Solar energy is becoming more and more popular, not only for large, wealthy companies, but also for personal home use. When looking into installing solar panels for your home, there are many questions you might ask, such as “Is this safe?” and “What are the risks?”
Solar panels themselves cannot explode or catch fire; however, other parts of your solar energy system do have the potential of exploding or catching fire if they are made of low quality materials or are installed improperly. Problems can be avoided if proper installation is performed.
What can you do to prevent explosions? Are solar panels worth the risk?
Explosion and Fire Risks for Solar Units
While the solar panel itself is safe, low quality inverters do have a small risk of exploding or catching on fire. This can be avoided by purchasing a higher quality inverter, and by making sure that the installation is done properly to prevent things from going wrong.
- Inverters should be installed in a cool shady place instead of in direct sunlight.
- Conduits should be properly sealed with appropriate fittings, not silicone.
- Cabling should be inside the roof or against the wall, not on top of the roof.
- Outdoor isolators should have electrical conduits entering from the bottom, not the top.
- Rooftop isolators should have a cover to protect them from the elements.
Another part of your solar energy system that has the potential of exploding or catching on fire is the junction box. The junction box is located on the side of your solar panels, and if installed with malfunctioning parts, it could result in a fire incident. However, since 2012, where there were defective modules (from the company Scheuten Solar Holding) discovered, this problem has not reemerged.
Isolators also have the potenial for exploding if they are low quality or are installed improperly.
In 2019, there was a company supposedly selling German-made isolators, but instead, they were installing a cheap Chinese brand. That Chinese brand of isolators was under a product recall, and were not safe, but were being installed anyways.
“A user left a review stating that an isolator had blown up in her husband’s face while he was being talked through a shutdown process. ‘The solar isolator explosion, … seem[ed] to arise from tech support telling people to disconnect an isolator while the system is under load,’ Richard Chirgwin of Solar Quotes said.”Source
Solar storage batteries come in many different varieties, and some are safer than others. These batteries typically contain sulfuric acid and lead, which can be extremely hazardous materials.
- Lead acid batteries: these solar batteries need to be installed in an area with plenty of ventilation due to the emission of hydrogen and oxygen gasses released near the end of the charging cycle. The combination of hydrogen and oxygen can be explosive. Generally, these batteries are safe and can be recycled easily.
- Lithium ion batteries: these solar batteries have the potential to be a fire hazard if they are installed wrong or made with poor quality materials. This type of battery is prone to “thermal runaway” if they get too hot or are damaged. Some lithium ion batteries are safer than others; lithium iron phosphate has the lowest risk of thermal runaway and is considered to be the most durable. Lithium batteries are not very eco-friendly as they are difficult to recycle.
- Flow batteries: these solar batteries are a much safer and are a more economic alternative to lithium ion batteries. Flow batteries contain zinc-bromide electrolyte, which is a fire retardant, making these batteries have an extremely low fire risk. Flow batteries are also extremely easy to recycle, making them the eco-friendly choice.
- Salt water batteries: these solar batteries may be the safest battery option. Salt water batteries are non-toxic and safe to touch. These batteries will not burst into flames or explode, and they are not capable of thermal runaway. Salt water batteries are also recycleable.
- With any type of solar energy battery, there is always the chance of electrocution, so handle every battery with care. Source
Because solar panels deal with electricity, there are going to be plenty of components that can be faulty or fail as time goes on, such as wiring, switches, fuses, etc. To stay safe, make sure to do frequent checks on your entire solar power system to see if any parts need to be fixed or replaced. This easy step will prevent fire outbreaks and keep your house safe.
Again, if you do research and install a good quality solar energy system, you should have nothing to worry about. Cases where something goes wrong with solar units are few and far between, and as the years go by, solar energy is becoming even safer. Check your system often and consult professionals for best upkeep and care.
What To Do In Case Of a Fire or Explosion
If, for any reason, something on your solar energy system explodes or catches fire, the first thing you should do is call the fire department. Fire fighters are trained on how to address solar unit malfunctions and will know exactly what to do to not only protect your house, but also to help you stay safe while doing so.
Before they do anything else, the fire department will shut off your solar energy system completely. This is done by first shutting off all direct current switches and breakers, and then all alternating current switches and breakers. This will not only power down your inverter, but also your solar panels.
If you want to try to do this yourself, you should remember that just because the systems are shut down, it doesn’t mean that your solar panels aren’t still creating current. As long as the sun is shining, your panels will be working. But if everything is shut down properly, that energy should have nowhere to go. Calling the professionals is always a better option than trying to put out a fire yourself–don’t put your health or your house on the line.