Tuesday tee hee – Solar panels with added features

Josh writes: On BishopHill there is a post about a fire caused by Solar panels. The story is also on the BBC news site.

“The source of the fire is believed to be an electrical fault with a solar panel on the roof. An investigation is under way.”

The council said all its solar panels were checked annually, with those at the town hall checked two weeks ago.

ESF&RS said solar panels were no more dangerous than any other electrical product.

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73 thoughts on “Tuesday tee hee – Solar panels with added features

  1. From the Bishop Hill web site, “The whole article is pretty interesting, pointing out for example that if a fire breaks out in your solar panels, it is not going to get picked up by your smoke detectors.”
    While I appreciate the humor, a burning roof is not something I want to be near.

    • Less than a year ago a warehouse nearby was heavily damaged mostly due to the solar panes installed on the roof. The problem for the fire department was the electric shock hazard and just as importantly the panels prevented them from reaching the roof proper to punch a hole which vents the flames vertically thus slowing the horizontal spread.

    • Supposedly already on the market from at least one other company. Needs to be squirrel, rat, possum and raccoon proof. (I’ve already been witness to several panels on several homes being deactivated by curious or hungry rats.) Also needs to be resistant to nesting swallows. I’m waiting for thieves to realize there’s a little money to be made from low hanging panels which are easily removed.

  2. I just wonder who pays the insurance bill. My understanding is that installing solar panels does not affect your house insurance premiums, but any malfunction is covered by the installer’s warranty. But what if the installer has gone bust? I expect there are a very large number of installations around put up by companies that are no longer trading. Can anyone confirm or deny this appraisal?

    • But it may invalidate your roof warranty if you are covered by one. Check your contracts closely.

  3. 😎
    I don’t have the link but there was a story about how solar panels on a roof make it more difficult and dangerous to put a house fire.
    It had to do with not only the added physical barrier to putting vent holes in the roof if need be but the electricity still being generated by the panels.

  4. It just warms the cockles of one’s heart to know that taxpayers and ratepayers are helping to put these things on peoples roofs.

  5. I am a fan of solar panels. I use them for remote things like a small pond pump and a ventilation fan (12V fan from a ’93 Mustang 🙂 ), however I don’t want to actually rely on them for supplying my electrical needs in general. I live in Ohio – not real practical for a place that sees a lot of overcast days for 60% of the year. I LOVE coal fired power though.

    • Frozenohio @ 4:03 pm
      Solar panels do have applications. I have about a dozen solar panels around the farm and in my back country gear ranging from metre by metre for pond aeration, down to much smaller for electrical fencing, keeping vehicle batteries charged, portable electric fencing and down to tinyl ones just a few centimetres across for charging double A and triple A batteries and mobile devices in the back country. The stationary panels need regular cleaning – snow in the winter and dust in the summer. Even the portables require regular cleaning as dust covering or passing clouds can bring a small DC motor to a stop.
      But I am still dubious about “normal” house power at my latitude (52 40 N). When I built my farm house 13 years ago, it would have cost about C$150,000+ to provide decent off grid power plus redesign of the electric lighting and well pumps. The interest on that money not spent more than pays my electrical and gas every year.

      • Warning: electric fence solar panels can attract some pretty powerful lightning bolts.
        One of these shot our electric fence high into the trees and the ox team ran off.

  6. BTW, the ventilation fan is for a greenhouse located on the back acre of my property……

    • You mean you have a greenhouse that’s venting gases to the atmosphere? Do you realise just how many environmental regulations this breaches? I’ll send Greenpeace round to explain to you.

  7. We live in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, and a couple of years ago, thinking we were in a perfect location, looked at “going solar”, We were told that we would have to cut down all of the trees on the south side of our house, those that not only provide beauty but also shade. Needless to say that idea was nixed.
    Oh, the irony – “chop down your trees to go green”.

  8. Whenever an electrical connection works lose, an arc will form. In AC circuits the arc is self damping each time the voltage crosses the zero point (120 times/ second). With DC circuits, the arc just continues until something melts.
    For this reason, the govt is coming out with new standards that require monitoring of all solar panels for arcs with active circuit interruption. My previous employer was developing such systems.
    If you thought solar was expensive before, it just got 10% more expensive.

    • Mark, I see a few inverters now include this feature, SMA was the first that came to mind.
      In the US, residential bedrooms circuits require AFCI. Depending on the AHJ it could be just the outlets, or it could be every circuit that has an opening in the room. I was not a fan of putting all of my smoke detectors on a circuit that trips occasionally, but rules are rules.

