Thoughts on Solar
Solar Shines through the Storm
November 15, 2012; Featured in Thoughts on Solar
by Rue Phillips
When Hurricane Sandy pounded the East Coast, it left 8.5 million homes and businesses across 16 states in the dark as transmission lines, transformers and substations fell victim to powerful winds and the storm surge. While the conventional electric grid suffered the storm’s wrath, power generating sources of renewable energy including solar modules made it through largely unscathed.
Solar modules are designed to withstand the elements and are resilent in most weather conditions. Hurricane force winds can uproot solar modules and surrounding fences, but they rarely dismantle an entire solar project. While torrential downpours can cause problems to rooftop installations if the underlying structure fails, rain and floods also are unlikely to damage solar panels. Typically, inverters are the Achilles’ heel of solar installations. If the electronic equipment in inverter houses is violated generally the system will fail.
Emergency restoration services can help bring a system back online after an abrupt system outage. However, no amount of work to batten down the hatches in advance of a storm will help keep a system online if operations and maintenance (O&M) processes and protocols are not already in place. Installations built without consideration of site suitability are especially vulnerable to damage. While that doesn’t preclude solar arrays from being installed in 100-year flood plains or in the path of Santa Ana winds, it does mean that the system’s design should require that inverters be mounted six to eight feet in the air to avoid flooding and that there is a vegetation barrier surrounding the installation.
A preventative O&M plan as offered by (True South) is essential to ensure the integrity of a solar system and proper operation through its projected 20-year lifespan. An independent audit can determine whether a waterproof connector is still preventing seepage and whether a system can weather the storm. Real-time system monitoring can allow for instantaneous notification of when an array has gone offline and allows for faster repairs. This intelligence can help reduce costs in the long run and resolve potential problems before they result in significant financial losses. With knowledge gathered before a weather event hits, a forensic inspection of the system will allow you to see clearly what happened in the event’s aftermath. As a result of such proper preparation, True South was able to prepare and keep online a 35 megawatt solar installation on Long Island throughout Hurricane Sandy.In contrast, a reactive O&M process often will leave you in a situation where you are unsure of the true extent of the damage to a system and may cost you more money in the long run.
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