Excessive Hail Storms Are Wrecking Photo voltaic Farms—however Defending Them Could Be Simpler Than It Appears

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This story initially appeared on Inside Local weather Information and is a part of the Local weather Desk collaboration.

When a baseball-sized hailstone slams right into a photo voltaic panel at greater than 90 mph, the consequence isn’t fairly.

We noticed this in March, when a hailstorm decimated elements of the 350-MW Preventing Jays photo voltaic undertaking in southeast Texas. Photographs circulated on social media and in information protection of 1000’s of panels pockmarked with white circles of damaged glass. Proper-wing retailers have been desirous to amplify what they noticed as proof of the unreliability of solar energy.

The truth about hail and photo voltaic panels is extra difficult, and never so grim.

Photo voltaic builders and producers have taken steps to cut back the danger from hailstorms, which entails a mix of refined climate forecasting and panels that may flip to keep away from direct hits. I not too long ago spoke with a few of the individuals doing this work.

First, let’s lay out the issue: Local weather change is contributing to a rise within the severity of storms, together with hailstorms.

On the identical time, photo voltaic is the world’s fastest-growing electrical energy supply, in accordance with the Worldwide Vitality Company, and a part of a mixture of renewable sources which are on observe to provide nearly all of the world’s electrical energy by mid-century.

Proper now, examples of hailstorms wrecking photo voltaic farms are uncommon sufficient that they’re nonetheless notable, just like the one this 12 months in southeast Texas and one final 12 months in western Nebraska. However what about in 20 years, when hailstorms are seemingly going to be extra extreme and photo voltaic will cowl way more floor?

There isn’t a excellent methodology for shielding photo voltaic panels from hail, however there are methods to cut back the danger.

“There’s precise mitigation that may be completed,” stated Renny Vandewege, vice chairman of climate operations for DTN, the Minnesota-based firm whose subscription-based merchandise embody climate forecasting to be used by power corporations.

“We’ve patented the flexibility to measure the incidence within the dimension of hail inside radar expertise,” he stated. “Scanning the storms, you get suggestions that claims {that a} storm is producing hail two inches in diameter, or regardless of the situation.”

This knowledge is most helpful if a photo voltaic array has tools that may reply to an approaching storm by adjusting the panel angle to cut back harm.

Practically all utility-scale tasks being constructed as we speak use trackers, that are programs that flip the panels through the day to comply with the solar. A few of these trackers have the potential to enter “stow” mode, which implies they shortly flip to keep away from a direct hit.

For instance, Nextracker, the California-based producer of photo voltaic monitoring programs, sells a hail mitigation product that connects climate forecasts from DTN and others, and makes use of the info to regulate panel angles forward of hailstorms. The programs are operated with software program that can be utilized each on-site and remotely, and so they have battery backups to perform throughout energy outages.

“Will photo voltaic proceed to get developed and in-built hail areas? The reply is sure,” stated Greg Beardsworth, senior director of product advertising and marketing at Nextracker. “The way in which that can occur is thru a mix of understanding the magnitude of the danger based mostly on location, choosing the suitable mixture of module expertise and tracker stowing capabilities.”