      • Are you aware that radio frequency interference can also trip these “safety” devices? Any of the many municipal employees driving by and transmitting on their radio od data system could trip the breaker and make the alarm useless. Since it is typically wired in the ceiling it is higher and more susceptible to tripping. You might want to determine the manufacture/model you have and verify that this is one that the designers fixed. Newer models have (some that is) fixed this.

  9. The clever Brit greens will put into law that all buildings with solar panels on their roof must have in close proximity a wind turbine with a reverse powering feature. The reverse powering feature is that you can motorize the wind turbine (instead being a generator, it is reversed by power supply to be a fan). It will blow out the fire.
    John

  10. Having a solar system myself, i wonder now about a massive CME and the effects it will have on the cells and internal wiring. In the 1800’s telegraph lines were molten and caused massive wild fires. I wonder what circuitry has been included to keep these things from combusting with a CME hitting the earth. Now I got to go look…

    • I should have clarified a CME caused magnetic wave. And there is no protective circuitry on mine. A CME caused magnetic storm ever hits the earth with significant force and there will be a whole lot of candles.. Glad mine are on pole racks in the back field. Going to have to keep it mowed down…

      • I think you’re safe enough; in the 1859 Carrington event solar storm, the problem was induced current in telegraph wires, where the amount of voltage was dependent on the length of the wire. You’d be more at risk of a monster power surge generated with a CLOSE lightning strike – and current panels are supposedly rated for that. If the lightning strikes the panel, or your roof, it’s probably toast, but at that point, you have other worries.
        The real problem with another Carrington Event isn’t that the EMP would fry YOUR electronics; it’s that it would fry the power grid itself, which has lots of long wires. Your house would probably be fine; the transformer on the pole down the street is probably fried, or burning. You just wouldn’t have any power from the grid.

  11. “ESF&RS said solar panels were no more dangerous than any other electrical product.”
    Well, yes and no, in a typical residence fire the responding fire department can quickly cut the overhead wires feeding live electricity into the house (they have nice big insulated wire cutters). Once this is done (or switching a breaker to off for underground systems) there is near certainty that there is no live electricity inside. Then normal firefighting operations like cutting ventilation holes in roofs and tearing down plaster walls to reach the fire can be done safely. The residence can be saved without significant risk of electrocution to the “first responders”.
    To repeat this with solar panels it is necessary to cut the output wires from each panel to ensure there is no live electricity on site. Since the panels are likely on the roof and the flames do like high places this is a dangerous operation. Hence some fire departments might wisely “wait a bit and just let it burn out” rather than place their personnel at risk. Oh and the light from the flames produces even more AMPS.
    Would you want to scramble around on a house roof with flames about trying to find all the electrical connections so you can sever them and make sure the “circuit is dead” ?
    A similar problem occurs with electric cars, there is a high capacity, high voltage power source inside a crumpled electric car after a collision. And there is lots of damaged insulation and crumpled conductors in place as well. Take your chances and stick your arms inside to rescue someone when you might get electrocuted, or just wait until it looks safe (after the flames die down) ? With a internal combustion gasoline or diesel fueled car you can just spray the accident scene with foam or water and be reasonably sure that you can attempt to rescue the occupants without being electrocuted in the process.
    I upgraded my house with a standby backup generator, one of the code requirements was clearly visible signage that told the firefighters (I do hope I never need their assistance) exactly where all possible electrical energy sources were located and how to disable them (cut the utility wires and turn off the gas supply to the generator over there). The firefighters are rushing to try and assist, they do not normally have an electrical schematic of your house in their lap.
    Cheers, KevinK.

  12. As I recall there as/is a problem with Solar Panels from the perspective of Fire Fighters. In some cases structures have been allowed to burn with Solar Panels because the sun was shining and the use of water introduced an electrical hazard to the fire fighters.
    So keep in mind if you want the fire fighters to save your structure, make sure the fire is at night…

    • Go visit a house fire at night. Most of the city units have halogen lamps, like at a stadium, lighting the work area. Probably an OSHA requirement, but being an ex volunteer fire fighter I can appreciate how valuable the lights are. They may not create full power/voltage but 1/4 of 360 volts DC is still 90 volts. I have a small scar on my hand where I got in contact with 100 VDC while in the Navy to remind me of what DC can do. Could not move. Luckily we had a two man rule when working on energized equipment and my partner kicked my handoff of the circuit.

  13. The irony is sooo thick you can slice it…. Green Party HQ burns down from fire ignited by roof top solar panels! Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor???

    • In California, many folks could use them to regeneratively harvest the excess stray light from their garage hydroponic grow operation.

  14. Maybe an opaque firefighting foam could be developed that would coat panels and shut them down.

    • In most cases fire fighters are unprepared for that eventuality. Unfortunately, the foam will wash away with the fire supressing water. One could expect them to have fire supressing foam. Not sure of the expense compared to water from a fire hydrant.

