On public tours of the Frick Environmental Center, a common question that visitors ask has to do with the large solar panels that cover the Center's parking area: How well do the solar panels that power the Center make energy in winter?
Even when covered with a thin layer of snow, the panels get enough sunlight to make the energy needed to keep the Center running smoothly. However, when we get deep, dense snowfalls like the ones that have happened lately, we see from our real-time performance software that there's a pretty significant drop in energy.
The solution to clearing the snow from the solar panels is one similar to the scraper you use on your very own car windshield, except MUCH bigger.
This giant squeegee does the trick without damaging the panels. We don't remove all of the snow completely; after all, the melted snow is also useful as collected water for gray water sources (such as water for toilet flushes) on site.
This winter, we're experimenting to find a balance between clearing enough snow to allow sunlight through, while leaving the rest to melt. Removing all of the snow would mean choosing energy over water - so we have to consider that when deciding what to do.
We hope that by exposing more snow, it will heat up in the sun and melt faster. This strikes a good balance between collecting water and creating energy - and as a side benefit, creates patterns on the panels that look pretty interesting from Beechwood Boulevard!
Maureen Olinzock is the Sustainability Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy