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Are solar panels a fire risk? Here’s what you need to know.

There have been an increasing number of reports about solar-related fires across the country. These stories have prompted concern about the safety of solar power systems.

Here’s our breakdown of what you need to know.

The risk is low

In 2016, Renew, a not for profit organisation, commissioned a report into the fire risk of solar PV systems.

They found that just 1.5% of residential fires in Australia were linked with solar PV systems.

According to the report, the highest known cause of solar-related fires was determined to be an unspecified electrical component of the solar PV system.

As part of the study, a survey of Australian based solar installers was conducted and it was found that over 60% of these installers indicated that rooftop DC isolators were a primary cause of solar related fires in Australia.

So what are DC isolators?

DC isolators are switches that are found on the side of photovoltaic panels.

Mandated Australian Standards require that solar PV systems with string inverters (shown below) have a rooftop DC isolator installed.

 

DC isolators are required as they can be used to shut off DC current in the DC cabling (found in string systems) that runs along the roof cavity and down to the solar inverter.

This can improve safety for emergency service personnel in a building where cabling may have been damaged (for instance during a fire).

However, due to the location of the DC isolator on the roof, they are exposed to harsh weather conditions and this can lead to the breakdown of the system. Infiltration of water into the DC isolator can cause circuit shorts and increase fire risks.

So should I be concerned?

It’s important to note that the safety of solar PV systems can be considered just like any other electrical component in your home.

If professionally installed, with high quality components, a solar PV system is perfectly safe.

If you already have solar, here are some simple things you can do to minimise any risks with DC isolators:

  • Several brands of DC isolators have been recalled in the previous years. If your solar PV system is affected by the recalls, it is likely you would already have been contacted by your solar installer, but you can browse all recalls of DC isolators here
  • Regularly maintain your solar PV system. As with all major appliances it might be a good idea to get the system checked by a qualified Level 2 electrician every couple of years. You can also keep an eye on the system’s performance using your system’s monitoring. If you don’t have monitoring set up, contact your solar installer or give us a call for advice on 1300 23 68 55
  • Also, don’t forget we have a solar health check tool – a FREE tool you can use to check your system is working properly.

If you have any more questions, visit our solar page, give us a call on 1300 23 68 55 or contact us via email.