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Risk Alert Solar Panels

Solar photovoltaics (PV) systems - Embracing greener energy and investing in solar panels offers many benefits, but there are also risks when using Solar PV Systems.

Embracing greener energy and investing in solar panels offers many benefits, but there are also risks  when using Solar PV Systems. Solar panels can be damaged by fire, hail, wind, snow and ice loading, water, and poor roof drainage.

 

If you are investing in solar PV systems, it's important to select panels that meet your usage requirements and that are manufactured to Australian standards. Check that you are purchasing your solar PV systems from a reputable supplier and licensed A-Grade electricians install them. Adequate insurance coverage is needed to repair or replace them if they become damaged by an insured event like hail, storm, or fire.

 

Storms, especially hail, can cause immense damage to panels that require repair or replacement. Replacing panels can be costly, so it's worth installing good quality panels and having measures that help to minimise damage from hailstorms, falling branches, and other debris.


Improper installation and faulty electrics may cause fires and present significant risk of damage to your property, as well as disruption to operations. It's a compelling reason to ensure the solar panels you buy are good quality and installed by licensed professionals. Fire risks are mitigated when panels have proper installation and preparation.


Panel weight is a considerable risk factor during a fire. Additional weight on a building may cause the roof to collapse, and some panels may release harmful chemicals.


A leading cause of damage to solar power systems are rodents, possums and birds that live on roofs and under solar panels. Leaves and debris under panels can reduce panel efficiency, thereby creating a fire hazard. Regular inspections and maintenance of roofs and Solar PV systems is an important mitigating factor of fire risks.


Being prepared and understanding the storm season is a key preventative action in reducing risk exposure. Knowing what to do before, during, and after a storm is vital to protecting people and property.


While there are Australian standards for solar panels, it is important to think about your geographical location and suitable solar panel types and models. It's likely that some robust designs need to be carefully installed to withstand the force of high frequency storm areas. 


Electrical and physical issues with solar panels

 

A warranty should cover physical and electrical issues affecting the performance of your solar panels. Commonly, two types of warranty cover solar systems and are known as product and performance warranties.

 

Safety after a storm

 

Many factors can cause physical damage to solar systems. These include weather events such as hail, lightning, fire, storm damage (such as fallen branches) and water ingression. All are well documented causes of system damage.

 

Importantly, a licenced professional should inspect and repair damaged panels and remove debris after a storm.

 

Never touch solar panels after a storm or try to remove debris because systems can still generate voltage, even if the network supply has been disconnected. Your inverter should let you know there is a problem with the Solar PV system.

 

Inspect solar panels regularly

 

A qualified electrician should inspect and test your solar panel system at least every five years. They'll ensure that all components are functioning properly, and that there are no damaged wires.

 

A professional can trim greenery growing near the solar PV system and keep it short. It should be away from solar panel surfaces. Trees and branches can damage panels and you should consider cutting them down if they prove too much trouble to keep trimming back each season.

 

Just like windows and doors, solar panels have seals that can wear out over time. This allows water to get inside the PV mechanism and cause short-circuiting and damage. Many people fail to realize this happening as they don't keep track of the panels' sealants condition — and wonder why cells suddenly stop working.

 

Avoid solar panels becoming a fire hazard

 

The installation location of most solar PV systems (on roofs) means panels are out of sight and out of mind. For this reason, few systems are maintained regularly or adequately.

 

The most common cause of fire from a solar installation is through the failure of DC isolators. Since 2018, design improvements have reduced safety risks. The best way to identify faults and avoid solar PV fires is with regular inspections and servicing, especially for those systems installed before 2018. Faulty dc isolator switches have been recalled more recently. Some recalled brands include:

 

• AVANCO    • SPM    • NHP    • GEN3    • PVPower    • ISOMax    • HGN4

 

You can check whether your isolator switch has been recalled by brand and model number under the electrical category at http://www.recalls.gov.au. There may be several dc isolators switches in your system, and you will need to check all of them. A licensed operator can do this, as well as inspect and test your solar panels.

 

Most solar PV systems are less than 10-years-old. As systems age, incidents relating to component failure increase. It's important to schedule solar system inspections and testing as part of your regular property maintenance program.

