, Anchorage Muni solar panels covered in snow

The Municipality of Anchorage spent hundreds of thousands of dollars installing solar panels on the roof of the Egan Center on 5th Street in downtown Anchorage.

But for weeks, they have been covered in snow, rendering them inoperable.

The panels were installed in 2019 as part of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’ Climate Action Plan at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $200,000. The panels are expected to pay for themselves in energy cost savings in about 7.5 years and save the city 9 percent of the electricity the Egan Center uses every year.

But since at least Jan. 1 the panels have been covered in snow, and no attempt has been made to blow or rake the snow from them. Of course, that represents only five percent of the year, but winter is far from over.

According to the Energy Sage blog, it’s a common myth is that solar panels do not work during winter.

“Interestingly, the cold temperature will typically improve solar panel output. The white snow can also reflect light and help improve PV performance. Winter will only hurt solar production if the panels are covered with snow.”

Installed panels are supposed to shed the snow, as they are at an angle. But that’s clearly not working on the Egan Center Building.

[Read: Anchorage Climate Change Plan adopted in May, 2019]

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Well, you are either dishonest or lazy, or some combination of both. The article obviously attempts to paint a picture that if only the muni would clean off those panels, the power would start pouring in. If you had done any real research, you would have learned that while it is true that the output of solar panels increases with colder temperatures, they still need sunlight. At this latitude and at this time of the year, the day is so short and the sun is so low on the horizon, there is very little power available. Just a little bit of honest research would have revealed that, and you could have then spent your precious time coming up with some other way to bash the idea that not poisoning the Earth is stupid.

    • Well done, Sir. Name calling twice in your first sentence and you end the same way. Congratulations on your stirring defense of the Climate Action Plan.

      The problem is that incoming solar radiation has to actually make it to the photovoltaics before anything happens. Bury the panels under snow and nothing gets generated. I have seen that even frost is a problem.

      We know from the Opportunity & Spirit rovers on Mars that even a light layer of dust is enough to significantly cut generated power. It was enough to eventually kill off both of them.

      With that in mind, a thought experiment for you: How much incident radiation will an inch of snow cut? How about a half inch of hoarfrost? Any way to find out?

      Well, there actually is. You can always ask the museum what they have generated over the course of the last year and match that up with the amount of snow on the ground and the time of year. Should be a nice series of curves. If you have access to that data, you might want to post it. If not, you can just go back to name calling.

      Sounds like an interesting problem. I’ll ask the Museum and see if they track what they generate. My guess is either yes, but that number is so low as to be embarrassing or no, because the solar panels were virtue signaling all along. Will let you know what I come up with. Cheers –

      • He’s right, though. The power from them at this time of year isn’t worth the trouble.

      • American Rich 1% blame democratic for no sunshine

        • The Rich 1% are democrats. They exist there because they continue to support larger government.

    • Your attempt to justify lazy indifference to ideas not your own casts you in a bad light. If you do not maintain the expensive equipment purchased by the taxpayers then you are skewing data used to decide whether or not to expand the system based on cost vs returns and excusing Muni Employees charged with (possibly in addition to old duties) failing to protect city assets. Costs and Efficiency have both improved in recent years but not to the point that any reasoning person would think this system could take over powering the Egan Center but it Is an effort to improve, adapt and innovate. By adding additional power inputs at key locations and adding the infrastructure (Battery backup, charge controllers, inverters and phase matching) you enable the future technology to be implemented as it evolves as well as reducing the load on an already overtaxed electrical grid. I would Much rather see my tax dollars spent on improvements to the Muni’s infrastructure that pay lazy city employees not willing to clear off solar panels (while under warranty) and insure that the system can operate as advertised.

    • You think they didn’t do the math on snow when they put this array together? You could simply wipe these down to help them produce, but there’s so little Sun this month it’s not worth it.

      Do the tiniest bit of journalistic research next time.

      • American Rich 1% blame democratic for no sunshine

    • Ken,

      Might as well have solar cells in your basement as in Alaska. A windmill in your garage. Most “renewable” sources of energy just aren’t suited to these latitudes and/or are extremely expensive/cost prohibitive to purchase, install and maintain. If it’s too much trouble to clean that pesky snow off the outdoors panels, why have them? Big waste of time and other peoples’ money for a dream like California. I’ve seen them there. The wind farms around Palm Springs cover miles and miles and they still can’t do the job. Same with the solar farms starting to pop up. They can’t do the job, even there, with all that sun and wind. They wind up costing more to purchase, install, maintain and replace than the evil alternative and renewable still won’t do the job. In any case, none but hydro, nuclear or geothermal will do. Not cheap or available everywhere. No way can “renewable” energy replace fossil fuel, especially in Alaska. For the warmest months, maybe. For the other 8 or 9 months, not a chance.
      BTW; Being polite doesn’t cost anything and everyone benefits.

