How do rooftop-mounted solar panels weather a hurricane? Apparently pretty well. While Hurricane Irene battered the East Coast this past weekend, solar installations on homeowners’ roofs remained relatively unscathed.
Homeowner David Surge posted a video of how his solar rooftop weathered Irene in Southern New Jersey.
“Sunday night, Aug. 28th, the storm has passed us. It’s actually pretty sunny out. We don’t have electricity yet, but the solar panels look safe and sound. Thirty-eight are still with us,” he said.
The panels survived winds of up to 75 miles per hour. Surge sent his video to SunRun, which shared it with Clean Energy Authority.
After the storm, another SunRun customer wrote to the company: “Have to hand it to your equipment and amazing installation. Great testament on workmanship, co-workers had concerns on stability with the high winds but told them I had no worries. The panels survived and was able to hold my head up high at work to my critics.”
SunRun offers its solar power service, like a residential solar lease or power-purchase agreement, through most of the mid-Atlantic states, including Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey—basically all along Irene’s path.
The systems were designed to withstand gale-force winds, said Tom Asher, director of customer experience at SunRun.
“The lag bolts we use to install the racking into roof rafters are strong enough,” he said. “If the roof blew off, that would be a problem. But otherwise the panels should be able to withstand the same amount of wind as the roof.”
Also, since the modules are usually installed to match the roof’s pitch and are only a few inches from the roof’s surface, they don’t create a wing effect that could rip an installation off the roof, he said.
“We thought we’d get a ton of calls, but got very few,” Asher said.
SunRun beefed up for the storm at its California headquarters.
“We staffed way up over the weekend. We had staff available throughout Irene. Starting Sunday we had a call center set up 24/7,” he said.
The company also reached out to its customers post-Irene.
“We emailed everyone on the East Coast to say: ‘Hope you’re safe and sound,’” he said. “There were a few [systems] that had some ground fault issues that were getting repaired.”
Most responses were positive, he said.
“Customers just weren’t worrying about their panels,” he said. “We wanted to show how we’re trying to be there for them.”
Homeowners like Surge were out of power, but that’s because the systems are automatically shut off when the grid goes down. That’s done as a safety precaution and is pretty standard for grid-tied systems.
Irene was only a Category 1 hurricane at its worst, not a Category 5 storm like 2005’s Katrina, which hit New Orleans. Still the video shows how robust rooftop solar installations are.
“It shows the systems can handle really heavy rains and really heavy storms,” Asher said. “It’s the first hurricane we’ve been through.”
That the solar installations withstood the hurricane so well is good for the whole industry, he said.