This post is part of a series sponsored by IAT Insurance Group.
Solar installations have increased by 33% annually over the last decade. This can be attributed to federal policies such as the Solar Investment Tax Credit. The Solar Investment Credit Tax offers a tax incentive for solar energy units coupled with the increasing demand for clean energy. In the commercial sector, environmental, social and governance initiatives have also been motivating factors for their growth.
Many property owners and operators do not 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 area, it̵7;s important to have a plan to de-energize your solar panels before an oncoming storm to prevent loss and damage.
Protect your solar installations during a storm
Hurricanes bring strong winds and flooding, among other risks. 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 to store and shut down solar panels in the event of a hurricane. Create a written plan, including assigning responsibility for specific tasks.
Follow these steps to reduce damage to your solar installation before a hurricane.
- Correct storage. To reduce equipment damage and reduce wind drag, store and secure all tracking systems in neutral before a storm. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for storing and securing the modules.
- Power failure. To mitigate electrical losses caused by power outages during the hurricane, turn off power to the facility before the storm hits. Disconnect it completely from the grid at the interconnection point or switchgear. Then separate components by turning off breakers at combiner boxes, trackers and inverters. This will help mitigate the effects of a single electrical loss, so it will not adversely affect the entire facility.
- Secure connections. Before the storm arrives, check that fasteners and clamps are secure. Check, repair and secure even loose wires. Pay particular attention to potentially exposed areas of the facility, including sections undergoing maintenance or repair.
- Make sure the components are sealed. With hurricane force winds regularly reaching over 100 mph, rain can easily enter even the smallest cracks and openings. All solar panel components must be inspected regularly for a watertight seal, especially cabinets containing electrical equipment. Cabinets must be locked to prevent water damage.
- Remove unsafe items. Unsecured objects can be propelled through the air during a hurricane and cause damage. Remove or secure all tools and equipment before the storm hits. Also pay particular attention to objects adjacent to the building such as pallets. If this is not possible, move the objects downwards to reduce damage.
- Inspect drainage ditches. Blocked drainage ditches hold water in place, leaving you open to further water damage. Inspect the drainage system to ensure it is free of debris and vegetative growth. Build flood barriers if you have time to help prevent undermining and erosion of the base of the landscaping system.
Restores your gear after the storm
If the equipment is exposed to flood water, it can be compromised and contaminated. As a result, flooded electrical equipment must be carefully inspected, cleaned, dried out and tested before use. If not, your installation is at a higher risk of serious damage or total loss.
Additionally, solar modules can produce power from sunlight even when unplugged, and modules sitting in water can pose an electric shock hazard.
Always follow the manufacturer’s requirements when restoring your equipment.
- Dry type windings and transformers should be dried at a temperature not exceeding the insulation class of the system before use. Again, check the manufacturer’s label for specific information about your equipment.
- Oil-filled transformers should 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 charge.
- Circuit board can be very sensitive. If they were de-energized when submerged in water and do not contain water-sensitive parts, they can be recycled. Clean according to manufacturer’s guidelines.
- Other components may need to be rinsed with clean, clear water after contact with flood water. Planning and preparation can reduce damage to your solar installation and speed recovery in the event of a hurricane. Working with an expert can help identify weak points and other risks in your installation – and can ultimately save your investment from destruction.
Contact IAT for more information on how to prepare your solar installation for a hurricane.
By Katie Bloomquist
 Solar Energy Industries Association, “Solar Industry Research Data”, accessed 7 July 2022.
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