Climate disaster hits solar in southern Brazil

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From pv magazine Brazil

Brazil's MetSul meteorology institute issued warnings on April 21 about “successive episodes of rain in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, with high volumes in some areas.” On April 27, Canoas, Novo Hamburgo, and Porto Alegre experienced the first floods. Within a few days, Lake Guaíba, the region's main body of water, reached levels of 5.30 meters, exceeding the flood level by 3.30 meters. This surpassed the previous record set in 1941, when Lake Guaíba reached 4.77 meters. According to the authorities, by the morning of May 10, 435 municipalities – almost 90% of the state of Rio Grande do Sul – had been affected by floods.

The disaster in Rio Grande do Sul has become one of the 10 environmental tragedies with the highest number of deaths in the country, affecting 136 people, while 141 remain missing. Aneel, the national energy regulator, said that 326,000 customers are without power in the state, making it impossible to calculate the losses from submerged or affected PV plants.

Due to the floods, the Nova Santa Rita substation remains offline, putting 16 important transmission lines out of operation. This has weakened the connection between transmission systems and leaves the remaining systems overloaded and more susceptible to new contingencies, which could lead to load shedding.

Municipalities without power supply. Image: Aneel

Climate change

Researchers from ClimaMeter released a “rapid attribution study” last week and concluded that human action – particularly the emission of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and deforestation – have intensified rainfall in Rio Grande do Sul. The study found that rainfall has become 15% more intense due to climate change. In March, a ClimaMeter attribution study also showed that current heat waves are 1 C warmer than in the past.

“The ClimaMeter findings highlight that flooding in the Rio Grande do Sul state was intensified by the burning of fossil fuels, not by El Niño,” said Davide Faranda, a researcher at the Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute of Climate Sciences.

Faranda said that these floods disproportionately affect vulnerable communities, which bear a small share of responsibility for climate change. He noted the need to mitigate risks by immediately reducing fossil fuel emissions. Solar energy, seen as an alternative to emission-intensive energy sources, has also suffered from the disaster.

Companies, associations, representative entities, independent professionals, and groups of volunteers across the country are mobilizing in support of the victims, alongside initiatives by public authorities at all levels. Numerous donations of equipment, supplies, and financial resources are being made to assist the people of Rio Grande do Sul.

The solar sector has also been promoting measure to mitigate the impacts caused by floods. pv magazine interviewed several companies that are deploying solar energy systems in the state.

Soluções Pedroso, a company specializing in solar system installation, raised financial aid for flood victims.

Mara Schwengber, coordinator of the Brazilian Association of Photovoltaic Solar Energy (Absolar) in Rio Grande do Sul and the CEO of Solled Energia,  also organized a fundraiser to help flood victims.

“As the G5 is spread across the country, in the first few days we managed to raise financial resources to purchase items such as water, food, biscuits, cleaning materials and basic hygiene,” said Schwengber. “As a result, we managed to get more people to participate and we are already organizing the donation of 100 double mattresses to local companies, which somehow need to resume their activities, in addition to a large batch of blankets that are coming from São Paulo and will be destined to the victims.”

Schwengber said that Absolar is still unable to assess the damages to PV systems in the state because the victims are a priority and because the water needs to recede to access these locations. “Lives are the priorities right now and we need to do everything we can to minimize suffering,” she added.

PV impact

According to Absolar, Rio Grande do Sul ranks among the top three Brazilian states with the highest installed capacity of solar energy for self-generation on rooftops and small plots of land, totaling 2.7 GW. The state's territory alone accounts for 9.6% of the country's installed PV power, with more than 302,000 operational connections spanning 497 municipalities. Absolar has urged consumers to exercise caution with electrical equipment to prevent accidents, shocks, or losses.

Yes Energia, an installer based in Porto Alegre, has digitally simulated the affected areas and has cross-referenced them with its installed PV systems. However, it is not currently possible to collectively assess the impacts on PV systems in the state.

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Yes Energia' project coordinator and database administrator, Leandro Pandolfo, said that he began developing a flood impact map based on preliminary mapping data from the Hydraulic Research Institute (IPH).

“With the flooded areas mapped, we applied the layer containing the exact locations of the systems installed by Yes Energia. This way we identify those affected by location and the technology installed. With customers filtered by manufacturer and technology, we began the process of checking alerts via our own system called Yes Assist and the manufacturer's dedicated monitoring platform,” said Pandolfo.

Areas affected by floods (in blue)

About 400 customers of Yes Energia installations in the state are in flooded areas. To date, 83 plants have been confirmed as inactive, with their systems shut down.

Source: Yes Energia

“We saw the damage happen inside the house,” says the co-founder of Yes Energia, Tiago Fernandes. “Those affected by the flood are our friends, colleagues and customers. Given these facts, our commercial and administrative teams began to work remotely, while the technical teams were mainly focused on emergencies. We put together an action plan, which consists of three key steps: assessment and information collection; contacting commercial partners; and recovery of facilities and infrastructure.”

Salgado Filho Airport Source: Yes Energia

Salgado Filho Airport, one of the company's clients in Bairro São João, at one of Porto Alegre's exits, was hit by floods at a height of 2.5 meters. All operations at the airport have been suspended. Fraport, the airport's administrator, said that operations will remain suspended until the end of this month.

“During a flood, all inverters activate a technology called ‘anti-islanding,' which stops energy production during power grid outages, preventing solar energy from being injected into the damaged electricity grid” said the manager of engineering at Yes Energia, Pedro Spohr. “Our customer base is mainly made up of conventional string systems and SolarEdge systems.”

However, there is a big difference in terms of the security of these two models, he added.

“The modules will be energized as long as the sun is shining, even if the system is not producing energy,” said Spohr. “In string systems, the circuits coming from the roof will have high electrical voltage, creating risks in these situations. In SolarEdge systems, there are optimizers connected to the modules, which have a feature called Rapid Shutdown, a quick shutdown mechanism that reduces voltage levels to almost zero, reducing the potential risk to the flooded area.”

Even with inverters equipped with the technology, Spohr said that most customers do not have insurance for solar energy systems.

“We are in continuous contact with the manufacturers so that they can mobilize to evaluate the damaged equipment, but if necessary, we will collect this entire equipment base and send it to a company specialized in electronics to try to recover the inverters,” he said. “However, if this is done, we know that we will lose future guarantees.”

Due to the high water levels in some cities, calculating equipment losses, especially for uninsured solar plants, remains challenging. Even projects with insurance coverage may not fully recover the value of damaged equipment.

However, Elétron Solar, a Curitiba-based company specializing in solar insurance, provides coverage for such incidents, unlike many other insurers, said CEO Mauro Filho. Understanding the coverage offered by solar insurance before purchasing is crucial, as many incidents are not covered. Elétron's policies have covered eight accident notifications from regions where water has receded. Filho said that during floods, the inverters ares the most affected components, while modules, which are usually more resistant to water, are also damaged from materials washed away by floodwaters.

“From the photos we received this week, it is possible to see that these first homes that had their systems affected are simple homes, where families lost everything they had, personal documents, furniture, appliances, clothes, and sometimes the house itself was taken away by the floods,” said Filho.

Source: Geração Própria

Jean Soares, the CEO of Geração Própria, said that many of the 1,500 systems installed in the state – mainly in the Vale do Taquari region, Metropolitan Region, and Serra Gaúcha – were heavily affected. He said that in some cases, PV systems have simply disappeared. This underscores the importance of installing safer equipment.

To help with this recovery initiative in Rio Grande do Sul, donations can be made at https://www.paraquemdoar.com.br/

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