Skip to comments.Hidden dangers of solar panels
Posted on 02/20/2014 4:14:53 PM PST by matt04
Lots of people have installed solar panels into their homes and businesses in an effort to help the environment and save some money, but the 22News I-Team has discovered solar panels could be dangerous in an emergency.
More and more families and businesses in western Mass. are using the sun to go green, installing solar panels to generate power, but as these become more common in western Mass., fire departments are faced with new challenges.
There certainly have been examples with power being backfed into the site that have killed firefighters in adjacent states, said Northampton Fire Chief Brian Duggan.
The solar panels, while a growing trend, have proven to be problematic in an emergency. An NBC television station in Philadephia captured this video of a distribution center covered in solar panels. The firefighters in this case were forced to stop fighting the fire due to electrocution concerns on a bright sunny day.
Northampton Fire Chief Brian Duggan told the I-Team electrocution is not their only concern, cutting through the roof for ventilation would also take a lot longer.
As an example in Easthampton there was a ventilation hole cut in a roof, it took about 25 minutes to do it, this would elongate that time by approximately double, he said.
Its a situation both Northampton and Springfield fire departments have been faced with. Gregory Garrison, the President of Northeast Solar agreed to talk to the I-Team about the issue. He says firefighters just have to pull the meter when they get there. That allows them to cut the power.
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In my area, if a major structure fire occurs FD normally has the primary and secondary power shut down for the entire street to avoid any accidental contact.
I’m amazed Mass gets enough sunshine to make this worthwhile.
Well, in the homes of luddites there will still be an inverter.
Solar power is generally inadequate for cooking and heating.
With the advent of adequate LED lighting it makes far more sense to design for 12 VDC grid lighting solutions that can use easily replaceable vehicular batteries for storage. With such a system the article premise is moot.
The largest one, has generated a whopping 6kW this week. That particular installation has approx. 2,500 panels and cost almost 600K.
The Chief doesn’t seem concerned about it, but I wonder how many fires he has personally fought lately?
In this regulation-laden place I’m surprised there isn’t an electrical code requirement (US electrical codes were and are promulgated by a national fire prevention agency, and modified locally as authorities deem fit) that firefighters be granted ready access to shutoff switches, similar to the way they can control elevators with a special key.
This is one of the reasons I put my 4.5KW solar panels on the ground. It also gives me a nice shelter for the outside power tools.
Do you mean, a whopping 6 kilowatt hours?
Solar HEAT often can do well for cooking and heating.
Yes, kilowatt hours.
Sounds like the switches kill the power at the ground, but they are still lift wiht live wires from the roof to the switch.
I’m not an electrician, but aren’t those solar panels on a circuit breaker? If not, why not?
“Sounds like the switches kill the power at the ground, but they are still lift wiht live wires from the roof to the switch.”
Not true on all systems now, micro inverters installed on the roof & under the panels need to sense grid power before sending power back down.
Cut a disconnect and the micro-inverters shut down, there’s no hazard.
From the article and some additional research, the issue seems to stem from the fact that they have live wires running from the roof, thru the building, to a disconnect, which should interrupt the DC power to the inverter. However, they have no cue what a homeowner may have done inside.
without solar panels, they simply call the POCO to have them kill power to the structure, or if necessary the street.
were older systems designed differently?
“were older systems designed differently?”
Yes, the new systems send 240 volts AC up to the micro-inverters to synchronize, the panels then create DC current which is converted to AC on the roof and then sent back down to the house panel. Cut power at the panel or utility meter and all that is left is individual panels that are still “live” during daylight hours but there’s no circuit per se.
The old method (though still used, and still legal to install) was to string groups of dc panels together and send them down to a centralized inverter via metal conduit. Shutting off the inverter stops current flow but there’s still dc voltage present (400 VDC or more being fairly common) derived from the string of panels. It would be possible to get shocked with the system off in this type of install.
The new 2014 NEC requires rapid shutdown of both types, the micro-inverters pretty much do so by design already, the older centralized inverters will require relays, rooftop disconnects or dc to dc maximizer to comply on new installs.