Fire Hazards and Solar Panels in Zimbabwe: Can Solar Panels Cause Fires?
More and more businesses and households in Zimbabwe are shifting to solar power. This has largely been caused by the erratic and inconsistent supply from the ZESA grid. There is therefore more realization from many people and businesses of the benefits of adopting renewable solar energy. However, a lot of people may be asking if this alternative source of energy is safe as far as fire hazard is concerned. This article shall discuss various aspects that are related to this issue.
What you shall read in this article:
- Do Solar Panels Pose a Fire Hazard?
- What Causes Solar Panel Fires.
- How Can You Reduce Solar Panel Fire Risks
Do Solar Panels Pose a Fire Hazard?
Although extremely rare, solar photovoltaic solar panels can cause a fire. Solar panels therefore pose an extremely low fire hazard. Photovoltaic systems are extremely safe under normal operating conditions if correctly installed and maintained by solar professionals. Reputable solar companies in Zimbabwe often design, install and maintain solar systems according to electrical regulations and guidelines. Actually, the Photon magazine has recorded no more than 1 incident per 10000 installations. This therefore means a house or business with properly installed solar panels will not catch fire. Photovoltaic solar panels cannot start a fire in and of themselves. However, if the whole solar photovoltaic system malfunctions, some of the components may become flammable. Therefore, if solar panels are not installed correctly, they can cause a fire in your house or business.
What Causes Solar Panel Fires
In summary, solar panel system fires can be caused by the following:
- Poorly Designed Solar Systems
- Faulty Electrical Equipment in the Solar System
- Over Voltage in the System
- Faulty Solar Products
- Power Surges
- Cable Damage by Chewing Animals
Poorly Designed Solar Systems
This can encompass most of what shall be listed below. Poorly designed solar systems can cause hotspots within the system. A solar system contains a solar PV array, inverter, charge controllers, batteries and other balance of system components. It therefore should be properly designed and sized by a certified solar energy company with experienced solar technicians. One danger of a poorly designed solar system is it can cause a fire. Cable sizing. Loose connections.
Faulty Electrical Equipment in the Solar System
Solar PV systems contain live wires with electricity. Wrongly specified, wrongly sized or faulty equipment in the installation can cause a fire hazard. Just like any other electrical installations, photovoltaic systems are subject to electrical fault. Electrical faults common that do happen are arc faults, short circuits, ground faults and reverse currents. Loose, faulty connections and cable insulation breakdowns can also cause problems. These issues can result in hotspots that can ignite flammable material nearby.
Over Voltage in the System
Over voltage in the system is a situation where solar panels are producing more voltage than what the inverter or balance of system components can take. Over voltage can come from 2 sources within the system. It can come from solar panels if the system is off grid or from the electricity grid if the system is also connected to the grid. Over voltage from either solar panels or ZESA grid can blow up components in the inverter and this can cause a fire. This is especially possible if the inverter is not protected by putting voltage meter, breakers and fuses.
Faulty Solar Products
Faulty solar panels and inverters can also cause a fire. For instance, damaged connectors on solar systems are mostly exposed to environmental forces like dust and adverse weather. Therefore, this imperfection in the solar cells, such as cracks, poorly soldered joints, and mismatches, lead to higher resistance and become hot spots in the long run. Hot spots cause burnt marks that degrade solar cells and back sheets which may eventually lead to fires if left unchecked.
Power surges can also cause fires within a solar system. Power surges are just as the name suggests. A power surge is a sudden rush (surge) of electrical power that is higher than normal. Power surges can carry tens of thousands of volts into your solar system which is enough to fry an inverter circuit board especially if it is not protected thereby causing a fire.
Lightning has a devastating effect on the whole solar system. With regards fire hazard, lightning can cause fires in the solar system through direct and indirect strikes. Direct strikes while rare, can destroy (melt) panels, inverters etc. Indirect strikes however are very common and have the most likely risk of causing a fire. Indirect strikes induce high voltages into the system and this breaks down conductors, solar panels and components, producing dangerous sparking that could ignite combustible material.
Cable Damage By Chewing Animals
Rats and other gnawing animals can chew cables and therefore cause electrical shorting which causes fires.
How Can You Reduce Solar Panel Fire Risks
One can reduce the risk of fire in the solar system through the following:
- Use a Certified and Trained Solar Installer
- System Protection Devices
- Regular Checks of the Solar System.
- Pest Control
Use a Certified and Trained Solar System Installer
Using a certified and trained solar installer is one sure way to reduce solar panel fire risks. A trained solar installer shall assess your solar energy needs, design and install a solar system that eliminates all fire risks in the future. Most of the causes of solar panel fires highlighted above are eliminated completely when you engage a reputable and knowledgeable solar installer. A reputable solar company like Onpoint Solar designs sturdy solar systems and uses proper electrical equipment in your system. We also ensure over voltage in the system is avoided and quality solar products are used. Moreover, a reputable solar company ensures that the solar system is well protected from power surges and lightning as these are some issues that may cause a fire in the system.
System Protection Devices
System protection devices or surge protection devices are very important in preventing fire hazards within the solar system. Surge protection devices (SPDs) should be installed throughout the solar arrays’ AC and DC power distribution circuits to protect the solar system critical power circuits. Surge protection devices should be installed on both the DC inputs and AC outputs of the solar system inverter and be deployed with reference to ground on both the positive and negative DC lines.
Regular Checks of the Solar System
A properly and professionally installed solar system does not require any maintenance. Solar systems installed using quality solar products and components can live for many years. However some regular checks by a certified solar technician are important to ensure your solar system is operating optimally and there are no potential fire hazards within the system. Solar panels can be checked to ensure they are still producing their necessary voltage for the system. A lower voltage than recommended may indicate hotspots which may cause a fire in the future. Moreover, the system needs to be checked for loose connections and wires within the system as these may cause fires. Cable damage can also happen within the system through rodent chewing and more. These are therefore the areas that need checking to ensure your solar system is in operation for many years to come.
Your solar system should be protected from gnawing and chewing animals like rats. If you have a rat problem, you should engage a reputable pest control company in Zimbabwe which can take care of the problem. They often have different pest control methods that eliminate the problem to ensure your solar system is protected at all times.
Although very rare, there can be fire hazards in your solar system. However, poorly designed solar systems, faulty electrical equipment, over voltage in the system can cause a fire. Moreover, faulty solar products, power surges, lightning and rodent chewing are some potential sources of a fire. There are steps that homeowners can take to reduce solar panel risks. Chief among them is to use certified solar installation companies to ensure most of the potential areas that cause a fire are eliminated from the word go. Onpoint Solar is a reputable and professional solar company in Zimbabwe that designs, installs and maintains solar systems that perform. System protection devices also play a crucial role in preventing fire hazards in the solar sysem. Moreover, regular checks by a certified solar technician is also important. Get in touch with Onpoint Solar to get more information on how this can be achieved.