“Is green energy stable?”

Photo by Nikkei Business Publications, Solar Power Plant Business
After the outermost row had ripped off, the wind-facing edge no longer had any ballast to counter uplift from wind. The modules and floaters began to curl-up, resulting in an electrical fire.

By Scott Hamilton

Senior Expert Emerging Technologies

The image is from the 2019 typhoon season, which had a dramatic impact on Japan’s largest floating photovoltaic solar panel installation at Yamakura Dam near Ichara City, when the solar array and city were impacted by typhoon No. 15 on September 9, 2019. Similar damage was experienced in the U.S. Virgin Islands during the 2017 hurricane season, leaving the region without power for nearly a month. The solar array in St. Croix was totally destroyed and is due to be back online later this year. It has taken more than four years to rebuild the solar infrastructure after the impact. There are stories of damage to coastal solar arrays reported with nearly every landfall hurricane.

The surprising amount of damage done to the panels by weather leaves a big question in my mind on the overall stability of solar as a viable green-energy alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear reactors. Granted the destruction of a solar array results in a landfill full of glass, plastics and silicon scrap, whereas a nuclear power plant disaster ruins the surrounding area for habitation for generations, so it leads to a big question. How do we replace fossil fuels with a reliable source of power?

Unfortunately wind farms experience the same devastating blows from weather. Texas was a prime example of wind energy failures when they were struck by a once-in-a-century ice storm that resulted in frozen wind farms, loss of power, and even frozen natural gas pipelines, leaving much of the state without heat. The backup generator systems for the wind farms were relying on the frozen natural gas lines to power the generators.

It has often been suggested that the best method for utilization of green energy is through the use of micro-grids. Each home or business supplies power for their own facility, but remains connected to the grid for emergency use of their power in the event a neighboring business or community fails to supply enough power of their own due to disaster or weather conditions. This could be a viable solution to prevent a single solar array failure resulting in the loss of all power in a region, but still relies on old technologies for energy transfer and lacks the ability to store energy for later use.

I must admit that I do not know the solution to the green energy problem. I just know we have a big issue that cannot be easily solved by just throwing government money on the fire and expecting to eliminate the dependence on fossil fuels. We are currently in the middle of a supply chain issue with batteries, electronics, chips and computer systems necessary to support green energy efforts and these are the components that are most likely to be damaged by severe weather. The photos of physically damaged solar panels and wind turbines are nothing compared to the lightning damage to the control systems and electronics used to control the systems.

I am afraid for the state of our nation if we continue to go down the path of green energy with the level of enthusiasm being pushed by the current government. We will be facing a day when power for our electric vehicles will not be available due to natural disasters and we will have long since destroyed the fossil fuel based backup systems of transportation and energy generation, leaving us in the dark.

Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.

Scott Hamilton is a Senior Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to shamilton@techshepherd.org or through his website at http://www.techshepherd.org.