Solar panel safety: How to reduce PV fire risks

The green energy transformation is rapidly gaining momentum. During the recent COP26 climate conference, a 190-strong coalition pledged to commit to a strategy to phase out coal power. Electric vehicles are increasingly popular. People are becoming more aware of the environmental impacts of their behaviours and actions, and, as a consequence, there will be a growing popularity in sustainable energy solutions in the coming years.

Photovoltaic systems (solar PV) are one of these solutions. Using the light energy to generate electricity, an estimated 80% of new homes built in England by 2025 will have solar PV installed – both in order to comply with the Part L regulations and as part of a wider bid to build a sustainable future.

However, there has been a growing scepticism surrounding solar PV and its potential fire risks. A report commissioned by the UK government from 2015-2018 studied 80 total incidents caused by PV. Of these, 22 fires were described as ‘serious’. Any fire risk is a matter of concern, for both potential homeowners and developers, so it is important that both are reassured of the safety of their PV installations.

We take safety seriously. With over fifteen years’ experience in the renewable energy industry, we know the potential dangers of solar PV. But we also know how to reduce the risks of such dangers occurring. Our experts give their guidance on how to increase solar panel safety in your new builds:

Ensure expertise

Your solar panels are only as safe as the person who installed them. You wouldn’t get a bricklayer to do your plumbing. PV systems are always active, meaning that any failure could quickly escalate, creating a significant fire risk. Small sparks can – and will, given the right circumstances – cause fires.

Ensure that the supplier and installer of your PV system conform to rigorous safety standards. There are a number of industry accreditations, including the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), Renewable Energy Consumer Code (RECC), NICEIC Approved Contractor and the International Organisation for Standardisation. These will hold your tradesperson or supplier to the highest competencies, so accreditations from at least two – ideally more – of these bodies demonstrates their expertise.

Safety doesn’t stop with the completed installation, either. Regular inspections from your installer or contractor will aid homeowners’ – and your own – peace of mind. Catching potential problems before they spark a problem.

The importance of quality products

However, a tradesperson is only as good as their tools. Quality products are essential to ensuring the safety of your solar panel systems. Of a PV system’s components, the report found that DC isolators prevented the greatest fire risk, followed by DC MC4 connectors. Both are part of the inversion system, which converts the direct electrical current into an alternating current. This is then either used by the home or fed into the National Grid.

Invest in the highest quality technology to reassure your developer and homeowner. Educate yourself on the nuances of PV technology to make the right decision for your development: learn about the various types of cells, isolators, connectors and more. A breakdown in one seemingly small and insignificant component has the potential to lead to catastrophic results. So learning about – and choosing the best – products is worth the investment.

Direct current arcing

DC arcing is the prime cause of fires within PV systems. Essentially a breakdown of air created when an electrical conductor is too close to another conductor (or ground), arcing can produce high temperatures, breaking down insulating materials and leading to ignition.

Arc faults have a number of origins. Loose joints can be caused by poor installation or poor-quality components and connections. PV system technology, however, has advanced to include intelligent arc detection. For example, Huawei’s AI BOOST intelligent arc detection system can spot faults before they escalate – a welcome preventative measure.  

Leading technology

Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AF-CIs) reduce the risk of fire by breaking the electrical circuit when they detect problematic arcs. Invest in high-quality products that engage leading technology to ensure the safety of your developments and homeowners.

There are multiple components that increase the safety of a PV system. Huawei’s AF-CI has automatic shut-down in 0.5 seconds, so any problems are rapidly dealt with as soon as an arc is detected, and its AI technology means that it is continually learning and adapting to each scenario. Huawei’s Fusion Solar Optimiser makes the PV system touch-safe during remedial works – reducing DC voltage at roof level to 0, a feat unachieved by other optimiser systems. The optimiser also has pinpoint detection of arc faults, so that faulty modules can be easily identified and resolved with minimal complications. These pioneering technologies offer greater safety and maximum reassurance.

Ensure the safety of your solar panels

Solar PV safety is reliant on expert installation, quality components and mitigating DC arcing. As well as innovative products that stop the incident before it develops into something more serious.

We are accredited by the ISO, MCS, NICEIC and more, so you can be reassured that our experts have the knowledge to guide your strategy.

If you would like more information on how to how to ensure solar panel safety in your installation, get in touch with us.