Old Man Winter, it turns out, is no friend of
This time of year, wind turbine blades ice up,
biodiesel congeals in tanks and solar panels produce
less power because there is not as much sun. And
perhaps most irritating to the people who own
them, the panels become covered with snow, rendering
them useless even in bright winter sunshine.
So in regions where homeowners have long rolled
their eyes at shoveling driveways, add another
cold-weather chore: cleaning off the solar panels.
"At least I can get to them with a long pole
and a squeegee," said Alan Stankevitz, a homeowner
in southeast Minnesota.
In January 2007, a bus stalled in the middle
of the night on I- 70 in the Colorado mountains.
The culprit was a 20 percent biodiesel blend that
congealed in the freezing weather, according to
John Jones, the transit director for the bus line,
Summit Stage. (Biodiesel is a diesel substitute,
typically made from vegetable oil, that is used
to displace some fossil fuels.)
Winter may pose even bigger safety hazards in
the vicinity of wind turbines. Some observers
say the machines can hurl chunks of ice as they
"It's like you throw a plate out there and that
plate breaks," said Ralph Brokaw, a cattle rancher
in southeast Wyoming who has 69 wind turbines
on his property. When his turbines ice up, he
stays out of the way.
From the standpoint of generating power, winter
is actually good for wind turbines, because it
is generally windier than summer. In Vermont,
for example, Green Mountain Power, which operates
a small wind farm in the southeastern part of
the state, gets more than twice the monthly production
in winter as in August.
The opposite is true, however, for solar power.
Days are shorter and the sun is lower in the sky
during the winter, ensuring less power production.
Operators of the electrical grid do not worry
much about the seasonal swings, because the percentage
of production from renewable energy is still so
low -- around 1 percent of the country's power
comes from wind, and less from solar panels. But
as renewable energy becomes a bigger part of the
nation's power mix, the seasonable variability
could become more of a problem.
Trey Taylor, the president of Verdant Power,
which has put small turbines in the tidal East
River in New York City and plans more for the
St. Lawrence River in Canada, said that ice chunks
could slide over one another "like a deck of cards,"
pushing ice below and harming turbines. That may
rule out parts of otherwise promising sites like
the Yukon River in Alaska, he said.
(c) 2008 Deseret News (Salt Lake City). Provided
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