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  • Animesh Manek

Solar panels and cyclone - is Mumbai ready?

Solar panels in cyclone
Image for representation purpose only. Source: Twitter*

Here’s the thing. #Mumbai was never in the list of the cities impacted by #cyclones. So, the rooftop #solarpanel installers like us didn’t have to focus a lot on structural integrity of the plant. Any #rooftopsolar plant could easily put up with winds up to 100 km/h that would usually gust up to 120 km/h. However, the latest stats are showing a startling new trend. We experienced #Nisarg last year and we saw #Tauktae this year. Global warming is causing more cyclonic storms and Mumbai is no more an exception to the tropical depressions forming in the Arabian sea.

The problem — Mumbai’s rooftop solar installations aren’t prepared for it. There were several disasters that took place in 2020 and 2021 during Cyclone Nisarg and Tauktae. A quick Twitter search showed mentions of people witnessing solar panels flying in the air. There are pictures of broken solar structures and panels that fell off the building roof, on to the ground.

The visuals are heart breaking. Not only are the solar plants extremely expensive to rebuild, those structure, panels and concrete blocks can cause severe damage to surroundings and life wherever they fall. This is one problem we must take seriously!

Another important side to the story — the common man in India is quite hesitant when it comes to adopting solar energy for several reasons. Alleviating those concerns is an ongoing effort, however, if ‘can’t withstand cyclonic winds’ becomes a common apprehension — we can’t really convince anyone about its viability.

Cyclone Tauktae’s impact on our rooftop solar installations in Mumbai

Avishakti Solar’s installations across the city stood through the storm and there weren’t any damages reported during the cyclone Tauktae that brought winds of 108 km/h. And this data is talking about winds at the surface level. Our rooftop solar installations are always at a height. The cyclonic winds are much higher at 100 meters height compared to surface level. And that is what the rooftop solar plants have to endure. The rooftop solar installations usually can take winds up to 100 km/h. Anything above that can be a dangerous territory. We at Avishakti Solar recently incorporated a design element that makes them ready to handle the unprecedented cyclonic winds.

However, this is not something I say to brag about our work. We too learnt it the hard way. Last year, the cyclone Nisarg damaged one of our solar plants located in South Mumbai. One of our sea facing plants got caught up inside a cyclonic wind pocket with more than 150 km/h winds at 100 meters height. We could have never anticipated a situation like this where our beautiful new solar PV plant took the hit. Although it was a minor damage of about 15%, it still broke our spirits to know how vulnerable these solar plants can be.

What needs to be changed?

Looking at the bright side — we did learn our lessons and we went all out getting our facts and research right. Not only did we build our capabilities to analyze structural strength and integrity, we also figured out different ways in which an existing structure can be strengthened. After days and nights of in-depth research, reruns of studies, and revising our fundamentals — it brought us to a major aspect we took for granted i.e. structural design. Usually the mounting structures come with a claim from the fabricators to withstand winds of 150 km/h.

The EPC players like us would simply depend on their expertise in this matter. This is where the biggest gap existed. An EPC player like us is meant to have an equally good grasp on structural designing capabilities and wind analysis. Instead of blindly depending on the fabricator’s claims, the installer must understand the structure’s sturdiness component. It’s not only the counterweight, or the material, or the reinforcements, or the design. It’s how you put these different aspects together — that makes all the difference.

We built these capabilities after cyclone Nisarg and the result was there to be seen. When Tauktae hit Mumbai, our rooftop installations across Mumbai were safe and sound. We implemented our knowledge on wind analysis, structural designing, and integrity study to all of our existing and upcoming plants.

What should the customer be aware of?

Looking at things from the customer’s point of view — a rooftop solar plant can come at a high initial cost. It comes with a promise of 25 years of solar generation, with minimal maintenance. That is what makes the system a viable option for you. It is pocket friendly and it is good for the environment. And that’s why, when choosing a rooftop solar partner — opting for the lowest priced solution isn’t ideal. You can save a few bucks in upfront payment, yes. However, you might receive a flawed design, a flimsy structure, a non - optimised PV plant. If you’re investing in an asset for 25 long years, you must focus on reliability than mere price.

Here’s what you should consider when finding your rooftop solar partner:

- What’s the educational and industry experience background of your rooftop solar provider?

- What are the components used and what’s the warranty on them?

- What is the structure’s capacity for withstanding cyclonic winds?

To conclude

Mumbai is in an uncharted territory as far as cyclones are concerned. The rooftop solar industry must brace for impact and start discussing the norms around it.

Image source: Twitter

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