When considering a solar purchase for your home or business, safety must not be overlooked. In fact, electrocution and falls are the number one and two cited reasons for construction deaths each year in the United States. This being said, it is critical to ensure both the system that you intend to purchase has the right safety features and that your installer is experienced and well versed in safe solar installations.
In this article, we will examine how solar systems provide safe energy generation and how to best navigate safety discussions.
Electrical & Building Codes
Much of a solar system’s safety is governed by electrical code and building code. Electrical codes are written by an agency known as the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). A new National Electrical Code (NEC) code is written every 3 years. Building codes are less structured but most communities follow some iteration of the International Building Code with any special addendums for their specific community.
Solar installations are governed by the version of the NEC that the local municipality or state has adopted. For example, Michigan is currently using the 2017 NEC code. The electrical code for solar installations defines how to safely install the electrical portion of the system; everything from wire sizing, breaker sizing to connecting it to your electrical system. The installer is required to follow the codes and is ultimately responsible for the safe installation of your solar system. Here are tips to select a licensed and insured solar contractor.
When you undertake a solar project, a contractor is required to pull an electrical permit and submit detailed plans for approval from your local municipality. Then once the system has been installed the local inspector who approved the plan will inspect the system to ensure it has been installed safely and up to code before giving approval to energize the system. This mechanism ensures that the system is safe and legal to operate.
In Michigan where the NEC 2017 code is used, roof-mounted solar systems are required to have “module-level rapid shutdown” enabled. Should you ever need to shut off your system at the AC Disconnect (“Emergency shut off”), the module-level rapid shutdown mechanism ensures that no conductors from the AC Disconnect to the panels will have any energy flowing through them. This makes rooftop systems especially safe for first responders if they ever needed to vent the roof to fight a fire for example. If you are considering a solar installation on your roof a good question for a prospective contractor would be: “How are you going to achieve module-level rapid shutdown with this system?”
Solar building codes also establish the maximum wind speed rating (ie. the maximum wind tolerated without damage.) Many municipalities require fire setbacks from edges of pitched and flat roofs that impact how many solar panels will fit on a roof. Even though the electric code has more impact on the solar installation a building permit is required by a contractor to assure they perform the work safely.
Solar Product Safety
Now that we have established how system safety is regulated by code, let’s look at what makes the products themselves safe. Underwriter Laboratories (UL) is the testing and certification body that determines the safety of electric products including solar panels and other parts of solar systems. UL provides a third party verification of safety features on specific product lines, for example solar inverters must be UL 1741 certified to connect to the grid, and solar modules are listed to UL 1703 and UL 61730-1&2. These certifications ensure your products will perform safely. UL listed/certified products are the only ones that should be used in your installation. Ask your contractor for a copy of the UL certification sheet.
Making the decision to implement a solar project has many aspects that must be carefully considered, thankfully modern technology, regulations and industry codes provide product and installation safety so that you can focus on the other important considerations. System safety of onsite energy generation assets like solar is a critical component to having peace of mind that your family or business is not at risk, so be sure to engage in a safety discussion with your prospective contractor.
If you or another business is interested in having an undeniable impact on your triple bottom line give us a call for a free consultation to see if solar is right for you! Call (248) 923-3456 or request a Free Online Solar Analysis for Your Business.
Michigan Solar Solutions is a commercial and residential solar installer and electrical contractor that has served the lower peninsula of Michigan since 2007. We have installed thousands of panels and have a happy customer near you, check out what our customers think of us Guild Quality.