Solar PVs – 1, CAT 5 Hurricanes – 0

Antigua’s PV systems sustain impact of hurricane Irma
Solar Daily

Designed to withstand hurricanes of up to the category 4, each of the 55 solar power installations on Antigua, ranging from several kWp to the 3 MWp and 4 MWp utility scale installations at the international airport of Antigua and in the Lavington/Bethesda region with a total of 38,000 panels mounted, have survived hurricane Irma without damages or substantial system failures.

One of these PV systems, based on a 50 kWp sun2safe hybrid converter, was even able to generate 25% of its maximum expected performance during the worst hours of the hurricane, thanks to its proprietary MPPT tracking algorithm which is able to optimise the production even under extreme weather conditions.

A little deserved bragging from a trade journal, but this really should be on the evening news. This is the good news. The bad news is that since almost all PV arrays are “grid-tied” they require the main grid to be up in order to provide power. When the main grid goes down, absent a battery or a special inverter, the solar array goes down as well. This is primarily a safety issue, since you don’t want linesmen injured working on a downed power line they think is dead, but is actually energized by a solar array.

Unlike traditional power sources on poles, solar arrays are highly resilient and likely to survive these types of storms. What they need now is a battery backup so they can be isolated from the main grid, and continue to provide power when the mains are down. Cheaper battery prices will make this a reality in the next few years (much to the horror of many utilities who are fighting the future instead of embracing it).