Sometimes freak accidents happen. Like when a hail storm takes down an entire 4.4-MW solar farm in Texas.
“This was a very rare, unusual event,” said Adam Burke, president of Texas Green Energy. “It was a pretty isolated area, but it happened to be right over Alamo 2 solar farm. It was baseball-sized hail.”
About one-third of the solar panels at OCI Solar Power’s Alamo 2 dual-axis solar project were visibly damaged by the April 2016 hail storm, with many panels having multiple points of impact. Alamo 2 is one of many sites within OCI’s 400-MW Alamo project for San Antonio’s utility CPS Energy. The damaged two-year-old solar array was still producing some energy, but CPS Energy wanted its asset back at full capacity.
Texas Green Energy (No. 184 on the 2017 Top Solar Contractors list), usually a small-scale solar installer based in College Station, Texas, won the bid to reinstall all 4.4 MW at Alamo 2. Although every panel didn’t have shattered glass, many were assumed to have microcracks, so it was determined to replace all 17,920 panels.
“It required some careful planning and orchestration to replace everything all at once with minimal downtime,” Burke said. “We had it all planned out to the day what was going to happen. The plant was divided into four sections called blocks. We shut down two blocks at a time so we could be working on the second one as the first one was coming up so we weren’t just sitting there waiting for things to be reconnected.”
During reconstruction (which began in November 2016), Texas Green Energy did a thorough inspection and found additional problems with the system, most likely unrelated to the hail. Tracking mechanisms weren’t working at 100% and connectors were loose. Luckily, the crews were already working through the zones, so these things could be fixed alongside the panels.
“We didn’t just replace modules,” Burke said. “In the interest of long-term reliability of the plant, we inspected the entire system.” Soon, Alamo 2 was back at its full 4.4-MW capacity.
Burke said Texas Green Energy was invested in quelling any anti-solar rhetoric and wanted to get the solar project back up quickly.
“I just imagined that people watching the news story of the hail damage that hit Alamo 2 saying, ‘See I told you! Weather comes along and destroys the whole thing. Where’s your power going to come from?’” he said. “I wanted to prove a point that these things happen and there are mechanisms in place to repair this just like anything else. It’s minor downtime and the whole plant is renewed and restored.”
Now that the previously small-scale solar installer got a taste for big projects, Burke said Texas Green Energy is looking to the future.
“On larger projects, there is a lot more reporting and oversight in just managing labor. Before, you may have four or five people on a smaller commercial job, and that’s pretty easy to manage. Any given day, we had 75 or 80 people on this job,” he said. “We’ve been told by so many folks at OCI that we did such a great job and we were easy to work with, so they’ve been inviting us to submit proposals on several other RFPs, and hopefully one of those will take.”