Wildfires have cost the United States solar industry tens of millions of dollars in losses over the last decade, and the costs could add up as blazes across the western U.S. become more frequent and severe, warns renewable energy insurance specialist GCube.
“Solar project owners that do not appropriately manage this fire risk leave themselves and their assets vulnerable to higher losses through component damage, compromised operations, and liability exposure to third parties,” PV-Tech warns.
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Key preventive strategies for solar farm operators include advance planning for firefighting and better weed control.
“Obviously, solar projects need to be exposed to the elements in order to produce power, and while some may be robust to a greater or lesser extent in the face of most forms of extreme weather, they are all at high risk of damage during a wildfire event,” said GCube CEO Fraser McLachlan. The importance of those natural perils has been rising rapidly since 2015, with this year’s 35,086 wildfires burning more than 2.5 million acres/one million hectares through July 19, according to the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center.
GCube says the industry’s problem with wildfires could be compounded by recent U.S. trade restrictions on solar imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labour. The “strained supply networks” mean that “damaged panels could take longer to be repaired or replaced, potentially forcing whole arrays out of commission for months,” the news report states.