DER, Microgrids, Solar

Duke Energy Says Solar Assets at Risk of Flood Damage from Hurricane Florence

The utility is preparing for a ‘historic storm that will cause historic damage.’

On Wednesday, September 12, David Fountain, Duke Energy North Carolina President and Howard Fowler, Duke Energy Storm Director said in a press conference that Hurricane Florence will be a storm like they have never seen and that as a result of the damaging winds and flooding as many as 3 million people could be without power for up to several weeks.

Most of the damage will be causes by flooding, said Fowler. 

“This is not an ordinary storm, he said. “In the aftermath of most hurricanes you’ll find that powerlines and equipment [are] on the ground and in Florence at lot of this equipment is expected to be flooded and in underwater areas.”

 He added that Florence is, “a very different storm that we’ve got to deal with here.”

Randy Wheeless, spokesperson for Duke said in an interview that for solar assets, damage from flooding is the big concern.

“I think the worry really is flooding,” he said.  “We had Hurricane Matthew two years ago and we actually had one facility that we had to completely de-energize because the water got so great,” he added.

Wind isn’t as big of a concern, said Wheeless. “We really didn’t have any problems with panels flying away.”

Wheeless added that Florence will be a good test for how the panels withstand high winds.

“You hear developers talking about how much wind it [solar farms] can withstand so this will be a test for how much they can stand when it comes to North Carolina hurricanes,” he said.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association North Carolina is second in the country for solar installations, with more 4 GW of solar capacity installed. Over half a million residents have solar-powered homes. Wheeless said the utility hasn’t made any special announcements to solar homeowners regarding how to protect their asset.

The utility has two renewable-powered microgrids but neither one serves as emergency operation center, according to Wheeless. Solar and battery powered microgrids have been proposed in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of last year’s devastating hurricane. 

Read: Why 10 Renewable Powered Mini-Grids Would be Better for Puerto Rico

However, Wheeless added that one solar plus storage microgrid in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which powers a communications tower, remained energized during last year’s Hurricane Irma, during which 45 mph wind swept through the region. 

“There were outages in that area but….we didn’t have any problems with equipment being damaged or the battery not operating correctly,” he said.

Duke’s storm response director, Fowler said that more than 20,000 responders from as far away as Texas are in the region ready to attack the restoration process once it is safe for them to enter the damaged areas.

Note: Reliability, Resiliency and Response is one of DistribuTECH’s 11 key focus areas. Be sure to attend the event, which takes place February 4-6 in New Orleans, Louisiana.