Strategies to harden solar assets against hurricanes

Strategies to harden solar assets against hurricanes
Hurricane Ida approaches the U.S. Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2021. (Courtesy: Brian McGowan/Unsplash)

Contributed by Isaac McLean, kWh Analytics

The fury of a hurricane can wreak havoc on solar energy infrastructure. With climate change increasing the frequency and intensity of these extreme storms, owners must strengthen the resilience of their assets. Hurricanes Hilary and Idalia caused varying levels of destruction not only on the east coast but also in California and Nevada. Their impacts illuminate key strategies for fortifying solar infrastructure against future tempests.

In the immediate aftermath of extreme weather events, the primary focus is on evaluating and addressing the physical damage to solar infrastructure and facilities. For such a devastating natural catastrophe event, we have the advantage of a defined season and often a week’s notice of the impact path to properly prepare and harden sites. Asset owners should anticipate a range of impacts from hurricanes, including:

Physical Damage: High winds and debris can cause structural damage to solar panels, racking systems, and other components. Asset owners need to assess the extent of physical damage and plan for repairs and replacements.

Electrical System Disruption: Heavy rainfall and flooding might result in electrical system disruptions. Inverter damage, cable corrosion, and short circuits could hinder energy generation capabilities.

Monitoring and Communication Interruptions: Hurricanes can disrupt communication networks, making it difficult for asset owners to monitor the performance of their solar farms in real-time.

Environmental Considerations: Flooding and soil erosion can lead to environmental concerns, such as water runoff causing pollution or contamination. Asset owners should be prepared to address these issues promptly.

GO DEEPER: Jason Kaminsky, CEO of the clean energy project insurance provider kWh Analytics, joined Episode 51 of the Factor This! podcast to share the data behind solar’s biggest risks, along with pathways to avoid potholes down the road. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Insurance considerations

For many assets, generation may be halted entirely, translating to revenue losses that may compound over time. Insurance is, and will continue to be, critical for asset owners recovering from hurricane damage. With natural disasters increasing in frequency, some carriers may hike premiums across the board. However, diligent owners can mitigate rate increases by having their insurance broker thoroughly review options at renewal. Some insurers possess superior risk assessment capabilities and can reward resiliency efforts with savings and improved terms and conditions.

Amanda Lania, Senior Vice President at the brokerage CAC Specialty, said “Asset owners should understand the natural catastrophe exposures at their project site(s) and be willing to invest in resiliency measures to fortify the infrastructure against severe weather events, including implementing stow strategies and weather alert monitoring programs as well as maintaining adequate sparing.

Such risk mitigation measures and engineering considerations can help your insurance broker negotiate and differentiate your risk profile in the market which can result in overall improved cost, coverage, and deductibles.”

Lessons for future storms

Utility-scale solar owners must learn from recent extreme weather events to prepare for the next inevitable storm. Robust disaster planning is essential, including securing equipment, keeping back-ups, and implementing communication protocols for crises. Ahead of the next storm, asset owners should be diligent in their system audits, ensuring that fasteners are affixed properly and drainage paths are clear. Partnerships with local authorities and industry peers can maximize resource and information sharing when calamity strikes.

Though formidable, hurricanes need not spell catastrophe for solar. Staying one step ahead of storms through diligent preparation is key. With climate threats rising, industry collaboration with insurers will be vital to advance readiness. The quest for resilience requires vigilance, but solar owners have proven their fortitude against Mother Nature’s fury before. With foresight and grit, they can build solar strongholds ready for the hurricanes yet to come.