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Solar for water disasters

Last updated 1/2/2019

Solar for water disasters

Floods and heavy rains can knock out utility poles and other electrical infrastructure, causing the electric grid to be disabled for periods of time. As an expanding provider of resilient energy, it is important to understand if and how solar panels and solar energy systems hold up in floods and heavy rains.

Solar panels and flooding

Most residential and small commercial solar energy systems are rooftop installations, which is good news if you are worried about flood damage. In the event of a flood that doesn’t reach the roof of your home, your solar energy system will continue to work as long as your home wiring systems are still intact. If your neighborhood loses power due to flooding damage to the local grid, you can still produce energy from your rooftop panels if you have a home battery to send electricity to and an inverter with islanding capabilities.

If your roof becomes submerged and damaged during an extreme weather event– such as a hurricane or tsunami–your solar panels will likely experience the same fate as your roof. However, fully submerging solar panels in water is not guaranteed to permanently damage them. Between the aluminum frame, glass casing, and vacuum-sealed back panel, most high-quality solar panels won’t be damaged by being submerged in water. This is not to say that your solar panel system as a whole will continue to operate normally following an extreme flood - as with any electric wiring, your panel and inverter wiring systems may be waterlogged or otherwise damaged. 

If you experience any type of flooding, be sure to have your home electrical systems examined for water damage. Your solar panels will most likely be good to go following most flooding events, but your home wiring can be damaged and place your safety in jeopardy. Both solar electric systems and your general home wiring contain high voltages of electricity, and you should be sure to consult an electrician to make sure your home is safe following any water damage.

Flooding and ground-mounted solar systems

Ground-mounted solar arrays are a slightly different story. While the panels themselves are still waterproof, being on the ground during a flood means that solar panels may be ripped from their racking or the ground. If you want to install a solar energy system in a flood-prone area, one option for alleviating the risk of flooding your solar panels is to consider installing the system on a high point of your property and working with your installer to ensure that the anchoring and racking systems being used are as heavy-duty as necessary. 

Solar installers already consider flooding damage to ground-mounted systems when developing their proposals and projects. Most systems are designed with stormwater runoff plans or retention ponds, with sensitive components like inverters or data collection devices mounted with high ground clearance.

Solar panels and heavy rain

Solar panels are designed to sit outside in the elements for more than 25 years, and heavy rains are no match for both rooftop and ground-mounted solar panels. Solar panels are waterproof and can withstand heavy amounts of water due to their careful construction. Solar panel racking systems and the panels themselves are more than durable enough to withstand even the heaviest rainstorms without being damaged.

In addition to being physically waterproof and rainproof, your solar panels can still produce power in overcast or rainy conditions. Sunny conditions are optimal for solar panel efficiency, but energy production does not stop in the rain. Infrared, ultraviolet and visible light waves still penetrate through clouds and meaning your panels won’t stop producing electricity. 

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