Hazards of Solar PV

As we strive to reduce carbon emissions, we are increasingly turning to renewable sources of energy production. With the ability to exploit water, wind, carbon neutral fuels and solar, renewable energy is becoming an increasingly common source of our power.

Since the introduction of the Government’s ‘green’ incentives, specifically Feed-in-Tariffs (FiT) the rate of renewable and energy efficient installs has seen a huge rise. The most popular in the domestic market being solar PV, offering the best return. Due to the FiT model many companies offered free solar PV roof-top installation to domestic properties. Between 2010 and 2012 solar PV was installed to over 100,000 sites.

The advancements in technology, and better understanding have improved safety standards in solar PV installation and maintenance. In the early stages of the FiT programme, the technology was new and government guidelines weren’t as comprehensive. This however has led to further investigation into PV systems and potential hazards.

The PV itself is not believed to have a higher risk factor than any other electrical supply should it become faulty, however ensuring the isolation of the system is very important.

PV systems generate direct current (‘DC’), compared to standard mains electricity which uses alternating current (‘AC’) which is safer to the human body should it hazardously encounter a live stream. In addition the PV generated current cannot be switched off in isolated parts of the system therefore is more dangerous if not being attended to by an expert, qualified engineer. DC currently do not interact with fuses in the same way as AC therefore a standard fuse will not work as an effective safety mechanism, therefore it is important to understand this during installation and integration to a properties electric supply.

Although reported fires involving solar PV are incredibly rare there have been incidents mainly due to poor insulation and unspecified or faulty equipment. There is also an increased risk should a fire breakout, even when not caused by the PV, that if a circuit is not correctly isolated and doesn’t run to a main, specifically labelled, shut-off switch, fire services may not be able to sufficiently shut-off the electrics. If the fire services are unable to shut down the electricity to a property it is then not safe for them to enter or treat the fire.

To ensure fire safety solar PV systems fitted pre-2012 should be surveyed based on the MCS Standards published by The Microgeneration Certification Scheme.