Terminal 5, snow and solar systems

At one time flying was rare and glamorous. Now it is a boring chore that you have to undertake with great guilt about the carbon emissions that flying creates assuaging the guilt by remembering that the vapour trials of aircraft diffuse light, probably slowing down the rate of global warming.


I went to the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport on Sunday. It was the first day of the new tax year, 6th April and for the first time in years it was snowing heavily in London. I do not attribute the snow to climate change – we have had snow in April before – but this was the first time I remember seeing the snow settle and by the time I got to Terminal 5 most of the ground was covered in about an inch of snow.


I was lucky at Terminal 5; there was no line at the security gate, the flight was only 30 minutes late in boarding and there was only a four and a half hour wait in the plane while we were waiting for the de-icing equipment to de-ice the plane. I know that others have had a much worse experience.


Monday’s Evening Standard reported that 140 flights were cancelled on Sunday leaving hundreds of people sleeping rough in the terminal. Apparently British Airways were denying that there was a lack if de-icers; obviously the four and an half hour wait I experienced while the British Airways Captain patiently explained that our plane was in a queue waiting for de-icers to arrive. At one stage we were tenth in the queue.


By the time the de-icer arrived the ground snow had melted and I suspect that de-icing was probably not necessary by then. But you cannot take chances with ice on a plane.


Most de-icers spray a polypropylene glycol on the plane. It is of a similar composition of the glycol we use in genersys thermal solar systems as a heat transfer fluid which does not freeze.


It removes the ice but the effect only lasts a certain time so if take off does not occur within that time then you have to de-ice it all over again. This may have been the real cause of the large number of cancelled flights, but clearly if there are ten planes waiting in line for a de-icer I cannot see any truth in British Airways’ claim that there were enough de-icers.


I arrived at my destination six hours late but better late than never, notwithstanding staying in a plane, one of the most unpleasant environments you can be in, for around 18 hours. I cannot complain; I was one of the lucky ones and I suppose that it all serves me right for flying.


If you have a Genersys solar system you will find that the snow has settled on the panels. After a few hours the underside of the snow will feel some reflected heat from the panels and cause the underside snow layer to turn into water, causing in turn the snow to slide off the panels.


You can see what I mean from the picture of an installation in Slovakia, which was taken when the temperature was minus 10, with the panels still working perfectly.



Your system will then be providing you with energy even though the temperature outside is less than zero Celsius. The polypropylene glycol will protect against freezing down to minus 20 Celsius or lower, and the fluid will still be able to circulate heat from the panels.


Luckily we do not have to de-ice our panels, and I certainly do not recommend climbing on the roof to brush off the snow. 

2 Responses

  1. Dear Robert

    I daresay that all an Englishman needs is his Jacket. We attended the final of the local university rugby league last night. The tempratures had droppped overnight to around 19 degrees celcius after some welcome rain. We were all kitted out to combat the chill. I am amazed that your jacket was enough!

    We have heard all about terminal 5 on our local radio stations, what with the soccer world cup on it’s way in 2010. Ridiculous amounts of baggage being flown around the world for sorting and dumping?

    It seems that many of mans endeavours wind up as self propegating problems – flying baggage around for sorting arising out of the need for more terminals for more flying.

    I wonder will we one day return to a self sufficient model where we grow our own food, process our own waste, source the bulk of our water and electricity, and buy a cow to milk as the need arises?

    Were I venturing into the big, wide world as a school leaver today, I would dive straight into a career involving the environment – the next great frontier, if not the final frontier?

  2. Ryan

    It was cold but i assure you that i wasn’t out there too long. It’s all about what you get used to, so turn that thermostat down and cultivate your garden.


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