      • If solar is worthless in Alaska how come some trump administration was taking credit for the new solar farm in Willow. I have no idea if there is snow on those panels. Maybe you should go check.

        • In the summer these are probably nice – since the daylight will be very long. Today in January, they’ll see what, 3 hours of daylight? Very low on the horizon – like late afternoon, dusk? Not a whole lotta sunlight to harvest even if it isn’t overcast and snowy. But the demand for heat sorta occurs when solar cell output is negligible – not a very effective solution.

        • Given it is a private concern, whose revenue depends not on extorting property taxes from the citizenry while ignoring inconvenient Virtue Signalling failures, but on actually producing something useful at some point, I bet they are cleaned every day.

          • Do you know that for a fact. The panels were mentioned along with other federal dollars spent in AK. Federal dollars last time I checked come from tax payers. I do not know anything about how the project was financed. I was surprised to see the Trump administration taking credit for it. I hope the project is successful as well as the municipalities project.

    • Ken Ryan,
      Unlike you sir I am not an expert on the subject at hand. However I have observed that The United States Coast Gaurd has for many years powered Nav. Aids ( bouy’s, dolphin’s) lights with solar panels. Said lights are installed at such an angle to shed snow. My conclusion is that even in high latitudes solar panels produce sufficient power even in winter.
      My hunch is that the City gladly took Grant $ for these panels but failed to diligently research the proper installation procedures . Perhaps an Architect objected to the visual outline of a vaulted array? Who knows?

  • Thoughtless, government Climatards. But, those snow-covered solar panels do look pretty in white.

    • Wasteful government spending. Downing, your article is just fine, only illiterate liberals couldn’t understand it. What would President Reagan think about this mess.

  • Well let’s see: the author is a hard leaning right wing journalese…so there is that grain of salt.

    She says “ hundreds of thousands of dollars” ominous, as opposed to further into the article of “approximately a couple hundred thousand dollars” which indicates it is more likely than not to be under 200,000.00, more outrageous is the fact the that it was GRANT money used.

    Couple that with this is the first winter in use, she complains about not being cleared since January 1 but makes no mention of the 36” of snow that has been cleared since November and the fact that she does not mention the cost savings comparison since installation and being on line.

    I’m gonna go with Hatchet article written by a politically compromised alleged journalist that owns and operates a web blog designed to attack anything the GOP Handlers pay her to do.

    • Your refer to “GRANT money”, as if that absolves the Muni from responsibility for maintenance. It doesn’t.
      Beyond that, however, the Green New Dealers want you to believe that we haven’t done anything to adopt renewable energy, but the truth is that the Federal government has been subsidizing renewables for AT LEAST 40 years, yet their current contribution to national energy consumption is still less than 10%. I cannot tell you how many once beautiful vistas have been destroyed by solar panels and windmills, to no great effect. If we covered every roof and parking lot, every farm, every forest, every desert, and every national park with solar panels and windmills, we would still not meet our energy needs, and we would starve, and will have destroyed the environment we claim to revere.

      • Most estimates are 10,000 – 22,000 square miles would cover our energy needs. As solar panels grow more efficient that number would drop.
        Compare that to:
        40,223 square miles – this is the size of the land leased by the oil and gas industry
        18,500 square miles – the amount of federal land offered for lease to the oil and gas industry in 2017 alone.
        13,000 square miles – the US land that has been impacted by coal surface mining
        70,312 square miles – the total amount of US land used for lawns

      • Estimates range from 10,000 – 22,000 square miles will cover US needs. As the panels become more efficient that number will go down.

        Compare that to:

        40,223 square miles – this is the size of the land leased by the oil and gas industry (according to the US Bureau of Land Management).

        18,500 square miles – the amount of federal land offered for lease to the oil and gas industry in 2017 alone.

        13,000 square miles – the US land that has been impacted by coal surface mining

        70,312 square miles – the total amount of US land used for lawns

  • Well all political arguing aside, I live completely on solar at my house, and am some distance north of Anchorage..from Thanksgiving through valentine’s day..they are essentially useless.. the fairbanks solar farm, has same issue, the cost of sweeping and maintenance is more than the savings of generated power. I would guess Anchorage only gets a few moments longer each day of usable daylight.

