Fire Initiated by Spark Generated from Solar Panel

Safety Alert: Fire Initiated by Spark Generated From Solar Panel

Safety Alert No: 27

Date: July 2010

INCIDENT

An incident occurred on a project where a fire was initiated whilst installing a solar power photovoltaic (PV) system. The insulation on the solar panel cabling coiled in preparation for connection to inverters ignited due to an arc forming across the ends of the cables. The arcing was caused by a high open-circuit DC voltage produced by a circuit or multiple circuits of solar panels under full sun. The solar panels had been terminated using a temporary arrangement which proved to be unsafe.

The fire continued to re-ignite even when treated with fire extinguishers until the electrician safely isolated the solar panels from the arc by temporarily disconnecting the ends. This temporary disconnection was effected by safely cutting the cables and terminating them, using appropriately rated connectors.

CURRENT SITUATION

There is significant uptake in solar power PV systems on State and Local Government building sites, particularly in schools. When installed correctly, solar power PV systems will operate safely for in excess of 30-40 years. Few electricians have experienced in working with high DC voltages produced by solar panel circuits, therefore the Federal Government requires all solar power PV systems to be designed and installed by accredited personnel in order to be eligible for financial incentives.

RISK CONTROL

On projects where the installation of a solar power PV system are to be carried out, contractors should be reminded that there is a real risk of fire or electrocution being caused when DC cables are left unterminated in open circuit. Controls put in place as a result of the incident include;

1. All solar panel DC cabling work should be carried out by Clean Energy

2. All DC cabling should be run “dead” i.e. not connected to solar panels until the ends of cables are safely terminated in appropriately rated DC fuse boxes, isolators or circuit breakers.

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