The talk you must have with your kids about solar safety.
Congratulations! You have your own solar power. You’ve done your part towards ensuring a safe future climate for your kids and grandkids and great grandkids. But don’t forget to safeguard them – and yourself – against an immediate danger, as well.
Kids need to know the roof is off limits now.
Just as your kids know not to ever touch electrical wires, you should also make it clear that there can be no climbing on the roof now that there is a solar system up there. If your home has dormer windows that have access out onto the roof, this is extremely important.
From now on, any time one of your kids plans to run off to join the circus – or to sneak a cigarette on the roof – or for an illicit meet-up after dark – it must never be across out the roof. It’s out the front door only.
Your solar roof is pumping out as much as 600 volts whenever the sun is out, so safety is an important aspect of solar power. This is the reason that fire departments and building departments nationwide have set fire codes for how to safely deal with a fire in a building that has solar panels on the roof.
But let’s imagine a scenario in which you have to go up on the roof, perhaps to rescue a cat or clean the gutters.
You should disconnect the power first.
First, locate the electrical system control panel and disconnect the power coming from your solar system. This will likely be a clearly marked box that is placed (by law) where it is accessible to firefighters, typically to the front of the house.
If you are not sure you can locate this box, or if you have any questions, you should contact your salesman or the local fire department, so they can walk you through the procedure for turning off your power to make it safe to walk on your roof.
Assume every electrical circuit is live, even if you have pulled the main meter and shut off visible breakers. When the sun is shining, dangerous DC voltage is still being generated in the PV panels. The only way to eliminate this is to cover all panels with an opaque tarp. Note that scene lighting is not powerful enough to generate dangerous voltage from a PV array, but lightning may be. If the home has battery backup, household AC circuits may be live at any time.
Worst case scenario – In a Fire
Most people do not climb on their roof when there is a fire, as a roof is not a safe place when a house is on fire. In most home fires, if anyone goes on a roof it will be only trained firefighters, and they are generally trained in how to deal with solar panels.
But in the rare instance when you – or perhaps a volunteer firefighter who may not be as familiar with solar – may need to be on a roof with solar panels – there is an additional danger of electrocution that you need to be aware of.
Let’s assume, worst case scenario, you have not been able to locate the electrical box on the side of the garage and the system is live. Never step on or cut into PV panels or the wiring from the panels, especially during daylight. After dark, you would be safer, because with no sun, there will only be non-lethal voltage within in the system.
Even if you did locate the proper breakers to turn the power off first, you should not assume that the panels can be stepped on as alternative roof surface. Solar panels are not designed to support your weight and what’s more, if they are wet they will be slippery.
Be sure you have a plan before a situation arises which requires you to get up on your roof. Talk to your solar system installer about 24/7 emergency contact numbers that can get a technician on site to disconnect systems professionally if necessary.