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What Causes Solar Panel Fires & How to Easily Avoid It With Safer Solar

With many people now working from home, solar power is booming as thousands of households rush to avoid rising power bills.

Running your home on solar is not only the single most effective way of reducing your household’s carbon footprint, it can also save you a lot of money.

bad solar fire

It is important, however, that you choose the right system to avoid the risk of a solar panel fire.

Solar Panel Fires Are on the Rise

Last year, Firefights attended 139 solar panel fires across NSW, and there have already been 18 fires to January 26 this year.

Fires are being caused by what is known as a DC arc, where high-volatge DC current ‘jumps’ through the air when two conductors are close enough together. The heat from a DC arc can get so hot, the surrounding material can easily catch fire.

Solar systems that have high-voltage DC power running from the panels down to the inverter have to be closely monitored for arc faults, which pose a significant risk of fire. Even the smallest equipment failure, such as a damaged cable or a loose electrical connection can cause an arc fault. Once an arc fault is triggered, it can be difficult to stop because the voltage in DC systems is constant, and you have to be able to interrupt the circuit or the arcing will continue.

DC fire

A DC Arc fault typically occurs in a faulty DC isolator, a switch that is used in solar systems so that firefighters can turn off a system in the event of a fire. This switch isolates the electricity being generated by the solar panels.

Standard solar systems that use a central inverter don’t have Rapid Shutdown functionality like an AC system, and ironically it is often the safety switch itself that is causing the fire.

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DC Solar Is in the Spotlight

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday highlighted the increasing concern around solar panels fires. It’s great that the spotlight is finally shining on DC solar systems, especially at the cheaper end of the solar market.

Unfortunately, though, the article only made one small suggestion, which was to make DC isolators optional:

“Industry experts have been lobbying to make the isolator switch voluntary, with the Clean Energy Regulator saying it’s mandatory only in Australia…

“But Superintendent Kingsland said if isolation switches were removed, alternative safeguards were required to protect firefighters and other first responders from the risk of electric shock.

“Whatever the solution is, something needs to be done,” he said.”

DC Solar Fault Demonstration

There is Already a Safe Solar Solution, It’s Been Around for Years!

There has actually been a solution to this serious problem for years, and nearly all of our customers since 2014 have been choosing Safer Solar.

The risks of DC solar systems have been known from the early days of the solar industry over 10 years ago.  Because DC arcs only occur above 80 volts, DC Arcs do not occur on solar systems that use microinverters, as well as some systems that use DC optimisers that automatically reduce the DC voltage to safer levels in the event of a fault.

Microinverter systems avoid the risk of DC arcs because the DC power generated by the solar panels is converted to AC underneath each panel using a microinverter. This means there isn’t high-voltage DC power in the cable that connects the panels down to a central inverter. There is also no need for a DC isolator.

What’s more, a microinverter system turns off automatically if there is a blackout or a fault. This is called Rapid Shutdown and it should be compulsory in Australia.

Microinverter systems have been recognised as a Safer Solar Solution across the world for around 10 years. In fact, in 2014, the United States even went as far as making Safe Solar compulsory with their Rapid Shutdown legislation.

Enphase IQ7 Microinverter

All these years later, the lag in regulatory oversight in Australia means that it is still a case of buyer beware, and it is probably going to result in hundreds of preventable solar panel fires across the country for years to come.

Compounding this issue, we currently have the cheaper end of the solar market in a race to the bottom to see who can offer the cheapest price for an installation. These cheap systems all use outdated technology, and the installers of these systems don’t want you to know that the components included in these systems can be a potential fire risk.

1KOMMA5° Director Jonathan Fisk stated, “We warn people looking at cheaper solar systems how easy it is for the cowboys to strip $500-$1000 out of an installation, but it is hard to get the message across and to explain exactly why this is such a safety risk."

“Telling people that their installer may be using a cheap DC isolator will go straight over someone’s head, until they see the photos of the fires. Then it starts to sink in.”

Taking the Risk Out of Solar

Instaling a Safer Solar System from 1KOMMA5° takes the risk out of solar, and by using quality components you can enjoy a reliable source of electricity for well over 20 years.

Good quality solar systems are made to last, wit the 1KOMMA5° Full Black Panels including a 25-year product warranty, and as a Platinum Enphase Installer, we are now including a 15-year microinverter warranty from Enphase.

Not only are microinverter systems safer, but they are also more reliable and can save you more money in the long run. For more information on exactly how much more money you can save with a quality solar system, check out our article on Quality Solar vs Cheap Solar.

1KOMMA5° is he largest installer of microinverter systems in Australia, and in over 10 years of operation, we have never had to remove a solar system because it wasn’t working, nor have we ever had a Safer Solar system catch fire.

Our message to the solar industry in Australia is simple; it is time to put customer safety first and catch up to the rest of the developed world.

Along with other leading industry groups, 1KOMMA5° will continue to fight for improved safety standards and industry oversight to help protect households from buying outdated technology that can be a fire risk.

We need to recognise that safer technology exists and we should follow America’s lead in requiring solar systems to shut down automatically so that if there is a fault in the system the voltage can be reduced automatically to a safe level throughout the solar system. We also need greater industry oversight to ensure that solar systems are installed safely.

If we start inspecting more new solar installations and penalise installers who break the rules, the cowboys will be forced to raise their standards or drop out of the market.

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