Sweeps Season

Snow has fallen periodically on our homestead since Halloween. Most days it briefly covers the new solar panels, then melts away without needing our help. The night of November 13th we got several inches and a hard freeze. The next morning, I went out to sweep snow off our new array for the first time (see Power Shift: The Plan in Place).

It's a bigger job than it used to be! (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger.)

It’s a bigger job than it used to be! (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger.)

I immediately realized that I underestimated this job as I contemplated it through the summer months. Snowy conditions proved far different than I imagined, I’m embarrassed to say. I’ve swept panels every winter since 2007, you’d think I’d know better? (See Solar “Extraction”.) Even the approach to the panels, following a newly established path through the newer garden beds, proved difficult. I blithely tromped straight through one of our recently planted garlic beds instead of skirting it, as I’d done previously.

Footing on the rock around the panels gets trickier in snow and ice, of course. I didn’t do too badly, but I need to be careful. Brisk northerly gusts at my back as I balanced on the rocky edge certainly didn’t help.

I also learned that my scraper/brush doesn’t reach all the way across the array with enough leverage to dig in and scrape ice. I had to scramble around the array frame far more than I expected.

I thought up a dozen improvements and corrections by the time I returned to the cabin. I may build a scaffolding catwalk across the bottom of the panels that would allow me to walk out onto it and reach higher. I might build a long ladder up the seaward side of the array, or attach handholds to the frame for safer climbing.

More practically, I’ll look for a longer reaching scraper. I know we can find one of those long sweeps used to clear snow off roofs. That may work well, or it may be overkill. We might find a car sweeper/scraper combo like ours, sized for big rigs at one of our local truck stops.

And, it looks like we ought to lay a couple of planks across that garlic bed for the winter.

Supposedly, a developing El Niño will bring us a warmer, wetter winter this year. Forecasters tell us to expect brief periods of snow, quickly turning to slush and rain. Perhaps I won’t need to scrape the panels much this winter, but I want to refine the process to make it easier and safer. That might prove even more important if it becomes an unpredictable, occasional chore rather than an everyday task.

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