Australia needs better resilience testing standards for solar panels, report says

Despite Australia’s increasing focus on renewable energy and the rising number of solar farms being built in cyclone-prone areas, Australia lacks local resilience testing standards for solar panels, according to a new report from FM Global.

Sun Metals Corporation (SMC) and James Cook University’s Cyclone Testing Station, working with FM Global, has completed wind-tunnel and structural static testing of ground-mounted solar panels in Australia to understand the risk of high wind and cyclone damage within solar farms.

Australia’s appetite for renewable energy projects, including large-scale solar, has propelled it towards its 2020 Renewable Energy Target. With this increased uptake of solar, the potential for equipment failures to cause major disruption and multimillion dollar losses for consumers and businesses alike has also risen. The Queensland region experiences an average of 4.7 tropical cyclones per year, yet despite this, standardised resilience testing does not exist.

FM Global worked with SMC to look for ways to highlight any areas of exposure for its recently installed $200 million Townsville solar farm – the largest solar farm in Australia. Static testing was conducted by James Cook University’s Cyclone Testing Station in collaboration with the installer of the solar farm. Wind-tunnel tests were performed by CPP consultants. The static testing is a first step to initiate the ground-mounted solar panel evaluation that should be conducted along with comprehensive dynamic load calculations yet to be considered.

“We recognised we were building our solar farm in a cyclone prone area and made sure we designed all aspects of the build with the risks in mind. We reached out to FM Global to ensure our farm was as safe as possible and we are pleased that our solar panels performed strongly,” said Kathy Danaher, Chief Financial Officer and Director of SMC.

FM Global advocates for wind resilience testing to be required under national regulations. The insurer has always promoted wind design and testing guidance for wind-resistant systems across its branches worldwide.

“Australia is a global leader in renewable energy and we’re seeing the largest growth of large-scale solar projects in the north of the country. This area also happens to have the highest exposure to cyclonic winds,” said Lynette Schultheis, Operations Manager, Australia, for FM Global.

“It’s imperative for both solar users and key players in the power generation industry to understand and mitigate the risks these solar farms face. FM Global hopes the government and insurance industry will get on board to standardise the resilience testing of solar panels and future-proof our country’s renewable energy investments.”

Australia’s pipeline of large-scale solar projects has leapt to 35GW, joining an existing 564MW of large-scale solar connected to the grid. FM Global is encouraging the Government, power generation and insurance industries to standardise resilience testing of panels and ensure the future of Australia’s solar energy is protected.