A massive hailstorm on March 15 crippled a 3,000-acre solar panel facility 40 miles outside of Houston. The storm shattered hundreds of panels and led nearby residents to worry that toxic chemicals may be leaking out of the panels and endangering local water tables. The hail storm caused solar panel damage to the Fighting Jays Solar facility, a 350-megawatt project brought online in July 2022 and located in Fort Bend County, Texas, which is currently operating at reduced capacity. According to the Department of Energy, hailstones the size of baseballs can possess sufficient kinetic energy to shatter the glass on solar panels completely. The hail ranged in size from quarters to golf balls and even baseballs. The incident points out the perils of trading traditional power sources for vulnerable “green” alternatives and underscores the importance of an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy policy instead of relying on or fully transitioning to renewable energy sources. Because solar panels are largely manufactured in China,  China may not be sympathetic to helping U.S. utilities if the electric grid is down due to solar panel problems.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, solar panels contain metals such as lead and cadmium, which are harmful to human health and the environment at high levels. However, in solar cells these metals are found in solid form in a thin film that usually becomes an environmental concern when disposing of them. While some solar panels are considered hazardous waste, others are not, depending on the leachability of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act toxic materials in the solar panel. Denmark-based Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, the parent company of the Fighting Jays Solar project’s developer, AP Solar Holdings, confirmed the storm had taken out much of the farm, but stated there was currently no risk to the nearby community of chemical exposure.

Hail is becoming a major issue for the PV industry as more solar sites are being built in the central part of the United States — a hail-prone region — and modules are moving towards larger panels with thinner glass. To mitigate the damage that hail can cause, moving panels into hail stow is proving effective.  Hail stow entails increasing the angle of the panels to a more vertical incline, reducing the likelihood hail will damage panels. Because it requires moving the panels out of the optimal production angle, utilizing hail stow will lead to a loss of revenue. It is estimated that the solar industry is losing $2.5 billion annually from equipment underperformance, likely caused by equipment malfunctions and weather conditions, according to an article in kWh Analytics’ 2023 Solar Risk Assessment.

Last year, GCube Insurance, an underwriter for renewable energy, released a report stating that the solar industry needs to find low-cost solutions due to the escalating frequency and severity of hailstorms, based on data it collected over five years. It reported that hail claims average around $58.4 million per claim and account for 54.21 percent of incurred costs of total solar loss claims being attributable to hail, which creates a gap between the insurance requirements for solar projects and what is available in the market, leading to project delays and cancellations. The report identifies several factors contributing to solar project vulnerability, including inadequate hail risk models, ineffective mitigation strategies, limited and costly insurance coverage, and an uncertain funding landscape. It also highlights how solar manufacturers wanting to reduce costs have introduced larger solar panels with thinner, more fragile glass and have chosen locations more susceptible to hail risk, threatening the financial viability of future projects.

Hail storms are present in the parts of the U.S. undergoing some of the newer solar plant investments, as depicted below.

Source: NOAA

A Nebraska Solar Facility Was demolished Last Year Due to Hail

The solar panels at a 5.2 megawatt solar farm in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, were mostly destroyed by baseball-sized hail moving at 100 to 150 miles per hour at the end of June last year.  The solar panels were supposed to be hail-proof, but the size of the hailstones was exceptionally large and high winds that accompanied the hail storm may have driven the large hailstones into the panels, exceeding their hail resistance limits. The hail storm was part of a giant supercell thunderhead that moved across eastern Wyoming and into Nebraska. The multimillion-dollar solar farm consisted of over 14,000 solar panels that had been put into operation in 2019. The system’s 25-year expected lifetime was cut to less than 4 years, leaving a toxic mess to clean up.

The area of the country that runs from eastern Wyoming directly into Scottsbluff is ranked as the highest category for hail risk in America, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The area has some of the highest frequencies of hailstorms in the country, averaging seven to nine hailstorms per year, including hail stones from pea-sized to baseball-sized. Yet, the area is still building solar plants that could be affected as the Scottsbluff solar farm was, driven by federal and state incentives to deploy renewable energy. And, when storms hit, utilities must rely on reliable fossil fuel generators to supply the power that are far less affected by hail.


Solar PV is prone to destruction by hail storms, but solar PV facilities are still being built to meet President Biden’s goal of 80 percent renewable energy generation by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free electricity five years later and due to lucrative government subsidies. Last year, a massive hail storm destroyed a PV solar facility in Nebraska and this year, one caused major damage to a PV solar facility in Texas, reducing their 25-year operating lives to a handful of years. Solar panels are vulnerable to high-speed hailstorms, despite their stated invulnerability to them. The waste from these solar farms will end up in landfills as recycling is expensive and it is far cheaper to purchase newly manufactured panels. So far, the “energy transition” promising cheap, clean, and green energy is proving to be far from it as toxic waste from these solar panels will pollute landfills as they need to be dismantled and replaced.

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