Stephen Morris, Power and Energy Underwriting Manager, HSB Insurance
February 20, 2014 | 6 Comments
During 2012, there were 905 natural catastrophes worldwide, 93 percent of which were weather-related disasters, costing US$170 billion. Unpredictable global climate conditions are thought to be on the increase and have recently been evidenced by major events, such as typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, flooding in the UK and the big freeze in North America. The direct cost of this weather volatility is also rising significantly with insurers paying out US$701 billion globally for damages from extreme weather events every year for the last three years alone.
New research suggests that long-term ten-year cycles in the ocean are affecting the position of the jet stream and this is contributing to the unusual weather patterns such as those recently seen in the UK. The severe storms at the end of 2013 and into 2014 are testament to the dramatic change and increased frequency that the changing climate can bring.
Such extreme weather events are headline news, particularly in relation to the impact on infrastructure, travel delays, etc. But what about the damage caused to renewable energy equipment?
In October last year, a wind turbine in Devon, UK collapsed due to strong winds that swept across the region. More notably was the destruction of a £2 million wind turbine in North Ayrshire, Scotland, which caught fire in 2011 due to a severe storm in the area.
Whilst the reliability of renewable energy installations to withstand such events is dependent on its initial design and with consideration to its location – there are additional measures that can be taken to reduce such severe weather exposures.
Wind is the number one weather risk for most equipment and as such all renewable energy equipment should be prepared for the highest winds and storms.
Heavy rain is the most likely cause of floods, however thawing after heavy snowfall can also cause major flooding.
Hail stones over two inches in size can cause serious damage to renewable energy facilities and particular PV panels. Typically hail storms of this magnitude are found in locations such as the central states of the USA (Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of New Mexico). Last year various regions around the UK and in Australia also experienced hail stones the size of tennis balls. In areas with an increased risk of hail events, measures can be taken to reduce the damage potential.
panels (generally 30º facing southward) can help to deflect falling hailstones and reduce the force imposed onto the panel. Panels that are direct-mounted on low slope roofs, or are mounted horizontally (0º tilt, facing directly upward) pose a higher risk of potential damage from direct strike of large hailstones.
Structures such as wind turbines and steel framed buildings are more at risk from being damaged by lightning. Measures to protect wind turbines against lightning strike are described in the international standard IEC 61400-24.
Once a renewable energy plant has been installed it will be difficult to make any modifications without incurring significant costs. It is therefore vital that it is designed to be appropriate to the environmental and weather conditions and that the equipment is installed is in accordance with both design and manufacturers recommendations.
Each renewable energy installation brings different risk challenges and access to knowledge on risk management provided by specialist insurers and their engineers can be invaluable in helping to mitigate against weather related risk exposures.
Lead image: Wind turbine lightning via Shutterstock