 

Many organisations install lightning protection features to protect solar panels from strikes. Installing a PV system on your land requires proper grounding to prevent electrical injury — both to the panels and the building occupants. Even indirect lightning strikes from a distance can damage solar units. Indirect hits introduce high voltages into the system that can damage components or present a fire risk. If you install rods or discharge paths on your property, ensure there are enough to support every panel.

 

The panels on your roof are often a place for pests to nest because they are warm, dry, and provide shelter from predators. Birds, rats, and possums may chew cables and insulation wires supporting solar panels. Nesting creatures can create considerable damage to your panels, prompting extra service and repair calls or shortening the life of your system components. Adequate protective barriers help to keep pests away and prevent damage. It also reduces fire risk.

 

Choosing solar panels

 

Visually, solar panel brands look similar but there are important differences in performance, design, build quality, componentry, and the life span.

 

With so many solar panel brands claiming to be the most efficient, best value, or technologically advanced, picking the right one for your building is no easy task.

 

When choosing solar panels, the upfront cost is less important than how long they will last and if they can withstand harsh Australian weather conditions. Most panels are certified and tested to withstand mid-sized hailstones. Choose a reliable brand and purchase from a reputable provider. Australia's Clean Energy Council can provide detailed information in relation to the solar and energy storage industry, with specific information about products, installers, and retailers. Learn more by visiting: https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/

 

State safe work authorities have identified at least five instances of unlicensed solar panel work having been carried out, with enforcement action taken in 2020. All solar installers must be licensed (A-Grade) electricians, employed by a Registered Electrical Contractor. Accreditation of a Solar PV system can be found with the Clean Energy Council.


Key considerations when selecting solar panels:

 

  • Check that your solar PV retailer is reputable and use licensed (A grade) electricians to install the Solar PV system – check the suppliers track record, reviews and complaints forums
  • Installer/designer must have CEC Accreditation and current electrical licences and WHS certification
  • Panels and associated solar system products must meet Australian standards
  • Know the warranties and guarantees for the system precisely (solar PV panels generally come with two distinct warranties: performance and product)
  • Ensure all additional system components that your designer/ installer suggests, like the mounting hardware, meet Australian industry standards
  • Complete the Clean Energy Council Solar PV Checklist. This checklist prompts for other due diligence checks on your installer and supplier, quotation and contract, products and services, grid connection and approvals, and other information and support. See here. 
  • Consider choosing a Clean Energy Council Approved Solar Retailer. Approved Solar retailers are selected based on best practice and provide a 5-year warranty covering the whole system

 

Protecting your solar panels

 

When considering aftermarket solar panel protective covers, they will need to be assessed for structural suitability and could limit or eliminate the ability of your panel to harvest power from the sun. This means only using them when there is a threat of major storms, and you will need the right early intervention with access to weather alerts. Applying protective covers to panels introduces the safety risk of working at heights where panels are situated on a roof.

 

Insurance and your solar panels

Replacing damaged solar panels can be expensive. When you install solar panels, consider your level of coverage under your property insurance policy. Solar panels form part of your overall property asset and you may need to review your protection needs to ensure you have adequate cover.


Information about solar panels and systems:

 

Clean Energy Council:

https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/consumers/buying-solar/find-an-approved-solar-retailer

 

Guide to installing solar PV for business and industry: https://assets.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/documents/consumers/CEC_SOLAR_BUS_0114_v10_JUNE2020v2_WEB.pdf

 

Considering Solar Guide:

https://www.lgenergy.com.au/faq/solar-power-explained

 

Australian Energy Foundation:

https://www.aef.com.au/news/solar/2019/02/hail-damage-solar-panel-inspection-guide/

 

Recalls of Solar PV:

www.recalls.gov.au

 

WorkSafe Queensland:

https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/

 

Safe Work NSW:

https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/

 

WorkSafe Victoria:

https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/

 

WorkSafe NT:

https://worksafe.nt.gov.au/

 

Safe Work SA:

https://www.safework.sa.gov.au/       

 

WorkSafe TAS

https://worksafe.tas.gov.au/

 

WorkSafe ACT

https://www.worksafe.act.gov.au/

 

WorkSafe WA

https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/worksafe

 

CCI Risk Support Website Resources:

Managing Trees Fact Sheet

Protecting Property Checklist

Surviving a Cyclone Fact Sheet

Property Maintenance Fact Sheet

 

For assistance with risk management, contact CCI's Risksupport Helpdesk on 1300 660 827.

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