Canadian Underwriter

The biggest property risks for green energy

March 29, 2021   by Greg Meckbach

Solar panel and wind turbine farm clean energy.

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Floods, hail, fire, and lightning strikes are among the concerns for underwriters who insure green energy projects, an expert with RSA Canada says.

And also, solar panel placement. Perhaps not many would link solar panel placement with flood risk, but there is a connection, as Doug Laurin observes. Laurin is the director and head of specialty energy lines and equipment breakdown insurance (EBI) for RSA Canada.

“You have to consider where you are installing solar panels,” he told Canadian Underwriter in a recent interview. “If they are installed on low ground, such as in a valley or a flood zone, that would cause concern over potential flooding.”

Canadian Underwriter asked Laurin about the challenges for underwriters in assessing the property risks of solar and wind power installations.

Regarding solar power, snow load is a big risk in Canada, Laurin said. “You also have to look at whether the installation is in an area with exposure to tornado or hail.”

Fire is another risk. This can happen if the electrical wiring in a solar installation has a short circuit, which would cause sparking. “You have to make sure the solar panels are installed by qualified electricians who understand how solar panels should be connected,” Laurin said.

Wind farms also have fire risk. To manage that risk, the operator should conduct good housekeeping on what’s called “the nacelle,” which covers the generator components.

“The nacelle is made of combustible material, so when the material is ignited by a spark, a fire can occur,” Laurin said. “Therefore, it is important to prevent oil and other flammable material from spilling onto the nacelle. It is also important not to have a hot spot on the wiring, and no smoking when the operator is working on the nacelle.”

Portable fire extinguishers should also be available on the nacelle floor, advises Laurin.

Too much wind on a wind farm can also be a problem.

“A wind turbine generator is designed for the maximum gust and average speed of the wind farm. If the actual wind speed is higher than what the generator is designed for, that is a big problem,” Said Laurin. “This could cause a blade to break off or a tower to collapse.”

Underwriters also need to consider exposure to lightning. This is a risk at a wind farm due to the height of the towers, which are basically metal poles. Therefore, they are hit by lightning quite often, said Laurin.

“The blades are equipped with conductor rods and connect to the ground with underground cables, which allows the lightning to pass to the ground through the grounding system. The engineers need to review the lightning protection system to ensure that the system and grounding connection is in good working condition.”

Feature image via Planet Studio

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