How do solar panel systems fare against hurricanes?

In recent years, a number of hurricanes swept through the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in massive amounts of devastation to a number of island and coastal communities. Prior to the storm, there were numerous solar panel systems installed throughout the communities, and the impact to these systems was quite varied based on geography and mounting technique.

Equipment standards are based upon the installer and manufacturer warranties, third-party-developed equipment standards and/or state-based equipment legal standards for PV systems. These standards are incredibly important when purchasing solar panels in a potential hurricane zone.

From 2009 to 2012, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory tested 50,000 photovoltaic systems on their performance and reliability. In the weather category, which consisted of lightning and hurricane subcategories, it was determined that solar system damage only accounted for 24 percent of cases, as illustrated in the figure below.

Hurricane-1
Graph courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory

In Puerto Rico, some solar panel systems survived the storm and some did not. The San Juan VA hospital endured 180 mph winds, with its 645-kilowatt rooftop solar array operating in full capacity post-storm, as illustrated in the image below. The TSK Solar field was also not damaged, and was comprised of solar panels specifically designed to outlast hurricanes. Contrarily, Humacao’s sewage treatment facility solar system was completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

Hurricane-2
Photos courtesy of PV Magazine

Given these real world performance experiences, solar companies have begun to determine what techniques are the most successful in withstanding hurricane events. Conventional raised racking systems were unsuccessful, as they had increased chances of roof failure, leaks, and were subject to uplift. These conventional installation designs are also typically ridged structures, and therefore the system is compromised when one panel is ripped off the structure.

Solar systems that did work were installed with a combination of ballasts and mechanical anchors, and also possessed the ability to flex in multiple directions without breaking. Moving forward in communities that are susceptible to hurricanes, it is imperative that the appropriate system design, not the cheapest or conventional design, is installed.

By: Natalie McClaine

Photo courtesy of Pexels.com


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