Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and the difficulty of predicting them is also growing. In the case of solar energy production, hail causes serious damage to this sector.
04 August 2023 12.16
With the goal of zero net carbon emissions by 2050 in the US, there is a deliberate effort to rapidly expand our renewable energy capacity, with solar power becoming the fastest growing source of electricity by 2022. And as this industry grows, So are the risks associated with extreme weather events..
According to GCube Insurance Services, more than 70% of solar energy losses over the past ten years have occurred since 2017. There are several reasons for the increase in damage to solar modules.including the exponential growth in solar energy development coupled with an increase in extreme weather events.
Hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes, hail, and wildfires are all weather events that threaten solar farms, but the most costly weather event to threaten the solar industry is not the most frequent or deadly. Hail was the biggest weather risk for the solar industry for damage and loss of assets.
Solar Power World reported that a 2022 Texas summer hailstorm caused more than $300 million worth of damage to solar fields, ten times more than the solar damage caused by Hurricane Hanna in 2020. This is partly due to the science of hail forecasting and solar energy developers’ plans for risk resilience. And sometimes physics just wins. Last month in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, a baseball-sized hailstone hit glass solar panels. essentially destroying the entire solar farm.
How is hail formed?
Hail is an interesting weather phenomenon that occurs when raindrops are carried upward by strong updrafts from a thunderstorm into extremely cold regions of the atmosphere and freeze. These hailstones can grow when they encounter drops of liquid water, which then freeze onto the rock, increasing its size. When the hail becomes too heavy for the storm’s updraft or the storm weakens, gravity takes over and the hail eventually falls to the ground.
But conditions must be right for hail to form during a storm. Although Florida tops the list of states with the most thunderstorms, these storms are not usually accompanied by large hail because atmospheric freezing levels are often too high to support large hail formation. (Sometimes this happens, such as baseball-sized hail in parts of the state in April.) According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), hail alley, where Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska meet, is the U.S. area with the most hail, an average of seven to nine hail days per year.
Placement or no placement decisions
While hail is becoming easier to predict with advanced technology and machine learning models, meteorologists cannot reliably predict weather and hail size hours or days ahead. This highlights the need to be vigilant when monitoring weather forecasts and storm tracks on days with a high chance of storms.
A short term forecast (30-60 minutes) and early warning may be sufficient time for solar array operators to put their panels into hail accumulation mode when the trackers are set at a sufficiently high tilt angle to reduce the hail impact energy. deg. Tracker-mounted solar panels are most vulnerable to hail in a horizontal position, in the position of the panel at solar noon. In this position, the hail impact energy will be more destructive and the surface will be more open.
Solar Energy Developers Use Multiple Weather Sources to Make Lay/Not Lay Decisionssince there are business costs to balance any decision. Moving panels out of sunlight during peak hours can drastically reduce power generation, but leaving them out of the way is also risky. In 2019, Texan solar panel developers made the costly decision not to bail them out, suffering more than $70 million in losses.
Solar operators and facility managers cite the use of National Severe Storm Prediction Center convective forecasts, thunderstorm and storm corridor maps, and corporate weather services to plan for these events. Radar networks provide important information about potential hail and are important tools. Once thunderstorms begin to form, the radar also provides information about the movement and estimated size of the hail, allowing these thunderstorms to be tracked to the solar farm.
While thunderstorms with large hail are guaranteed to cause damage, the solar industry, in collaboration with the meteorological community and insurance companies is committed to reducing the risks associated with extreme weather conditions. With the right weather analysis and risk modeling, solar energy development can continue to invest in increasing renewable energy while minimizing equipment damage and financial loss.
* Note originally published in Forbes USA