    • Mar says :- Not to sound like a stick-in-the-mud, but fires aren’t funny. I don’t wish on fire on Al Gore.
      Like many others I would make an exception in his case. Not to be a stick in the mud but living in continual cold for 8 months of the year because the extra cost of eco taxation is not funny either. Death from bronchial complaints that are nearly double previous levels thanks to high fuel costs that are the result of his efforts in both taxation and unnecessary conversions to bio fuels mean that I cannot really wish him anything but the same suffering he has so willfully caused others. Not that there is a chance in hell of that happening to that greedy self serving slime ball.

  15. Unless you’ve got an electrical requirement with no nearby grid access, solar PV for a home is insane.
    It is like buying a Tesla. “Oo-oo, lookie lookie at me… and my flagrant wealth where I can afford to pay $90,000 for a $40,000 auto and not care!”

  16. Floods are another issue that can cause problems with solar panels. after a flood event the sun does eventually come out and you want to hope by then that there is no water crossing wires.

  17. In fairness, any power source is dangerous. Gas tanks on the roof catching fire would have been worse.
    But it is funny that this happened to Hove Council Offices. Brighton and Hove is as Green an area as the UK has. The only Green MP is from neighbouring Brighton Pavilion. There is no more appropriate place to illustrate the failings of putting DC current generators on your roof.
    Subsidy farmers sow crops in anticipation of exploiting the poor but lose their homes when the crop comes in. That’s funny.

  18. A solar roof poses additional problem with respect to fires – they make it often impossible for firemen
    to chop a hole in the roof to fight a fire inside the attic/upper floor. Firemen are also skittish about the possibility of electrocution – solar roofs are required to have a master cutoff switch accessibe to anyone who wishes to get up onto the roof.

    • Yes, but that cutoff switch only interrupts current headed to the inverter or main distribution panel if the solar panels are equipped with micro-inverters. Up on the roof, every panel is still trying to push out power, posing a risk to anyone who tries to climb up or has to move around on the roof.

  19. from the BBC article linked by BH:

    There were no reports of casualties and the building, which was being renovated, was evacuated.
    Only a few staff and building contractors were inside at the time
    A spokesman for Brighton and Hove City Council said the fire brigade was called at 13:00 BST.
    “Everyone was immediately evacuated and no one has been harmed,” he said.
    “The source of the fire is believed to be an electrical fault with a solar panel on the roof. An investigation is under way.”

    Oh, it’s “believed to be” before they start the evestigation.
    More likely that some poor untrainded, unpaid “intern” with the work crew doing the renovation did something stupid and short-ciruited the output form the panels.
    A solar panel will quite happily run short circuit conditions and it’s own wiring will support that but by the time several kW are passing through the main cabling coming down from the roof there may be a fire hazard. This may point to the need for some kind of fusable link closer to the panels.
    AFAIK, this is not current practice.

  20. Not so tee hee: Monday marked the five year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which saw 4.9 million barrels of crude oil being discharged into the ocean. No mention of that though, WattsUpWithThat?

    • Max Sargent

      Monday marked the five year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which saw 4.9 million barrels of crude oil being discharged into the ocean. No mention of that though, WattsUpWithThat?

      Yes, it was a nasty accident. So, this year – today – what is the current impact of feeding the microbes in the Gulf of Mexico with this oil? Other than wasting the oil (a true tragedy) and showing Obama was willing to bleed oil into the water to appease union operators by prohibiting foreign vessels from sucking it up from the Gulf?

    • The only people keeping that event “active” are alarmists. Actual observations show the ecology of the region is pretty much as it was before the event.

        • Max Sargent

          And I suppose marine life thrives off Corexit oil dispersant, right?

          That is a good question: See, the oil has been seeping into the warm, slowly moving Gulf of Mexico waters for millions of years now. And the microbes and biologics worldwide seem to enjoy eating the oil in warm water. Birds? Not so much, ’tis true.
          The “dispersant” that the eco-illogical fanatics demand we throw in the water? That – We do not know. But Big Government demanded we throw it in the water so they (Big Government and Big Science and Big Green Propagandists at least) felt better, so we had to. Whether the biologics in the Gulf and off of Santa Barbara (also with millions of years of oil seeps underwater, but there in colder water) want the dispersants, we don’t know.

      • Max, here is your opportunity to provide evidence that that region and the ecology hasn’t returned to near usual prior to the event.

  21. The additional heat created by flaming solar panels is not a bug, it’s a feature. It’s a great way to melt the snow off your roof in the winter.

