Recommendations for designing and building hurricane-resilient solar photovoltaic systems

Damaged solar panels on October 10, 2017, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Image: Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA via RMI
Climate Change

The Rocky Mountain Institute recently published Solar Under Storm, a report which addresses the question of why some solar photovoltaic (PV) survive hurricanes virtually unscathed, while others suffer extensive damage:

The 2017 hurricane season was one of the most active in history. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria brought widespread destruction throughout the Caribbean. In addition to the emotional toll these severe storms had on people in the region, the disruption of critical infrastructure left many communities without basic services such as electricity and water for prolonged periods of time. On some islands, such as Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Barbuda, solar photovoltaic (PV) systems suffered major damage or even complete failure. However, other solar PV systems, such as ones installed in the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, and St. Eustatius, survived and continued producing power the following day.

Rocky Mountain Institute’s (RMI’s) latest report, Solar Under Storm: Select Best Practices for Resilient Ground-Mount PV Systems with Hurricane Exposure, discusses the root causes of PV system failures from hurricanes and describes recommendations for building more resilient solar PV power plants.

Generating electricity with solar PV is a cost-effective and reliable solution for the Caribbean. There are major project plans across the region to not only add solar PV to the grid at utility scale, but also to install solar PV and battery systems for key critical facilities such as water treatment plants, hurricane shelters, schools, hospitals, and telecommunications nodes. Yet as the intensity and number of hurricanes rise, utilities, regulators, engineering professionals, and PV system developers and installers must be aware of the best available engineering, design, delivery, and operational practices to ensure these installations survive.

While the Solar Under Storm report cannot predict all the potential failures and consequent mitigation strategies, it provides an available set of best practices regarding specifications of equipment and procedures along with a framework for continued collaboration within a community of practice. Our hope is that by sharing best practices and through continued collaboration with designers, suppliers, and manufacturers, we can increase the reliability and survival rates of PV systems in hurricanes, and ensure that the people of the Caribbean have resilient and reliable power for their grids, homes, businesses, and critical facilities for decades to come.

Learn more and download the full Solar under Storm report at the RMI website.

[Image: Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA]

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