Sunday, 22 January 2012

Let it snow!

I love snow.

In England when it snows everything stops. People miss school and don't go to work. Traffic systems close down and people can't get to the airport to go on their skiing holidays. Sometimes power cables are brought down and the food in people's freezers is spoiled.

Here in Japan people are used to snow. Matsumoto is not in Snow Country, but is surrounded by it. The snowiest city in the world is apparently Aomori, where it comes in from the sea like waves over the winter. In Hokkaido they have a different front door upstairs, and neighbourhood battles go on as people clear snow into each other's parking spaces as soon as they vacate them.

Clearing snow here, for the most part seems to me a waste of time, although everyone gets very busy doing it. Sooner or later it's going to melt, so why bother? While it's snowing, you can walk on it or drive in it as everyone changes into snow tires from some time in early November when the first hint of white hits the highest mountain peaks. I don't really like driving in snow, so I don't unless I really have to. Like if I'm going skiing. Usually I don't really have to drive. I cycle to work, but can walk or get a bus if necessary.

As a house owner, my view of snow should have changed a little from this childish enthusiasm, but it hasn't yet. My house is effectively at the end of a cul-de-sac, so I don't have any responsibility to clear the thoroughfare in front of it. The biggest worry is the roof and the balcony on the south. Snow is rather heavy. It may be much lighter than water, but you don't get fifty centimetres of water building up all across the top of a house. Actually we don't get snow building up over our roof either, so far. It slides off the southern solar roof well. Some of it does hit the balcony on the way down making a ridge there that seems to sit happily, although most of if falls straight onto the terrace below. Probably a good idea to clear that off in the interest of balcony longevity, but it is not doing too much harm, and we wouldn't need to worry if it snowed while we were out of the country. 

Snow is more likely to stay on the north roof as it's shallower, and part of it is in the shade. Snow goes through a melting freezing cycle, and bits of ice come crashing down to where we keep the bicycles. 

Obviously snow impedes the performance of the solar panels. When the roof panels are covered, not much sunlight gets through, although of course the radiation that does get through heats the panels, melts the snow on top of it, and helps the snow slide off. Also, when it's actually snowing, few rays get through the clouds and snow. Even so, it was producing something while it was snowing. Admittedly only a hundred watts or so--in the battery charger ball park--and half the 200 watts that the house seems to consume even when everything is switched off. Over a day when it snowed pretty much all the time, we still made 2.3 kWh, which is about 10% of what we used. 

I was hoping we'd hit 1000 kWh within the first month of living in the house, but it's snowing again today, so it's looking unlikely.