Polar Vortex Welcomes Solar Solutions

Along with other people in Ontario, I’m wondering when the warmer weather is finally going to arrive. While the days are getting longer and the sun is burning brighter, I’m certainly relieved that the long, dark, and bitterly cold days of winter are well behind us.

It snowed….again!

Drilling through the snow.

Work continues through chilly temperatures, snow,
and sleet.

Terrible driving conditions.

I don’t recall the term polar vortex ever being introduced into our vocabulary before this winter, and it’s a term I hope I never have to hear again! When I get ranting about the cold, I realize how much I miss the sun and beaches in Florida . . . I digress.
What is the first thing you think about when you hear the word solar? Let’s face it, this generally makes people think of beautiful summer days, with the scorching sun fueling smart energy.
I’m here to share my contrary experience demonstrating that renewable solar energy can be created in the face of even the most extreme winter conditions – such as the coldest winter we’ve lived through in southern Ontario in the past 20 years!
Despite the bone-chilling temperatures and never-ending snow, our renewable energy team completed 14 solar projects throughout hard hit areas such as London, Barrie, Orillia, and Ottawa.
How did we do this, you ask? First and foremost I would attribute it to team work delivered in a man-versus-nature sense. We literally went back in time to deliver futuristic technology that the pioneers of yesteryear would not have even dreamed of!
We had to be creative in making heat to keep our workers and our tools warm. I’m talking bringing in school buses, warming up cables, and heating rocks in a fire to warm ourselves! Does that say retro construction techniques!?
Beyond this, what did we experience? Here are a few thoughts and lessons learned:
  • Snow removal is never ending, especially for removal of panels before testing. I didn’t realize that many methods of snow removal existed!
  • Surveying takes twice as long and technical difficulties can ensue during snowfall.
  • Equipment is harder to start in colder conditions and may not start at all, but drilling benefits from frost.
  • Materials should be kept off the ground to avoid freezing or being buried in snow!
  • With sites as large as 100 acres, warming stations can never be close enough.
  • Manpower productivity is reduced by 50-60 per cent in extreme weather conditions.
I’m looking forward to sharing this experience in more detail at a breakout session at CanSIA’s Solar Ontario 2014 Conference and Tradeshow in Ottawa on May 8. Ontario’s Winter Climate: Implications for Solar Facility Construction, Performance and Maintenance details the trials and tribulations of my team to persevere and complete these projects.
I’d like to thank the tremendous effort by our team, subcontractors and workers who showed great commitment while working on sites, away from home. Not only does completion of these projects speak to PCL’s capability to successfully complete multiple projects with overlapping schedules concurrently, it speaks to the powerful camaraderie of a team effort and a job well done!
If you shiver the next time you hear the word polar vortex, just take a look at what we pulled off this winter! If you can imagine it, we can build it!
What can we build for you?



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