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Solar Panel Vulnerabilities to Natural Hazards

Ranger Dorn, Director of Training, EIS

June 18, 2024

Communities worldwide rely on solar farms for their power needs. There is now enough experience and data for an in-depth analysis of risk and solar panel vulnerabilities.  

Reduced Performance

Solar farms experience reduced production. In a 5-year study of production reports, snow had the most impact (54.5%), followed by hurricanes (12.6%). Wildfire smoke and particulates (2.5 microns) have a localized impact of up to 10% lower production at the time of year when the grid needs production the most. The downrange impacts on production should be monitored as smoke can reduce capacity hundreds to thousands of miles away. Though rare, volcanoes can produce a similar outcome. Ash traveling in the upper atmosphere has proven to change weather for long periods, from shading in major historical eruptions. 

Solar Farm Damage 

Damage paints a different picture. Hail is the biggest culprit, with about 8,000 insurance claims annually, at $2,555 per claim. Fires were responsible for 1,282 claims, but they cost $17,309 per claim on average. Freezing occurs far less often but costs an average of $32,964 per claim. ( 3, 4, 5)

Solar panels are designed to withstand winds of up to 140 mph when mounted on the ground, but tornados can have winds of up to 200 mph. Tornados can also create more problems with transmission paths between farms and communities.   

Fires cause the greatest amount of damage, whether wildfire- or system-related flaws. Vegetation begins growing around the panels and will easily carry a wind-driven wildfire.   

Many large solar farms are located well away from the communities they serve. Transmission lines are subject to several natural hazards, including tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and seismic activity. Transmission should be a planning consideration.

As society becomes increasingly dependent on solar farms, it must recognize and address these risks to enhance resilience and continuity.  We are all vulnerable; we are all connected.

Join, participate, and exercise with the EIS Council to help shape a resilient future. 

 

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