Can solar panels cause fires

One in four Australian households has rooftop solar and the numbers are growing daily.  So how safe is a solar system and can solar panels cause fires?  Because they carry live wires, there will always be some risk, but there are ways to ensure that the best solar is installed and that the risk is reduced significantly.

Poor installation 

Firies have noted that solar panel related fires have increased over the last five years.  This fact may be related to the wrong size solar panels or if incorrect specifications of panels are installed.  Corroded weathered earthing, an inverter next to a gas meter or poorly run cables can all be considered poor installation and fire concerns.  Installing solar panels should always be carried out by professionals.

DC power

Solar panels create direct current (DC).  In the case of rooftop solar, a possible cause of fire is a DC arc. A DC arc is a fault or disconnection in a current-carrying wire where the continuation of current flows through the air from one conductor to another or to the ground. It’s like a mini lightning bolt. If the solar panels are incorrectly installed or there is a problem with the materials used, a DC arc can occur.  

Solar panels produce a continuous DC current with high voltage. DC arcs do not self extinguish and they can reach temperatures as high as 3000°C. This is hot enough to melt metal, which can then fall and ignite nearby combustible materials. 

AC power

The reason for having an inverter installed with a solar panel system is to convert the direct current (DC) power produced by the panels to alternating current (AC) power which can be used in your home or fed into the grid.  The AC power is less volatile with lower voltage.

Solar panels without microinverters

Solar systems that are installed with a single inverter can have up to 600 Volts DC on the roof at any time. A solar system which is installed without microinverters will have a central inverter installed some distance away from the solar panels.  The high voltage DC power travels along the wires from the solar panels to the central inverter which is normally situated near the main switchboard.  If there is a fault with insulation or if the wires are damaged, the electricity can arc from the wires to the solar panel frame. 

This type of ‘string’ solar panel installation poses a higher fire risk than a system installed with microinverters.  It is riskier for the solar installers  and any other contractors working on the roof or in the confined spaces of a ceiling.  The risk is also higher to first responders should a fire happen.  Functioning solar systems have live wires with electricity running through them and if these are damaged by flames, they can pose a significant risk to first responders.

Solar panels with microinverters

By installing solar panels with microinverters, the risk of fire is reduced.   Microinverters change the DC power to AC power individually at each panel, resulting in lower electrical current running across the roof.  The risk of an electrical arc is lessened and it is far safer.

Microinverters also allow you to monitor the power output of each panel in your system.   DC current is converted at panel level to a much safer AC current making the solar panel system much safer. 

Stats

The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council issued some statistics that faulty solar systems caused 400 residential fires in the seven year 2009 to 2015 (the most recent statistics available).  

Conclusion

Over the years, solar systems have been proven to be a safe and reliable way to produce energy and reduce your electricity bills and reduce your carbon footprint.  Solar panels pose a very low fire hazard and with the correct installation a malfunction can be avoided.  Don’t be tempted to compromise on safety, quality or performance. Purchase a solar system which offers a long warranty and which meets the strict government safety requirements. Cool or Cosy has the best, safest systems in Australia on offer. Speak to one of our friendly consultants to find out how we can offer you a safe solar solution for your home or business.   

Are you looking for quality solar panels in Adelaide? You have come to the right place. At Cool or Cosy, we supply Australian-made Tindo Solar Panels that are made to suit our climate and are designed and tailored to suit your unique space. With no deposits necessary and an impressive 25-year warranty, going solar has never been this easy, we will guide you through the process. Get in touch with us today to see how we can help reduce your energy bills through innovative solar energy solutions!