If you live in an area that’s at risk for hurricanes, you might be wondering if solar panels can withstand hurricane-force winds and other natural disasters. After all, hurricanes can create wind speeds in excess of 160 miles per hour, blow down trees, knock around cars, and send debris flying through the air at dangerous speeds.
It’s natural to worry that the high-velocity winds in a hurricane could rip solar panels right off your roof, destroying your investment. While those concerns are understandable, the good news is that hurricanes are not something you need to worry about if you power your home with solar panels.
Solar panels are designed to be able to withstand extreme weather conditions, including hurricane-fueled winds. Plus, if your area is known for having hurricanes, solar installers can take extra precautions to ensure your solar panel system will stay safe, even in extreme winds and other dangerous conditions. In addition, there are specific steps you can take as a homeowner before and after a hurricane to protect your solar power system and ensure it’s operating the best it can.
Can Solar Panels Survive A Hurricane?
Yes, solar panels can survive hurricanes. Solar panels are actually designed to handle all kinds of inclement weather conditions like rain, snow, hail, and yes, even hurricanes. When solar panels are designed, they are tested to ensure they can handle the force of a hurricane.
As a result, they are generally created to stand up to hurricane-force winds of up to 2,400 pascals, which is roughly 140 mile-per-hour (MPH). In addition, solar panel casings are extremely waterproof, even under extreme rain and wind conditions.
When solar panels are attached to your roof, your solar installer will use long, strong lag bolts that attach the racking directly to your rafters, ensuring a strong connection between your roof and the solar power system. As long as the roof stays attached to your house, your solar panels should have no problem surviving a hurricane.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), when studying 50,000 solar energy systems installed between 2009 and 2013, only .1% of all photovoltaic (PV) systems were reported to have been damaged or underperforming each year. In addition, they released a study in 2020 called Solar Photovoltaics in Severe Weather stating that solar systems are continuing to survive hurricanes and other extreme weather events with little or no damage.
Here are a few real-world examples of solar panels standing up to infamous hurricanes:
- Hurricane Sandy: In 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, the state had 103 megawatts (MW) of PV capacity installed. After the storm, analysts found little or no damage from the hurricane. According to one solar system installer who had serviced over 200 customers, only a few metal casings were damaged by flooding, and one extremely large system had a couple of panels come loose.
- Hurricane Maria: In 2017, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a VA hospital in San Juan had a 645 kilowatt (kW) solar array that continued working at 100%, even after being exposed to 180 MPH winds. The flexible racking and anchoring systems used to keep the solar panels in place kept them from flying away.
- Hurricane Florence: In 2018, Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina, leaving some fossil-fuel plants shut down for weeks from the flooding and damage. However, solar panels owned by Duke Energy were back to producing power the day after the storm.
- Hurricane Ian: In 2022, when Hurricane Ian swept through eastern Florida, Babcock Ranch, which calls itself “America’s first solar-powered town.” and is powered by more than 700,000 solar panels, suffered no loss of power and minimal damage, despite the storm uprooting trees and tearing shingles from roofs.
How Solar Installers Help With Hurricane Preparedness
Solar panel installers will follow several different methods to ensure your solar panels remain in place during a hurricane.
Your installer will have to get a permit before installing your solar panels, and follow the rules to a tee when installing your solar system. Areas with extreme weather like hurricanes often have special rules about installation, and codes that must be followed to ensure they stay attached during heavy winds.
Solar panel engineers have created specific solar panel designs for hurricane-prone areas. Flexible racking and anchoring systems have been devised to move with the hurricane-force winds rather than breaking when the wind hits.
Companies like Palmetto use high-quality equipment and materials that have been tested against extremely high winds to ensure they aren't damaged. This is true for all installations, but it is especially important in areas that could one day face a direct hit from a hurricane.
Your solar panel installer will start the process of going solar by ensuring your roof is in good condition and able to have solar panels placed on it safely and securely. If your roof is old or damaged, your solar panel system could potentially get damaged during a hurricane, so solar installers won’t put a system on a roof that can’t support it.
When designing your system, your installer will find the best place on your roof for your solar panels to generate electricity, while reducing the risk of being blown off. This means the system needs to stay away from the roof's edge because that is the area most likely to suffer from uplift.
Uplift can happen if the wind makes its way between the roof and the solar panels, causing the solar panels to lift off the roof. Generally, your installer will use large lag bolts that are screwed right into the roof beams and sealed carefully to protect against uplift.
Do Hurricane-Proof Solar Panels Exist?
You're not likely to find a solar panel system with a "hurricane-proof" label. That’s because all top-rated solar panels, like those used by Palmetto, are designed to handle extreme water and wind, since they are located on your roof and need to work for 25+ years.
In 2011, the International PV Quality Assurance Task Force (PVQAT) was created to develop standards that would allow customers to assess a solar panel's ability to handle the weather stresses of their area. The team came up with three main requirements:
- Design for Conditions: This means that solar panels designed for Florida might look a little different from panels designed for Ohio, because they have to stand up to different weather conditions.
- Quality Management: There must be rigorous quality testing to ensure that all panels are being developed at the same quality level as other panels.
