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Tue Sep 14, 2021, 09:19 PM

The stormy relationship between solar power and the weather

The team found that snow events caused the greatest reductions in performance (54.5 percent), followed by hurricanes (12.6 percent) and, broadly, storms (1.1 percent). Somewhat surprisingly, hurricanes were mentioned in almost 15 percent of maintenance records. Other factors leading to low performance include the size, age, and location of the plant. “We did see that older farms were more likely to be affected by performance issues,” Gunda said.

There are some nuances to this work, however. For one, older sites being impacted more doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re unproductive—rather, they’ve just been exposed to more weather than their younger counterparts (even older farms are relatively young, between three and five years old). Further, the sites the researchers collected data from were biased toward North Carolina and California. These states tended to have severe weather events that other parts of the US might not have.


Insurance data does indeed tell a story when it comes to how much damage solar farms can face during hailstorms. A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, published last year, uses data gathered from Verisk—an insurance services company—to dig into the amount of damage weather events can cause solar operations. (The insurance data also includes numbers on vandalism and theft).

The data, gathered between 2014 and 2019, suggests that hail caused the largest number of insurance claims with solar hardware, weighing in at 7,979 cases with an average cost of $2,555. “Hail is a big deal for solar panels,” Andy Walker, a senior research fellow at NREL, told Ars.

Fires were less common (1,282 cases), but they had much larger average claims, at $17,309. There were 79 cases of freezing, including ice and snow, averaging $5,288. These averages, however, include the cost of both commercial and residential solar operations. For instance, in the case of residential freezing, the average claim value was $4,195, but it was $32,964 for commercial operations.


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