Wind knocks solar panels off Aina Haina Library

The strong winds are finally starting to calm down but not before wreaking havoc across the state. In Aina Haina, some of the public library’s photovoltaic panels blew off. The 288 panels were installed three years ago as part of the state’s push to go green. The library was the first on Oahu, and second in the state, to install the system, which generates more than 780 percent of the library’s monthly energy needs.

Several panels broke free sometime early Sunday morning. KHON2 found a makeshift sign at the library Monday notifying people about the problem. Keith Fujio, special assistant to the state librarian, says the debris did not injure anyone and the panels did not damage any cars or property nearby.

Fujio says the state was contacted about the loose panels and he was assured that the panels were secured, but KHON2 could see the panels were easily accessible to anyone who walked around to the back of the building.

KHON2 informed the fire department about the loose panels and was told not to touch anything because there is the danger of a shock hazard, if a number of panels were still connected and carried a charge, with wires damaged and exposed.

Capt. Carlton Yamada, of the Honolulu Fire Dept., says the hazard applies to any kind of photovoltaic system. “Whether it is a string inverter type or a micro inverter setup, it is considered dangerous if it is blown off a roof or involved in a fire,” he said. Capt. Yamada advised people facing this situation to call 911 and the fire department would isolate the area around the debris and work to ensure it is safe.

As for the risk of exposure in this case, the state released a statement saying, “We are still in the process of determining the sequence of events and do not have enough information to address the issue at this time.”

As to the issue of whether photovoltaic systems can hold up to stormy conditions, “the manufacturers have certifications that we have to be there,” said Chris Debone, president of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. “And there are the IBC (International Building Code) and City and County building codes that we strictly adhere to well over 100 miles an hour.”

Officials say the state will work with the design consultant and the installer to investigate why the panels did not stand up to the wind and ensure that this does not happen again.

After KHON2’s call, the fire department told state officials to store the loose panels in a more secure location. The state complied with that advisory.

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