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Fire protection for PV installations

With the rapidly declining cost of photovoltaic (PV) generated electricity globally, independence from energy suppliers though the use of solar PV technology is likely to become a favourable option for both businesses and home owners. However, with such a move comes the need to protect parties against potential worst case scenarios, such as safeguarding the solar installations against fire.

This is the view of Philipp Ecker, head of technical support at Talesun Energy Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), who urges operators to take note of various safety measures to protect customers and their property from risk.

“To date, most fires have occurred as a result of modules being installed by unqualified personnel. Generally, the cause can be poorly installed low quality plug-connectors which interrupt the flow of electricity through the installation and lead to so-called ‘electric arcs’ which can cause fires. When sensitive solar plugs are fitted without using specialist tools, flaws are inevitable.”

Ecker says that for this reason experts recommend that the installation and removal of solar plants be carried out by a qualified, independent third party, even in the case of private installations. He says in addition, periodic safety-checks should be undertaken every four years, as is already required with commercial installations.

“Concrete safety measures can be taken from day one. For example, operators should give their relevant fire brigade advanced notice of the nature of the solar plant. The more information that is made available to the fire service, the easier it will be to extinguish a blaze. For large-scale installations fire stations should be given a copy of a site plan, details of cable paths, circuit breakers, transfer stations, and inverters. A warning sign with the text ‘Danger Live Voltage’ should be affixed to the meter cabinet and to the power distribution panel. Furthermore, he says that a space should be set aside on the roof for accessibility in case of an emergency and for general maintenance.”

“When fighting fires from outside a minimum distance should be maintained depending on the type of water jets used. This protects against the risk of electric shocks. The greatest risk comes when fighting a fire from the inside, especially if live and scorched cables come into contact with extinguishing agents.”

In addition, Ecker advises that home owners and businesses inform their insurance company of an installation as early as possible, and ideally prior to its construction.

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