6 Steps to Prevent Hurricane Damage to Solar Installations

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This post is part of a series sponsored by IAT Insurance Group.

Solar installations have increased by 33% per year over the past decade. This can be attributed to federal policies such as the Solar Investment Tax Credit. The Solar Investment Credit Tax provides a tax incentive for solar units coupled with the growing demand for clean energy.[1] In the commercial sector, environmental, social and governance initiatives have also been motivating factors for their growth.

Many building owners and operators fail to realize that solar panels are not “set it and forget it” equipment. They require routine maintenance and special care in the event of a disaster. If your business is in a hurricane-prone region, having a plan for de-energizing your solar panels before an impending storm is essential to avoid loss and damage.

Securing your solar installations during a storm

Hurricanes bring high winds and flooding, among other hazards. Your solar panels can be damaged before, during and even after a hurricane.

Your maintenance personnel should be trained by the manufacturer or a third party on how to store and deactivate the solar panels in the event of a hurricane. Create a written plan, including assigning responsibilities for specific tasks.

Follow these steps to mitigate damage to your solar array before a hurricane.

  1. Proper storage. To mitigate damage to equipment and reduce wind drag, store and secure all tracking systems in a neutral position before a storm. Follow manufacturers recommendations for storing and securing modules.
  2. Switch off. To mitigate electrical losses caused by grid disturbances during the hurricane, de-energize the facility before the storm hits. Remove it completely from the network at the interconnection point or in the switchyard. Then separate the components by closing the circuit breakers of the combiner boxes, trackers and inverters. This will help mitigate the effects of a single electrical loss, so it won’t negatively impact the entire installation.
  3. Secure connections. Before the storm arrives, confirm that the ties and clamps are secure. Also check, repair and secure loose wiring. Pay particular attention to all potentially compromised areas of the installation, including sections undergoing maintenance or repair.
  4. Make sure the components are sealed. With hurricane winds regularly reaching over 100 mph, rain can easily penetrate even the smallest cracks and openings. All solar panel components should be regularly inspected for a tight seal, especially cabinets containing electrical equipment. Cabinets should be locked to prevent water damage.
  5. Delete insecure objects. Unsecured objects can be thrown through the air during a hurricane and cause damage. Remove or secure all tools and equipment before the storm hits. Also pay special attention to objects adjacent to the building such as pallets. If that’s not possible, move objects downwind to reduce damage.
  6. Inspect drainage ditches. Blocked drainage ditches trap water on site, putting you at risk for further water damage. Inspect the drainage system to make sure it is free of debris and vegetative growth. Build flood barriers if you have the time to help prevent weakening and erosion of the shelving system footings.

Recovery of your equipment after a storm

If the equipment were exposed to flood waters, it could be compromised and contaminated. Therefore, flooded electrical equipment should be carefully inspected, cleaned, dried and tested before use. If not, your installation is at a higher risk of serious damage or total loss.

Additionally, solar modules can generate power from sunlight even when disconnected, and modules sitting in water can pose a shock hazard.

Always follow the manufacturer’s requirements when recovering your equipment.

  • Windings and dry transformers must be dried at a temperature that does not exceed the insulation rating of the system before attempting to use it. Again, check the manufacturer’s label for specific information about your equipment.
  • Oil filled transformers must be inspected. Take oil samples from the top and bottom of the tank for analysis. Look for moisture droplets or a cloudy appearance. A lab should perform a test for dissolved water content. Depending on the results, a specialist may need to dehydrate the oil filler.
  • Circuit boards can be very sensitive. If they have not been energized while submerged in water and contain no water sensitive parts, they are salvageable. Clean according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Other components may need to be rinsed with cool, clean water after coming into contact with flood water. Planning and preparation can mitigate damage to your solar array and speed recovery in the event of a hurricane. Working with an expert can help you identify weak points and other risks in your installation – and can ultimately save your investment from ruin.

Contact the IAT for more information on preparing your solar installation for a hurricane.


By Katie Bloomquist


[1] Association of Solar Energy Industries, “Solar Industry Research Data», consulted on July 7, 2022.

Topics
Disaster Natural Disasters Hurricane

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