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Renewables and Natural Disasters

image credit: NOAA.gov
John Benson's picture
Senior Consultant, Microgrid Labs

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Microgrid Labs, Inc. Advisor: 2014 to Present Developed product plans, conceptual and preliminary designs for projects, performed industry surveys and developed...

  • Member since 2013
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  • Nov 29, 2022
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For any electric generation source. It is reasonable to ask how resilient it will be in the face of expected natural disasters. The answers for these questions are complicated by the impact of these disasters becoming worse over time. Unfortunately, this has recently been the case due to climate change creating more, and much worse weather-related catastrophes.

The most recent disasters worsened by climate change in the U.S. include wildfires (in the west), hurricanes (mainly on the Gulf and East Coasts) and non-coastal flooding (widespread).

This post will cover two subjects. The first and primary subject is hardening photovoltaic (PV) projects to withstand storms. The second subject is a case study for a small community’s recovery efforts after extensive river flooding.

Discussions
Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Nov 29, 2022

This is a perfectly reasonable post.  But there are two obvious questions. 

1) Is wind any more stable or resilient?

2) Is there any information on what people have actually done to protect PV projects?  Some of the simple steps are in 

and it is natural to wonder if these or other steps were taken.

It is possible that fossil-fuel generation is more resilient, but again, information on what is actually being done seems to be lacking.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Nov 30, 2022

Hi Julian, thanks for the comments and questions.

Good questions these are, but I really don't have the answers, just a few comments.

If you are a renewable developer and are considering building wind, solar or another renewable project in an area where a similar type of project was badly damaged by a storm or flood, just be aware that:

  • The future likely only holds more severe storms and floods.
  • The insurance industry is aware of the above bullet, and thus is unlikely to bail you out in the future if you don't take steps defined in the post to make any proposed solar project more resilient.
  • If you hope to sign a power purchase agreement with a large utility or other major corporation, they are also aware of the first bullet and ditto regarding any bail-out: and "no power = no payment."

Regarding wind turbines, these are typically built in high-wind areas, are designed to feather their blades during time of excessive wind, and their developers are more aware of weather-related risks than solar developers. Also, I've lived next to the Altamont Wind Resource Area (eastern SF Bay Area) for several decades have been involved with wind-power projects (mainly with Siemens) and believe that catastrophic turbine failures are really rare (but do happen, especially with new designs).

-John

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Nov 30, 2022

OK, thank you.  That's a start.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Dec 6, 2022

There is no statistical evidence to support the claim that climate change is creating more and much worse weather related catastrophes. Increasing populations, particularly in coastal regions, inevitably increase the likelihood of damage. Simple statistics.

Seems to me the focus should be on hardening the grid to better cope with major storms and risks like earthquakes, with the key driver being risk and cost-versus-benefit. Also would be a good idea to stop bankrolling building (re-building) in risky areas using taxpayer money.

John Benson's picture
Thank John for the Post!
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