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Vegetated State

When I started in the solar industry, I never thought I would eventually be involved in panel discussions around mowing grass, budget for tree replacements, review bee safety for pollinators sites, or talk with insurance companies about fire risks associated with poor vegetation management – but in reality, for larger solar sites this is a major league topic.

Sticker Shock

Let’s get something out of the way right away – for larger sites get ready for potentially sticker shock when it comes to the budget to truly manage vegetation properly. This can be true whether you outsource it or do it in house, and there are benefits to both. Yes, for you new to large solar site, many of these contracts are six figures and portfolios in the millions of dollars “just to cut grass.”

It is important that senior leaders and finance professionals understand that it isn’t “just about cutting grass” but it includes risk reduction, personnel safety, and industry sustainability.

Risk Mitigation

So moving on from the sticker shock, let’s discuss how vegetation management leads to risk reduction. This risk reduction is not just limited to a site, but local communities we work and live. Consider each panel has 2 electrical connectors, for larger sites there can be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of panels…meaning there are millions of failure points that can cause a spark or arc. If vegetation is not maintained this gives that spark fuel to burn creating a fire that can quickly spread.

Poor vegetation management can also create personnel safety concerns. As the number of solar workers continues to climb, we need to ensure they are safe. When vegetation, whether grasses or weeds are not maintained properly there is a concern for wildlife that can injure personnel. One of the biggest concerns are insects and snake bites that can cause long term damage, disease, or death. Another significant concern is the trip or ankle and foot injuries that cold occur due to not being able to see ruts or holes. The reason these are significant safety concerns is since many of these workers work alone in very remote locations with limited emergency services.

Performance of the solar facility can be negatively impacted by the lack of vegetation control. Not only will it be safety and fire concern, but there will cost additional money to remove the excess vegetation growth. So to keep assets operating at their highest levels, mitigating personnel safety hazards, and minimizing fire risks should be seriously considered when budgeting, or cutting budgets to meet financial targets.

Perception is Reality

Since most solar sites are unmanned assets, meaning that personnel are not typically on site daily, if solar site have a fire they are routinely reported by the local community. This can not only create a sense of fear, but ultimately impact developers from being able to get projects approved in certain communities if the industry does not demonstrate the ability to adequately manage this risk. This also leads to doubt on the maintenance practices, management, and regulations for these new assets. This can directly or indirectly impact the growth for such a powerful energy resource that is so needed to achieve sustainability.

If you have questions on vegetation management, the risks associated with neglect or poor management let us know!

Check out our guides and resources available here.


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