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July 7, 2015 | Socked In, Soaked Trenches and Salvaging a Timeline

This completes our series of posts about the interactions between weather and solar installations. In this installment, we provide real-world examples of how adverse weather conditions can put timelines in jeopardy — and how we dealt with it.

There’s always a weather risk when you decide to do solar project on the East Coast in the spring. After all, the adage “April showers bring May flowers” didn’t appear in the language without a basis in fact. So when we decided to install 28 MW of solar farms over five sites in Eastern North Carolina, financed by Holocene Clean Energy, we knew weather could slow the project.

As it turns out, it didn’t just slow the project — for the first two months, we might as well have been trying to build a solar array during a monsoon. Out of the 61 days between March 1 and April 30, 2015, rain fell on 40% of them (and in April, North Carolina received 5.26 inches of rain — nearly double what normally falls during that month)(1), bringing work on some of the sites to a screeching halt.

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, bad weather at any point in a solar installation is bad, but it is at its worst when it comes at the beginning. That is, after all, when construction crews build trenches to install racking and inverter foundations.

Like soldiers in World War I, we quickly realized the perils of building trenches in rainy conditions. Instead of laying foundations, we spent a lot of our time pumping water out of the trenches. (Do you know how much fun that is? Trust us, it’s not fun at all.)

The open trenches and soil conditions prevented us from completing the racking and inverter foundations in a timely manner, which put the entire project schedule in jeopardy

(For those of you unfamiliar with North Carolina soil, it’s made up of three-layers: a friable silty clay loam to sandy clay loam upper subsoil, and a firm, plastic clay lower subsoil. If you’re unfamiliar with clay soil, water typically doesn’t penetrate it — so you can imagine how it pooled in our trenches.)

With our June 30 completion date looming, we realized we would have to employ strategies to get the project back on track. Though we had a builder’s-risk insurance policy, we didn’t want to have to use it. Instead, we divided our construction crews into two 10-hour shifts. One worked Sunday through Wednesday, at which point the second crew would come on and work from Wednesday to Saturday.

With our experience in dealing with problem weather and the dedication of our crews, we completed the project on time and on budget — and everyone is happy with the outcome.

Our advice? If you’re planning on building a solar project where weather could be a problem, make sure you’ve hired a construction company that has plans in place to keep the project on track should rain or other adverse weather conditions occur.

Steve Crivelli is Conergy’s Director of Project Management and is based in Sacramento, California.

 

(1) according to Weather.com data