  • When people like Ken And Jerome do not have the facts on their side their first response is to attack the messenger. Their claim that the author is either dishonest or lazy is over the top and unseemly. But perhaps the author might simply be wrong? Nope, not that either.. It is quite clear that the MRAK article was accurate. Solar panels cannot generate electricity if they are covered by snow. Period. That was the point of the article. If there is a good reason for not removing the snow, so be it. But it is quite clear that the facts related by the author were factually accurate. But the haters need to find fault somewhere so they infer that the author’s claim that hundreds of thousands were spent on the project was a lie. But the author’s statement that approx two hundred thousand clearly supports that claim. And that is not disputed! Again, factually accurate. Then they claim that cold temps can actually improve solar panel performance. Ok, no argument there. But if so does that not support having the panels cleared of snow. I mean, that ‘was’ the point of the article.
    Whether the solar panels will eventually save a lot of money or pay for them selves is yet to be determined. But leaving them covered up with snow or anything else renders them useless while covered. . That is a given. Anyone want to claim otherwise, jump in.

    • The panels aren’t useless while covered in snow. They are actually worse than useless, by keeping the snow off of the roof the loss of the insulating properties of snow on the building is actually costing more in heating costs by allowing the cold air greater access the the warmest area of the building. I’m not sure what the Egan Center uses as a heat source, but these snow covered panels are in actuality and undoubtedly causing more of the E-vile carbon emissions that they were supposed to offset.

      • Steve-O, you will admit that there are a lot of smart and reasonable people in the world that disagree with you. Yes?
        The balance between the problems with using rare earth metals or recycling batteries used in Solar power and the use of fossil fuels to heat, favor use of solar. The debate on this subject was resolved decades ago.
        Now if you were to argue the benefits of electric vehicles vs the real cost of producing power to charge the million cars that will be driven and the cost of recycling the lithium iron batteries, I might get on board.

        • AF,
          I will readily admit that there are a lot of smart and reasonable people in the world that disagree with me. Although I’m not sure any of them would disagree with me about what I just wrote.
          .
          Snow is an insulator.
          .
          Snow that is sitting on solar panels instead of the roof offers no insulation value to the building.
          .
          Cold air saps heat from the building causing the Egan Center to use more of whatever heat source it uses than it otherwise would have.
          .
          Unless the Egan Center uses nuclear, wind, or geothermal power to heat their building they are generating more carbon emissions.
          .
          I’m not as sure as you are that the debate about using solar to heat was settled decades ago, just in this comment section we have people telling us that this time of year it is not worth it to brush the snow off of these solar panels this time of year. Seems like solar isn’t very good as a heat source in Alaska in the winter. We know this is true for a number of reasons, first because that’s why it’s cold outside and second the snow can’t even be bothered to melt off these solar panels…
          .
          As far as the mining and production of solar panels and the use of electric vehicles those are entirely different conversations than what we are having here.

  • They need add Sundrum collectors under the solar panel to melt the snow and support thermal water heating.

  • There is a significant risk of damaging the panels when removing snow and ice. The panels are tempered glass with photovoltaic cells etched on the glass. The cost to replace one or two panels would be much more than the energy produced in January at that location.

  • Provide a bit of fact: what is the actual measure of panel output at noon under the present conditions of snow cover and seasonal solar minimum?

    Thanks

  • Love the way they wasted tax dollars on a project that doesn’t work in snow, now the mayor wants more money to waste — sales tax, liquor tax and sooner than you know it they would want a income tax, and Berkowitz wants the city to get PFD money as well. The Assembly and mayor think they are better than us and want to do our thinking for us. Time to vote them all out of office and vote no on any type of new tax. Downing, my pay day is the 31st I will support your blog then.

  • I will leave the debate on the merits and deficiencies of the solar panels to others. The most interesting aspect of the “discussion” above are the very nasty attacks, including name calling and ad hominem, against the primary author. This has become such standard fare for the Left and it reveals such weakness. Go away Leftist acolytes. If you cannot make an argument without name calling and ad hominem, go back and repeat high school. This is as tiring as it is ineffectual. Grow up.

