Distributed Energy

Renewables and Resilience

Decentralized systems provide added resiliency during severe weather

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North Carolina receives 4.6% of its electricity from solar farms. The state is second only to California for installed solar capacity. And in the face of weather events, it appears that solar generation may have enhanced its resiliency.

When Hurricane Florence made landfall on September 14, the storm’s torrential rains and severe winds wreaked havoc on energy infrastructure. But as officials inspected systems, they were surprised to find that solar farms had fared well. In fact, solar farms had sustained little damage in comparison to other generation methods.

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Most panels and racks are designed to withstand wind pressure up to the 140 mph range, according to Chris Burgess, projects director for the Rocky Mountain Institute. Systems that have movable panels that follow the sun can be locked into a fixed position in anticipation of the storm, he told Inside Climate News.

In anticipation of rainfall and high winds, Duke Energy and Strata Solar, North Carolina’s largest solar farm owner/operators, shut down systems. As a result, the companies found almost no damage during post-storm inspections. Randy Wheeless, a spokesman for Duke, explained that his company’s equipment incurred minimal wind damage to 12 panels at one solar farm in Monroe. Beyond that, their systems were intact and immediately back online.

He explained that some of this good fortune can be attributed to careful siting of solar farms, underscoring the importance of selecting locations that are not prone to flooding and installation designs that are both wind-resistant and that can accommodate rising waters.

Meanwhile, many of North Carolina’s nuclear and coal-fired generation facilities suffered flood-related damages that caused the unintended release of coal ash as well as plant closures. The Brunswick nuclear facility near Wilmington was taken offline and declared a low-level emergency when flooding cut off access to the plant.

In the storm’s aftermath, a number of energy officials have speculated that a less centralized system could prove less vulnerable to widespread outages during weather events and emergencies.

What are your impressions? Do you think that decentralized energy systems could help increase resilience? DE_bug_web

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  1. We should site solar + storage at every hospital in the country, then every emergency management center, fire station, every school, community center, at least one fuel station in each community. In general terms, all critical infrastructure should be able to operate at lease at partially autonomous in an emergency and solar + storage is a cost effective method of achieving this goal. Connect enough of these resilient nano-grids together and you have a resilient micro-grid community that is more resilient. One way that we could jump-start this effort is if large corporations that have expressed renewable energy procurement goals co-located some of that generation capacity at critical infrastructure locations. Think of the positive buzz that would come from Google or Microsoft or GM placing solar + storage on every hospital in the US.

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