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Are solar panels a fire risk?

Solar panels actually present quite a low fire risk. It is very rare for solar panels to cause a fire. It’s more likely if you are unfortunate to have a fire caused by the solar system, that it was caused by the DC isolator or the solar inverter.

Solar panels

A report by WPI & Alternative Technology Association found that in the 6 years from 2009 to 2015 52%* of solar related fires in Western Australian and NSW were caused by either a DC inverter or solar isolator component. Other likely causes of solar-related fire identified in the study included electrical wiring faults and main switchboard faults.

DC isolators are a particular concern. Due to the rooftop location the isolator can be damaged by harsh weather or water intrusion over time which can cause shorting. Some commonly installed DC isolators are subject to product safety recalls by the ACCC.

Recalled Avanco branded DC isolators
Recalled Avanco branded DC isolators

Find out more about solar DC isolator recalls or search for solar component recalls here - productsafety.gov.au/recalls

What causes solar system fires?

So if it's not the solar panels, what is the likely cause of solar system fires?

  • Damaged wiring in or between solar components can cause an electrical arc to occur. This is particularly problematic in areas where DC electricity is travelling such as the solar panels and wiring between the panels, isolator, and the solar inverter. This arc can travel to flammable materials within the panels, mounting systems, solar components, or throughout the building causing a fire.
  • Faulty installation practices by unlicensed or inexperienced solar installers are a large contributor to solar-related fires.
  • Hot spots on the solar panel due to individual solar cell damage can, in some cases, cause overheating which can lead to the solar panel backing materials catching fire.
  • The use of cheap, low quality or below industry standard panels and solar components can increase the likelihood of faults and as a result an increased fire risk.

How to prevent solar system fires

  • Only use an experienced solar installer who is CEC accredited. A correctly installed solar system will not only reduce the risk of fire but will also ensure your system works at it's most efficient providing your home with as much green electricity as possible.
  • Carry out regular professional solar maintenance inspections to identify the wear and tear of panels, components, and electrical wiring before problems occur.
  • During routine solar inspections, your solar industry professional will be able to identify any components which have been identified to pose a risk or have been recalled by the ACCC product safety recalls.
  • Trim nearby trees to avoid shading the panels and to avoid leaves and branches collecting on or around the panels and wiring.
  • Regularly clean your solar panels if you live in a very dusty, dry area or if bird droppings are a big issue in your neighbourhood. Consult your solar manual for cleaning recommendations.
  • Keep an eye on your solar monitoring system (monthly checks are recommended) and get your solar electrician in to check for faults affecting the efficiency of your system or any potential fire risk issues if you notice an unexpected change.
  • Keep animals and insects away from cabling and panels. Some birds, rodents, and possums use the warm sheltered area under the roof-mounted solar panels to build nests which can increase the likelihood of damage.
  • Ensure all electrical work carried out in your home is completed by a licensed electrician.
  • Visually check the solar system after an extreme weather event such as high winds, flooding, or storms and ensure any damage is repaired promptly by a licenced solar electrician.
  • Use panels and solar components from quality, reputable solar brands

A correctly installed and well maintained solar system is incredibly safe and shouldn’t pose a fire risk issue. Take care of your solar PV system as you would any other electrical system in your home.

For help with your home solar system in Brisbane and the Gold Coast contact the solar specialists at Fallon Solutions on 1300 762 260 today.

References:

*Fire Safety of Solar Photovoltaic Systems in Australia - WPI ATA https://renew.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/FireRisksOfSolarPV_ATA_D16_Final.pdf

https://www.productsafety.gov.au/recalls

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