Challenges with solar power in New York in the Winter

December 1, 2022 by Joshua
in Creativity

A few weeks from the winter solstice, new challenges arise in using solar compared to summer and fall, some augmented by starting an experiment with what I had, not analyzing and planning to find perfection before starting (starting is the way to find what works best).

Days are shorter: I have less time during the day to charge.

Days are shorter, part 2: I can’t choose when I charge. Near the summer solstice I can charge from around 7am to 7pm. Now I can charge from about 9am to 4pm.

The sun is lower on the horizon: In the summer, the sun spends a long time overhead so leaving the panels lying face up exposes them to enough light to max out their charging. Now, I have to angle them. If I face them to the southeast in the morning, they lose their exposure by midday, when the sun moves to the southwest. If I face them south the whole time, they don’t charge much early and late.

The sun is lower on the horizon, part 2: The sunlight traverses more atmosphere, which disperses it and increases the chances of clouds blocking it.

It’s windier: combined with having to angle the panels, the wind blows the raised panels like a kite. I have to stay there and hold them or leave them flat, which reduces their effectiveness by half or more.

It’s cold: I have to bundle up more to stay there with the panels and can’t work at my computer, so I either spend time doing nothing, or reading, or have to leave the panels flat, which I’m doing today. I doubt they’ll fully charge the battery even leaving them out all day.

It’s cold, part 2: I have to wear enough extra layers to add another few pounds carrying the already heavy battery and panel eleven flights up and down. I’m not as young or strong as I was.


An obvious solution is a permanent installation, which I’m working toward. As is often the case, the hard part will likely be people not technology. I’ll have to get approval from my building’s coop board, which resisted a free brown bin for collecting food scraps from the city. Still, I expect my doing solar on my own in this experiment will help them see I’m not pursuing something new, just simplifying something I’m already doing.

I suspect technology will be an issue, though. In particular, assuming I can install a panel on the roof permanently, I don’t think getting the current eleven flights down to my apartment will be easy. I’ll talk to professionals. I suspect they may appreciate someone being a forgiving guinea pig for installing solar on a Manhattan rooftop. I know of no implementations on residential buildings. There are a lot of them and I’m sure many more residents would like to install than would like to go first.

Another “solution” is to reconnect the apartment to the grid, which would shift my problem to the people affected by my pollution. I’ll probably plug back in soon, but each time I’ve said I would since May, by keeping going I learn more about myself, leadership, humanity, and nature. The trade to keep going keeps giving more than I expect.

I wish I’d started this experiment earlier. I can’t believe not one of you readers has written me to say they want to try. Maybe I wouldn’t have either, but I didn’t have a role model telling me how much the experiment improves life.

solar roof empire state building

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