Dark Side Of The Sun

A recent storm in Hawaii reveals the plus-minus of rooftop solar

Downpours from Tropical Storm Lane battered Hawaii in late August, and the highly touted solar industry there, recently championed for being one of the first sustainable systems to power an entire state, felt it had dodged a bullet.

13,000 Hawaiian Electric (HECO) customers lost power from the storm, according to the National Weather Service, and Lane caused the third-highest rainfall from a tropical cyclone since 1950 in the U.S. A Greentech Media report suggested the event was a “wake-up call” for solar professionals.

It raised the burning question: Is Hawaii’s distributed energy industry capable of weathering such storms?

“It’s a matter of time before we do get hit by that monster hurricane,” Will Giese, executive director of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, told Greentech. “It’s much better to treat things pre-emptively rather than…when you start experiencing symptoms.”

While no major electrical or solar system damage was reported, there is a lingering feeling that both residential and commercial solar installations need to be better prepared for larger storms with potentially catastrophic impacts.

The flooding didn’t have much impact on solar, according to Yost, because winds were not strong enough to destroy systems that can withstand winds at 105 miles per hour, as required by building codes. The biggest threat, Yost said, faces Hawaii’s older housing stock, where full roofs could fly off with panels still attached.

HECO announced that the utility had restored all customers with storm-related power outages by the start of the week following the storm, and said there had been no news of damage to grid-scale solar systems.

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