Storm link between solar energy and weather

Expand / Snowstorms can be a real problem in such places.

Solar panels have a love-hate relationship with nature. They should be kept in areas exposed to a lot of sunlight, but cloudy weather will obviously reduce their productivity. Obviously, extreme weather conditions – from snowstorms to hurricanes – can completely damage or even break the solar hardware. New research by Sandia National Laboratories and published by Applied Energy shows how climate events can reduce the amount of energy produced by solar farms in the United States.

To study this relationship, the researchers developed a machine learning algorithm for large data sets from private solar farms. “It was a big, collaborative effort,” one of the paper’s authors and researcher, Sandera Gunda, told Arsi. Going forward, Anda wants to expand this research to look at other extreme weather events and renewables such as wind, geothermal and navy. She said her team is in the early stages of this work.

The team hopes that this research will be used to inform future decisions about solar activities. This is true because climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events, which in turn may further influence solar production. “As we move toward renewable energy, we are realizing that we are becoming increasingly dependent on environmental factors,” Gundha said.


Anda and co-author and Sandia researcher Nicole Jackson have collected more than 800 repair tickets from solar farms in 24 states. Then they went back and forth with solar companies trying to understand the data sets – for example, different companies sometimes use different words for different things.

When some companies used the term “hurricane,” the team had to analyze each company to determine what it meant, because some companies even classify snow events or hurricanes as hurricanes on their maintenance tickets. “Certainly, along with industry and daily practice, storms can be any sunny day,” Jackson told Arsene.

“Just because someone wants to share the data doesn’t mean they can analyze it automatically. There are differences in how the information is collected, ”said Gunda.

The researchers also obtained more than two years of electricity-production data from more than 100 solar farms in 16 states, including historical weather data. From there, the authors developed a machine learning algorithm for data sets to analyze the relationship between power generation levels and extreme weather events. The algorithm allows the team to identify points related to weather-related energy drops in maintenance tickets and other variables.

Turn on the light on the situation

The team found that snow events resulted in significant reductions in performance (54.5 percent), hurricanes (12.6 percent) and overall, hurricanes (1.1 percent). Surprisingly, hurricanes accounted for about 15 percent of the records. Other factors that contribute to poor performance include the size, age, and location of the plant. “We see that older farms are more likely to be affected by performance problems,” Ganda said.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. For one, older sites are more affected, which means they are not necessarily fruitful – rather, they have more weather conditions than their younger counterparts (even older farms are relatively young, between three and five years old). The researchers also distributed data to North Carolina and California. These states had severe weather events that other parts of the United States could not have.

Surprisingly, neither the snow nor the wildfires were reported. This does not mean that these events will not happen – the West Coast will catch a lot of fire. Instead, these events were not for repair tickets because the companies would only do one thing. Presumably, these events appear in insurance databases, assuming that hurricanes are covered by insurance.

“But we know in our discussions with the industry and in conferences that these special events are really interesting,” Gunda said.

Dollar rates

When it comes to how much damage can be done to solar farms during a snowstorm, insurance information is a fact. According to a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory last year, the data collected by Vercik-Insurance Services Company could lead to solar operations to minimize the impact of weather events. (The insurance information also includes numbers on vandalism and theft).

Data collected between 2014 and 2019 resulted in the highest insurance claims for solar hardware, with an average of $ 2,555 in 7,979 cases. “Energy is a big issue for solar panels,” said Andy Walker, a senior researcher at NREL.

Fires were relatively rare (1,282 cases), but they had very large claims, at $ 17,309. There were an average of $ 5,288 frozen cases, including snow and ice. These averages, however, include the cost of commercial and residential solar work. For example, in the case of residential cold, the average claim was $ 4,195, but for businesses it was $ 32,964.

Unpublished NREL research also suggests ways in which solar panels can better withstand extreme weather conditions, Walker said. Methods include waterproof enclosures, modules with three rails (instead of two), thick glass, windshield wipers, sea level steel, and locks (instead of handles). “Clamps is a gun in many modular freedoms as it is called [photovoltaic] The module will be blown off the shelf, ”he said.

The upgrade will cost a few cents per watt, Walker said. Some of these methods can be used to respond to the various weather events that solar panels are exposed to and increase the risk of panels being exposed – from excessive frost to frost on their shelves. “Solar panels are one of the most exposed areas in the area,” he added.

Applied Energy, 2021. DOI: 10.1016 / j.apenergy.2021.117508 (About DOIs)

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