News

A resilience ‘win’ for solar energy in North Carolina, post-Hurricane Florence

Two weeks after Hurricane Florence battered the southern East Coast, many residents using utilities that relied on coal generating plants remained without power. On the contrary, solar-generated power, which accounts for 4.6% of the state’s energy, was up and running the day after the storm moved out of the area.

Per a CBS news article, the reason that most initial power outages occur during storms and natural disasters is because of wind damage to transmission lines or flooded substations—not from a lack of fuel availability.  Fossil fuel availability can become a concern, however, in the days after a storm if pipelines or fuel terminals are damaged, as they were in New York during Superstorm Sandy. In this case, solar has the advantage of not requiring a supply chain that brings fuel from far away.

Chris Burgess, the projects director at the Rocky Mountain Institute explained that in the face of a storm, low-hanging power lines and basement generators are the most susceptible to strong winds and flooding.

“Solar is resilient — there are a ton of cases where, as long as the roof stays attached, the solar array stays attached as well. That’s the real takeaway,” he told CBS News.

But just how resilient is it?

Currently, North Carolina is second only to California in cumulative solar electric capacity — 4,491 MW  —  despite being the ninth most populous state, according to The Solar Energy Industries Association. Duke Energy, one of the main solar suppliers in North Carolina, reported that their solar farms sustained almost no damage during the storm short of a few broken panels. This is mainly due to the fact that solar farms are typically built inland where there is usually plenty of open land and away from coasts. Individuals with rooftop solar panels were also able to withstand the effects of the storm, particularly when transmission lines were the main issue.

Duke Energy and other solar providers, such as Strata Solar, preemptively shut down a portion of the panels before the storm hit to avoid widespread damage. Several tweets from solar providers, such as Cypress Creek Renewables, confirmed the operation of their solar fields in the days after the storm and noted their stability.

In an interview with insideclimatenews.org, Strata Solar SVP-Strategy and Government Brian O’Hara said, “I think a lot of people were looking at Florence as a good test for solar generation’s resilience, and I think we’ve seen a really fantastic outcome.”

The resilience of the solar industry has previously drawn attention in the aftermath of recent disasters. Puerto Rico native Hector Santiago was ahead of the curve, owning his own solar-powered plant nursery. According to Reuters, the flower-grower invested $300,000 six years prior to the storm, installing 244 solar panels to power his business.

Though 25% of his panels were damaged in the storm, he still maintained enough power to allow him to pump water from his wells and keep the lights on for his plants. “Everybody told me I was crazy because it was so expensive. Now I have power and they don’t,” he told Reuters.

Puerto Rico-based solar firm owner Henry Pichardo told the publication that after the storm he was overrun with solar installation inquiries, forecasting a 20% yearly uptick in business and noting, “People are going to become more conscious of how they are living, and invest more in solar.”

 

Further Reading

Hurricane Florence crippled electricity and coal — solar and wind were back the next day

How solar energy saved a Puerto Rican farm from Hurricane Maria

Solar Energy Largely Unscathed by Hurricane Florence’s Wind and Rain

Top 10 Solar States