Solar Energy: Safe and Reliable

If you don’t like the weather here, just wait a few minutes.

If you’ve lived in the Northeast, you’ve probably heard this expression before. From blizzards in the winter to tropical storms in the summer, New Yorkers have seen it all. This weather can create a beautiful landscape, but can also be destructive and cause infrastructure challenges. As New York moves towards its goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2040, it’s important to recognize the infrastructure innovations that come along with green energy sources like solar, and how they handle extreme weather.

It’s a long-dispelled myth that solar power is only available when the sun is shining. The photovoltaic panels use direct or indirect sunlight to create electricity. This means that even if the light is coming through clouds or reflected off of other surfaces, the panels generate electricity. But what about other weather? When it comes to snow, solar panels at farms are built at an angle, and the glass surface under the snow is slick. Snow typically slides off the panels as it lands. The panels also absorb heat as they work, melting the snow first in a small area and then growing across the entire panel. Because of this, snow on solar panels rarely lasts more than a day or two at most.

When warmer weather is here, dangerous thunderstorms, or even hurricanes and tornadoes can strike in the Northeast. Solar panels are built to withstand winds of up to 140 mph, with some panels in the US able to handle even stronger winds. In 2017, Hurricane Irma struck Florida, and despite extremely damaging winds, only 0.04% of the panels in the path of the storm were damaged.

In the event that these strong storms include hail, panels can withstand hailstones as large as an inch in diameter falling at over 50 mph. Hail is typically half that size, and falls at about 20 mph.

Community solar in New York is prepared for extreme weather. It has already begun building a 20-megawatt battery, in addition to the 1,000 megawatts of storage projects already in place. These batteries have enough stored energy to meet the needs of 1.2 million homes.

Renewables like solar are trusted by scientists who run Princess Elisabeth Station in the heart of Antarctica, dealing with some of the most extreme weather on Earth. Community solar is ready to handle the harsh weather here as well!