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New Record in Australia Solar PV Power 2020

Despite the mess of it all, 2020 marked a remarkable year for solar power in Australia. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) ‘Trends in Photovoltaic Applications 2020’ report, Australia ranks No.1 in the world for installed PV per capita with 644 watts per person. By the end of 2020, there were more than 2.66 million Australian homes and businesses with solar rooftops which hit the capacity of 2.6GW in total.

What Triggers Solar-related Fires?

The exceptional growth in solar PV has also given rise to some concerns. Figures provided by the NSW Fire Brigades’ Fire Investigation and Research Unit reveal that “solar-related fires in that state have increased five-fold over the last five years.” DC isolators were the primary cause of solar-related fires due to :

a. Improper installation

b. Poor-quality solar rooftop components

c. Inadequate solar PV industry regulation. (Only Victoria mandates an inspection of each installed system for the present.)

Standardize DC Isolators

A very common but unsafe fire risk in Australia is from solar inverter with DC switch build-in. In Australia, most of the solar inverters with DC isolators integrated with is not meeting the IEC60947.3 3F requirements. Testing is pictured below
The 3F lockout requirement: (see table 17 below) for the lockable DC-switch in the inverter according to IEC60947.3:

An example of the DC isolator switch force F we tested is 70N:

With two-finger operated(c), 3F test force should be from 100N-200N according to the requirements.

But we tested the handle of the isolator can be locked when it is only 72N, which is not in compliance with the standard IEC60947.3. If the DC isolator is faulty, water has entered it or cabling is loose, there will be a chance of arcing, which creates sometimes fire.

Once the DC isolator switch inside the inverter would get fire, the solar inverter will be another problem of making the fire farther.Therefore, a good quality DC isolator with an IP66 enclosure is highly recommended beside the solar inverter.

Eliminate Solar-related Fire Risks

The highest quality DC components can be selected and installed with the greatest care. However, cable insulation and conductor degradation will occur as the system ages, which can cause a DC arc fault. It is critical to use safe solar equipment that incorporates an internationally recognized rapid shutdown device as well as a micro-inverter-based system or DC-optimiser-based system.

a. Rapid shutdown devices are available which can be installed on the roof next to the solar array with the intent of providing a simple method for firefighters to quickly de-energize the solar system.

b. Micro inverters capture all the available electricity from each solar panel, convert it onsite to AC, and then send it along to your fuse box and electric grid. This makes your solar panel system more efficient since even if a few of your panels have shading issues, your total output won’t suffer.

c. DC optimizer can optimized performance for every single panel in your solar system, regardless of orientation to the sun, shade, or even damage to one or more of the panels.

Solar-rated fire risks should be brought to the attention while Australia prides itself on the surging of solar PV installations. Australia should get ready to fully cooperate in joint efforts for solar PV safety.
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