September 26, 2018 Read More →

Solar and wind show resilience in face of hurricanes


Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Florence swamped North and South Carolina, thousands of residents who get power from coal-fired utilities remain without electricity.

Yet solar installations, which provide less than 5 percent of North Carolina’s energy, were up and running the day after the storm, according to electricity news outlet GTM. And while half of Duke Energy’s customers were without power at some point, according to CleanTechnica, the utility’s solar farms sustained no damage.

Traditional energy providers have fared less well. A dam breach at the L.V. Sutton Power Station, a retired coal-fired power plant near Wilmington, North Carolina, has sent coal ash flowing into a nearby river. Another plant near Goldsboro has three flooded ash basins, according to the Associated Press, while in South Carolina, floodwaters are reportedly threatening pits that contain ash, an industrial waste from burning coal.

In Puerto Rico, although Maria took out the power grid, locations that had their own solar installations, including a farm and a community center, were able to stay open.

“Solar is resilient — there are a ton of cases where, as long as the roof stays attached, the solar array stays attached as well. That’s the real takeaway,” he said. Given its elevation, a rooftop solar installation has a better chance of survival than power lines or transformers closer to the ground.

It’s precisely after a storm that customer interest in solar spikes, several energy companies that operate in North and South Carolina said.

“Storm readiness and disaster preparedness, particularly in the Southeast, are major factors for people in going solar,” said Tyson Grinstead, Southeast director of policy for Sunrun, a company that leases rooftop solar panels. “As we see more and more storms, we’re seeing more and more customers come to us and see what their options are to provide for themselves.”

North Carolina’s only wind farm, the Amazon facility near Elizabeth, powered through the storm, even generating electricity through part of it.

“The wind farm experienced no damage and no noticeable water or drainage issues,” said Paul Copleman, a spokesperson for Avangrid Renewables, which owns and runs the farm. The result would have been different if Florence had hit the farm directly, he noted — the facility is in the northeastern part of the state, and Florence turned south along the coast.

A U.S. wind farm experienced a hurricane directly last year, when Hurricane Harvey shut down several wind facilities on the Gulf Coast of Texas. But they powered back up within days, The Wall Street Journal reported, while several refineries shut down and coal-fired power plants flooded.

More: Hurricane Florence crippled electricity and coal — solar and wind were back the next day

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