Safety and Performance Tips for Solar PV Owners

  • 07/04/2018
  • |
  • By Sean Si
Safety and Performance Tips for Solar PV Owners

For owners of residential and commercial establishments in the Philippines, a solar panel installation in house provides clean and dependable electricity and bankable savings. Rooftop Solar in the Philippines has a proven sub 5 year Return on Investment.

Like all Investments there are risks and mitigating risks is part of responsible ownership and reasonable expectations of returns with good maintenance. Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems offer a large scale of perks, which range from financial savings to environmental advantages and decreased grid energy consumption. They are certainly being enjoyed by those who have solar panels installed on their premises. These PV systems are safe, reliable, and pose a minimum fire risk. It is an extremely rare occurrence for solar PVs to cause a fire if proper safeguards are adhered to.

Safety is defined as no accident.  Reputable installers go out of their way to be safe while doing solar installations and ensuring good workmanship is kept in delivering high powered solar systems, annual visual inspection is recommended to check if anything has gone loose, and connections are nice and tight.  An important factor in fire safety and site safety is its installation and maintenance. Below, you will a few tips that can ensure that your solar system remains safe from fire risks.

 

Observe Proper Handling of the PV System

A solar power system has the potential to be energized when exposed to light or even strong light from artificial sources like spot lights. When more than 3 residential panels are series together the potential to shock and injure is already there.  Therefore it is strongly recommended that professional installation is needed when installing Solar panels or professional instruction if doing DIY is availed so that safeguards and precautions are observed.  Below are some safeguards but not representative of the entire Philippine electric code or common sense practices when dealing with electricity.

Qualified personnel should work on your AC mains or electricity in general. 220V can penetrate the skin and cause heart stopping electric shock. Proper insulated tools are needed when opening electrical cabinets and checking breakers.

Promptly call your installer if you observe anything strange with your solar system, error codes coming out of the inverter, loss of output and such should be reported so that they can check it over.  Most Grid tie systems automatically email the owner if there is something that needs to be checked or a flashing red light at the inverter is indicative that something is wrong.

If you have a battery-based system be very careful of fumes and spray from lead acid. Best to wear safety googles or glasses when servicing the batteries.  You should also remember that it is not advisable to wear metallic jewelry when working on your PV system. As a rule of thumb, avoid touch it without proper protection and without wearing a safety gear.

After a major storm or a pretty wild New Year celebration in the Philippines where there is potential of foreign object damage, it would be wise to do a visual check of your solar panels or fasteners if they have gone loose.  A broken or shattered solar panel is a safety concern that you would want to address quickly

During turnover of your solar system from an installer, ask them to walk you through de energization procedures how to shut down your system in cases of fire or maintenance.  It would be a good idea to train multiple people on this walk through and periodically if there is a change of staff.

 

Use Reputable Installers

At the minimum only consider companies that have at the very least a Qualified Personnel doing the installation.  We would define that as either a Master electrician or PV trained electrician or technician who finished a technical training course or a PRC card holder.  Reputable solar companies or installers have a license or reputation to protect. They are ethically bound to follow the Philippine Electrical Code and follow important guidelines and wire calculations set forth. Good installers would stop work if they spot an unsafe condition that is not even related to their work and ask that it would be remedied.

Reputable installers should use reputable equipment. Don’t be afraid to ask what brand of panels, inverters and even the wire they are going to use. If you are not impressed with the answer or your scam radar goes up, use Google and fact check the equipment being quoted if its reputable, being sold in other countries that have good product enforcement.  Substandard, counterfeit or plain shoddy equipment is never cheap as the true cost could be as low as failed build way before ROI to the catastrophic, a burnt house. An electrical engineer or electrician spent many years of their life learning the mistakes of others and instruction from their professors and industry mentors.  An informal worker with a screwdriver may not know the importance of Ohms law, the principles of wire sizing and use indoor speaker wire in the outdoors because it has polarity markings.

 

Consider the Area for the Solar Panel Installation

It is important to remember that PV systems operate well when fully exposed to the sun.  generally shaded areas should not be considered. If say it’s a South facing roof and its shaded 9AM to 4PM, you would be better off not to put panels there or decrease the coverage area.  Same goes for morning shade on an Eastern facing array etc.

If you are in an extreme weather coastal area you might want to consider triple railing your solar setup or specify enhanced anodization for your racking equipment. Essentially you have to design your system to withstand the weather conditions it will be exposed to.

If your roof has a lot of leaves or a towering tree over it, consider tree trimming or more frequent cleaning of the panels.  Leaf buildup under the solar panel is a fire hazard and also promotes water seepage through the roof in rainy season, not to mention clogged gutters.  Also make sure your panels have airgaps and never installed over Nipa or flammable materials.

Aside from this, do not install the PV system in a location where they can be exposed near flammable gases. It is also a smart move to cover your photovoltaic solar panels with an opaque material and make sure that the area underneath your solar panels is clean, clear, and free of foreign objects.

Employ Proper Maintenance for your System

Employ Proper Maintenance for your System

All maintenance should follow the installer’s instructions.  Please consult your solar installers turn over manuals as they may have pinpointed specific procedures for your system and maintenance schedules.  Devising away from what is advised may result in hazards, this includes modifications to the wiring. But this could easily be prevented by communicating with a solar panel provider and by asking questions about the overall maintenance of the system or you have noticed something different on how it is operating.

The ideal system in inspections and maintenance should include a system-wide monitoring system, out of specification alarm capabilities, thermographic infrared scanning, and hands-on service work for panel cleaning, tightening loose connections, and replacement of frayed wiring from weathering or rodents.

O&M solar

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As the owner of the solar PV installation, the system should be properly utilized but not overused. Replace it if it is nearing the end of its lifespan to avoid further risk of fire and electrocution. A quality installation is expected to provide 25 years of reliable power but annual inspections are ideal to spot unforeseen hazards and to make sure external forces from weather, vermin or whatever may be is mitigated.

 

Key Takeaway

Solar PV systems are not generally known as a large source of fire hazard. Coming from a reliable installation provider, these tips should just be measures that can be undertaken in the event of an occurrence. Nevertheless, it still pays to be careful.