A stormy relationship between solar energy and climate

Insurance claims and maintenance tickets show how snow and storms deal with solar energy. reduces their production. Obviously, the most extreme weather - from snowstorms to hurricanes - can damage or even break solar power equipment. New research published by Sandia National Laboratories and published in Applied Energy shows how weather events can reduce the amount of energy produced by solar farms in the United States.

To study this relationship, the researchers used a machine learning algorithm on a large set of private solar farm data. "It was a great joint effort," Suchara Gonda, the article's author and Sandia researcher, told Ars. Next, Gonda wants to extend this research to look at other extreme weather phenomena and renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal, and marine energy. He said his team is in the early stages of doing so.

The team hopes this research can be used to make informed decisions about solar energy operations in the future. This is especially true because climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme weather events and potentially causing more problems in solar energy production. "We know that with the transition to renewable energy, there will be more dependence on local environmental conditions," Gonda said. Nicole Jackson, another Sandia researcher, collected more than 800 solar farm maintenance cards in 24 states. Then they traveled with the solar companies and tried to understand the dataset - for example, different companies sometimes use different terms for a job.

The team must perform the appropriate analysis. To specify what each company means when using the word "storm," because some companies rank snow events or even storms in their maintenance tickets. “Certainly in industry and day-to-day practices, it can be a storm every day,” Jackson told Ars.


Analyze it automatically “There are subtle differences in how the data is collected,” Gonda said. They got the data from those areas. , where the authors applied a machine-learning algorithm to the data set to determine the relationship between energy production and extreme weather events, allowing the team to identify areas where reduced weather is consistent with maintenance tickets and the number of other variables.


< p> The team found that snow events caused the largest yield decline (54.5%) followed by hurricanes (12.6%) and hurricanes overall (1.1%). Lower yields include plant size, age and location. "We've seen that older farms are affected the most," Gonda said. with performance issues.” Older sites, for example, are less affected, which doesn't necessarily mean they're unproductive—they are more exposed to the weather than their younger counterparts (even older farms are relatively young, three to five years old). Additionally, The sites where the data was collected were biased towards North Carolina and California. These states had severe weather conditions that other parts of the United States may not experience.

The team was also surprised that no hail or fire could be seen in the data. This does not mean that these events will not happen - the West Coast is on fire. Instead, these events are largely not included in maintenance tickets because companies only provide them when there is work to be done. Most likely, since the insurance covers the cold, these events will appear in the insurance databases. “But we know from our conversations with industry and conference attendance that these special events are definitely worth it,” Gonda said.

Dollar amount

Insurance information appears about the extent of damage to solar farms during hailstorms. A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released last year uses data collected from Verisk — an insurance services company — to assess the extent of the damage weather can cause to solar operations. (The insurance data also includes numbers on vandalism and theft.)

Data collected between 2014 and 2019 shows that hail caused the most insurance damage with solar equipment, weighing in at 7,979. Andy Walker, a senior researcher at NREL, told Ars: “Hail is a big deal. for solar panels. An average of $528 was reported for 79 cases of frostbite, including ice and snow. These rates include the cost of solar energy and residential commercial operations. For a housing freeze, for example, the average claim was $4,195, and for commercial operations it was $32,964. Walker says the unpublished research by NREL also offers ways that solar panels can better withstand severe weather. Methods include waterproof containers, units mounted on three rails (instead of two), thickened glass, inflatable fenders, grade A marine steel, and bolts (instead of clamps). "It turns out that clamps are smoke weapons on many unit launches, just as the [PV] unit goes off a rack when it does," he said.

This upgrade costs a few cents. Walker said it produced per watt. Some of these approaches can help with a variety of weather events that solar panels notice and increase the threat to the panels—from crushing excess snow to blowing off shelves to hail. "Solar panels are one of the most obvious things you can find in a compact environment," he added. p>

A stormy relationship between solar energy and climate
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