  22. While I usually appreciate Josh’s cartoons, I fail to see the “tee-hee” here.
    This is unintelligent, puerile snark. It is finding pleasure in the misfortune of others because you don’t agree with them.
    Our host has a fair sized PV installation on his roof, would Josh be ridiculing him, would you all be rolling on the floor if his home was on fire?
    I think not.

    • This is unintelligent, puerile snark.
      And this isn’t?
      Oh, it’s “believed to be” before they start the evestigation.[sic]
      More likely that some poor untrainded, [sic] unpaid “intern” with the work crew doing the renovation did something stupid and short-ciruited [sic] the output form [sic] the panels.

      You complain about a journalist jumping to a conclusion and then do exactly the same yourself. WUWT?

    • Bonfire of Insanities: Solar Panels Start Fire at Green Party-Run Hove Town Hall
      “I fail to see the “tee-hee” here.”
      Doubly Ironic!

  23. Here in Aus with the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd fiasco that some call “govenmnet”, some 3 or 4 people died in the insulation and solar panel installation green urge boondoggle. Fireies (That’s what we call “firemen” here in Aus) were, shall we say, “hesitant” about entering a roof fire that had solar panels installed. As I understand from a bush fire volunteer, if they see an installation, they simply rip it up off the roof!

  24. Energy from solar panels is DC and must be inverted to AC to be used in a household setting. The inversion process is likely where the fire began because a bad invertor could cause a fire.

  25. Firefighters are fully aware of the dangers of a PV device on the roof. It is still not necessary by law, at least where I live, to install some sort of main switch or other automatic device that takes these panels off the power grid, namely their connection from the panel itself to the inverter. The firefighters are acutely in danger of being electrocuted by up to 1000V DC. Some of them say it is better to let it burn and protect the neighboring premises until the PV-device is completely de-energised if there is no firefighter switch. The fire insurances know that as well, so that premium rates for PV devices went through the roof. PV modules are expensive, dangerous and do not provide a reasonable contribution to a existing power grid. They are just a nice playground for greedy watermelons.

    • You should read Anthony’s article on why he installed a system – his marginal electricity rate at peak times is very high.
      IIRC his article has some information on his selection of supplier and contractor.

  26. Oh no! Does this mean rich people will have to remove the solar panels from their roofs that those of us in fuel poverty are paying the subsidy for?
    Al Gore must be quaking in his 7th glass parlour room!

    • No, I don’t really blame anyone for fitting solar panels and claiming the subsidy ( I tried myself but the wife put a stop to it!).
      But it is ridiculous that the poor are paying to subsidise the rich.

  27. The comments here have made me realise that this is a subject that should be addressed at a higher , ie Govt level , at least in the UK where most of us live in attached houses, terraces , flats or “semi-detacheds”. So if my neighbour on the other side of the party wall installs solar panels and they have a fire, the Fire service may decide , on Health and Safety grounds, to let it burn itself out , thus ensuring that my house burns as well.
    Not only that , but my insurance co may decide to increase my premiums if my neighbour decides to become a subsidy farmer.
    How can I persuade the next govt to bring in legislation so that in shared premises like “semis” , both households must agree on the installation if one proposes it.

  28. “ESF&RS said solar panels were no more dangerous than any other electrical product.”
    Electrical products cause lots of fires.
    In the UK we have had two days of very sunny weather.
    Is it possible to overload solar panels?

  29. I see that “ABB 4 Pole Photovoltaic Switch Disconnector, 1100 V dc, 160 A” switches are made just for this purpose, at £250 each plus fitting.
    I expect the world will move to a standard where these type of switches are fitted into a weatherproof box, mounted under the eaves for firefighters to reach with the aid of a ladder and pole.

  30. Any electrical piece and its connections has to be done properly. Eco-schemes are especially prone to being badly done as the focus is irrational, sellers pitch other than reliability, customers don’t pay attention. Caveat emptor.
    Solar panels do require
    And I’m laughing bout squirrels, as a former work colleague had problems with squirrels chewing wiring in his house in the UK. He became less of an environmentalist at that point – purchased a BB gun.

  31. Panel was probably soiled, dirty or shaded, and, a back fed diode, which they all have to prevent an entire string’s power from being wasted, failed. Virtually all panels consist of of 3 sets of cells, with, each set of cells having forward and backward biased diodes. The reverse biased diodes operate, when, any particular cell in a panel is shaded. IF SHADING OCCURS IN JUST ONE CELL of an entire string of panels the output of the entire string of falls dramatically. MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) through inverters reduces this when using string inverters such as SMA. Newer technologies such as SolarEdge allow individual panel monitoring through your computer and do a better job of MPPT. Their technology consists of attaching a DC optimizer module underneath every panel. Enphase functions similarly and actually converts DC to AC on the roof with a module like SolarEdge. In all reality to prevent this, switching technology has to be added at the back of each panel.

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