- System Quality: After solar panel systems are installed, they are inspected to ensure they have the proper design, were installed properly, and are operating the way they should be.
In addition to the PVQAT, there is the Durable Module Materials Consortium (DuraMAT), which is a group of national research labs and universities that focuses on improving PV modules' designs and physical materials. It is part of the Energy Materials Network (EMN), which is a Department of Energy program that lowers the time to market for any materials that are critical to clean-energy technologies and the solar industry. Together, these groups are working to make the highest quality materials and ensure they get out to the public as soon as possible.
Depending on your area, your municipality may also have special rules on the books that establish certain requirements for solar panels. For example:
- In many parts of Florida, any solar installation has to be designed to stand up to 160 MPH winds at a minimum.
- In Houston, Texas, where Hurricane Harvey caused a lot of destruction, solar panels must withstand up to 110 MPH winds.
- The International Building Code regulates that rooftop mounted photovoltaic panels and modules "shall be designed for component and cladding wind loads in accordance with Chapter 16 using an effective wind area based on the dimensions of a single unit frame."
Homeowner Tips for Hurricane Protection
The biggest concern with a hurricane is that debris will hit your panels and cause damage, but there are certain things you can do to help protect your solar panels before the hurricane arrives:
- If you have anything that could become a projectile in your yard—for example, picnic tables, chairs, or toys—make sure to remove and store them before a storm.
- Get regular maintenance checks on your solar panels. You always want to know if there is an issue with them before that small issue becomes a big problem. If you find that your panels have an issue, you will want to make sure it is fixed before hurricane season.
- When you get your solar panel system installed, make sure you get it added to your homeowner's insurance, ensure you have enough insurance to cover it, and know how to make a claim. Make sure to read your policy carefully to ensure that your insurance covers natural disasters.
- Don't wait to add your panels to your insurance right before a hurricane, as there is a decent chance the paperwork won't go through before the storm.
- Along with adding your panels to your insurance, you will want to have up-to-date photos of your panels for any insurance claim. Many homeowners take pictures of their homes and possessions before a large storm, so make sure to include your solar panels in that process.
- You also want to consider other damages from the storm, such as roof leaks, wind damage, and flooding. Make sure your insurance policy covers those issues as well.
- Make sure you know the warranty information for your solar panel system, so that you can quickly call the company in charge of your warranty for repairs/replacement if needed.
- Get a lightning protection system for your home. If your home isn't protected, lightning hitting your home could cause damage to your solar panels and your home's electric equipment. Your options for lightning prevention vary, but you can often get something as simple as a lightning conductor or a path to the ground that redirects lightning.
- Don’t try to cover up or remove your solar panels, because you might end up doing unintentional damage to them in the process. Panels are designed to withstand severe weather conditions on their own, so just leave them uncovered and let them help protect other parts of your roof.
What To Do With Solar After A Hurricane
After the hurricane has passed and you and your family are safe, you should check your home for any damages, including checking your solar power system to make sure everything is working correctly.
- If you took a picture of your solar panels before the storm, you can do a brief comparison to evaluate the state of your solar panels after it. However, you should only do this if you can do so without climbing on your roof. Climbing on a steep or slippery roof can be very dangerous after a hurricane.
- Next, you will want to call your solar panel company and schedule a time for them to come out and inspect your solar power system. They can inspect your wiring, panels, mounting, solar battery storage (if you have it), and any related hardware to make sure everything is still working and free of storm damage.
- If your panels or other parts of your home were damaged, file an insurance claim as soon as possible to begin the process of getting that damage repaired.
- If you have solar batteries and they weren’t damaged by the storm, you can use the saved-up electricity to help power your home until the electricity comes back on in your neighborhood and the power outage is over.
Tips & Tricks For Solar Power In Hurricane Areas
If you live in an area that is at risk of hurricanes, rest assured that solar panel systems are created at a certain level of quality, and are designed to stand up to heavy winds and other extreme weather. It's important to get a professional solar company to install your solar panels because they know what they need to do to ensure they will hold up to all weather conditions.
- Follow building codes
- Use designs specific to your region's weather
- Use high-quality, top-rated equipment
- Ensure your roof is in the proper condition to have solar panels attached
- Find the best location on your roof to install the solar panel system
Even with a quality installation, you can still complete certain tasks before a hurricane to help protect your investment.
- Get rid of anything in your yard that could be a projectile.
- Set up a regular maintenance schedule for your solar panels.
- Get your solar panel system added to your insurance.
- Ensure your insurance covers other issues like roof, wind, and water damage.
- Have up-to-date photos of your solar power system.
- Know your warranty information so you know who to call after the hurricane.
- Get lightning protection for your home.
There are things you can do after the hurricane passes and you and your family are safe.
- Do a visual check for damage to your solar power system. (Do not climb onto your roof. Let the professional do that!)
- Call your solar panel company out to do a thorough evaluation.
- If needed, put in a claim with your insurance company.
If you're ready to install solar panels and enjoy the benefits of solar energy, such as reliable power after a hurricane or other natural disaster, talk to Palmetto today. You can use our Free Solar Design and Savings Estimate Tool to see how much you could save by going solar, and get a preview of what a solar power system would look like on your roof.