Hornsby solar array survives tornado

Whether you believe climate change is impacting on localized weather patterns or not, it’s clear Australia continues to be subjected to some radical weather.

On Monday the 18th November 2013, the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby was hit by a horrendous storm which the Bureau of Meteorology has since confirmed was due to a fully fledged tornado focused around Hornsby railway station and shopping center.  The day started with surface winds that were fresh southerlies, while the mid-level winds were gale-force easterlies. As the thunderstorm formed during the day, the rising air gained rotation and then as the storm reached Hornsby the rotation narrowed and intensified into a tornado, causing serious damage.

The Bureau of Meteorology is investigating the Hornsby tornado to determine its strength but according to damage reports it is expected to be ranked as an EF1 with potential winds between 117 and 180km/h. Video footage and photographs show the violent ferocity of this tornado the fourth recorded in NSW during the year and the first of the season.

The storm uprooted trees, flipped transportable buildings and tore tiles off surrounding roofs.

So what does this have to do with solar?

A lot: there is a 20kW PV system installed on the roof of Hornsby Library which was at the epicentre of the tornado.

And it survived completely intact and unscathed.

The system was installed by a premium Sydney-based design and installation company who specialise in premium solar engineering. Installed for Council almost 3 years previous, it used Kyocera modules and a frame system designed with additional stabiliser bars on the back of the module, and the frame itself is re-enforced ( not a simplistic ‘c’ channel extrusion like others).

This design demonstrated its value in this case because it protected the module against vibration and harmonics that may actually fracture cells if not designed, assembled and supported with this in mind.

The day after the storm, the Council emailed the installer with this message:

About 3.30pm yesterday there was a mini tornado both right at the Admin Centre and at Westfield near the Library. Apparently the Library was damaged a bit but the panels are still working. Huge trees were ripped out of the ground right next to the Admin Building along the highway and also in the Tafe carpark behind the building – one staff member was trying to close his window but couldn’t pull against the force and papers were getting sucked out – but again the PV system here is working OK. Congratulations – your mounting system has survived tornado conditions.”

Solar systems that are designed well, using premium components and installed by professionals who aren’t trying to cut corners can survive extreme weather.

Top image: Hornsby solar array after tornado, via Autonomous Energy

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Nigel Morris

Nigel is one of the foremost solar energy analysts in Australia, having worked in the industry for over two decades.
Nigel Morris