  • It seems the libs are getting triggered over nothing but a passing observation that the solar panels, which have been up since summer, have been useless for two months. It was too dark in December for them to work, and now that the snow is here, they are covered up. Anchorage gets six hours of sunlight now. That’s four hours less than San Diego. And we’re gaining at lease a half an hour a week more sunlight and even more daylight. I admit I am no expert in solar panels, but the panels need daylight to generate electricity. They don’t actually need direct sunlight, just the photons in natural daylight, which they obviously can’t get when they are covered with snow. It would be interesting to see how much energy they would produce in mid- to late-January, if they did have access to daylight. Yeah, maybe it’s not worth it in the winter to dust the snow off. I’ll leave that to the experts. Meanwhile, I’ll stick with that old saying, if you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it. If this story was written in December, I’d agree that it was a bit of unwarranted criticism. But it’s the third week of January and snow could very well stay on those panels into March or beyond. Is the Muni willing to ignore the panels for 128 days out of the year, when Anchorage has snow of 3 inches or more? It’s the first year of the solar panels. Great discussion to have. That is all. Carry on, libs.

    • Best solution is to scape snow off. They do it every time they get in the car, do it to panels. Free power is good any time, especially on panels you can use for 30 years.

  • Oh Dear! This article was a cue to SFO Berkie to create a new $90,000/yr position for a snow remover. Oh, that’s salary only; benefits will at least double that. Big problem, though, The Alaska Shovelers Union has only trained people to work on animal leavings so expensive re-training will be needed. There IS a bright side; in summer the same hire can double cleaning out City Hall.

  • Ken Ryan,
    What is your thoughts on overcast days during Sun hours? Thank You

  • The best application for solar in a cold snowy place is on a single axis tracker with bifacial PV. In the case of NEXTracker’s NX Horizon, the panels rotate to 60 degrees in morning and afternoon. Snow slides off glass at that angle. And the bifacial solar stays snow free on the back. Reflected light prodyces power and warms the cells, further accelerating slide off. Pls the trackers make more energy than fixed systems

  • I just use a squeegee to clear snow off my panels. Easy peasee. They need an area to walk on the roof and send some one to scape them. Any free power from the sun is good. As technology gets better, panels will be able to pull more power with lower light than now. They do it with NASA and space ventures all the time.

  • He’d probably raise taxes and ban assault rifles…which of course he did.
    But more importantly he’d know it snows in Alaska and would have planned a yearly winter cover. Your taxpayers’ return on investment is on sound footing. Only thing missing are some beautiful wind turbines, like the ones in Palm Springs that have been producing clean power for nearly 40 years.

  • I own about 32000 solar modules(panels) in Oregon at 120+ sites. On a flat roof with the modules at typically 10 degrees snow won’t slide off much. I have some solar system on trackers that are two sided. When it snows I tilt them to 45 degrees to help the snow slide off which usually works very well. With them being two sided (bifacial) the reflected light from the snow on the ground produces some power and helps in part to melt the snow. Solar modules do work better in cold weather but of course work less with snow.
    The bottom line is according to weather averages there is less than 2% of the yearly output in January as compared to the total for the year, so who cares if they are covered with snow for a few weeks in January.

  • A solar tracker will tilt fully vertical and dump the snow. The government should have spent slightly more and picked a system with a two axis tracker. We make those. Aiming at the sun exactly improves the harvest of free energy by about 20%. Alaska burns massive amounts of natural gas and the last person I talked to there was moving away over his incredible gas bill.

  • Solar, tidal, wind, geothermal, nuclear, natural gas, the earth’s electromagnetic field, and whatever else some clever persons come up with – All go through the process of conception, experiment, development, and production. Some eventually become financially, socially, and environmentally cost-effective. Not perfect, as that is mechanically impossible for us to attain.

    IMO, a lot of small projects are being tried out, while ignoring bigger possibilities. High Voltage Direct Current from the N. Slope is one possibility, which many have advocated. Only problem is that the infrastructure costs are prohibitive as measured against known projected revenues.
    Luring power intensive industry to Alaska could address that issue, but it would require building the generation, transmission, and industry together. HVDC through Canada is also an possibility, but then we would be competing against cheaper Canadian gas.

    Were we to somehow solve all of the problems, then the Environazis would want to obstruct and delay for decades.

  • I have solar panels on my house in Fbks. They are close to vertical in winter but do not shed snow well. A sunny day will clear much of the snow.
    The accepted production of a solar panel in Alaska is 1 kilowatt hour per year per watt of panel rating. That is what GVEA used when planning their solar farm.
    I have 8, 265 watt panels. So yearly production is about 1750 kilowatt hours. My out of pocket cost, after govt discounts, was 12,000 bucks in 2014/15. I would have been far better off to have put that money in the stock market!!

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