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PV System maintenance 'critical' to controlling rising solar panel fire risk


Engineer assessing PV system

With reports of the number of solar panel fires rising six-fold in recent years*, RiskSTOP’s Head of Technical Risk Engineering & Surveys, Paul Farmer, explains why maintenance is ‘critical’ to keeping people and property safe…


Solar panels, also known as photovoltaics (PV), have become a common sight on the roofs of domestic and commercial buildings in recent years. More than 190,000 were installed in 2023, driven by their energy efficiency and ‘green’ credentials.


However, while PV may be kinder to the environment, as with all things, there are always risks to be managed, and fire safety experts are worried about an increasing trend in solar panel fires. It has become clear that there is a need for better care and regular checks of solar panels to minimise the potential for fire incidents occurring.


A common misconception is that PV systems require little to no maintenance. Many overlook regular checks and repairs, thinking these systems are mostly self-sustaining. However, like any electrical system, PV systems need consistent maintenance to ensure safety and efficiency.


Guidelines for Commercial PV System Maintenance


Proper solar panel maintenance is not just about keeping them clean, it's about ensuring the full system is safe and functions well. The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 emphasise the need to reduce electrical risks, including fire hazards. Regular inspections and maintenance are key parts of these regulations.


Guidance on how to properly inspect and test commercial solar PV systems and thus ensure compliance with the Electricity at Work Regulations is outlined in standards like BS 7671 Requirements for Electrical Installations and BS EN IEC 62446-2 Photovoltaic (PV) Systems – Requirements for testing, documentation and maintenance – Part 2: Grid connected systems – Maintenance of PV systems. These standards detail the scope of work required to evidence compliance with The Electricity at Work Regulations.


When solar panels are installed, the installer must provide a PV Operation & Maintenance (O&M) manual. This outlines specific care and maintenance routines tailored to your system. If you don't have the manual, you should refer to the BS EN IEC 62446-2 standards or follow the manufacturer’s instructions.


Choosing the Right Professionals


It is required that a competent electrician inspects your solar PV system at least once a year. This means someone who has sufficient technical knowledge and experience appropriate to the type of installation and equipment, to include both AC & DC, and having membership of a UKAS accredited registration scheme such as those operated by NICEIC (National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting), ECA (Electrical Contractors Association), Napit Certification or SELECT (Electrical Contractors Association of Scotland).


During these inspections, electricians produce detailed reports. These reports highlight any issues and categorise them based on how urgently they need to be fixed. Immediate dangers require swift action. All electrical testing and inspection, along with any necessary actions, must be recorded in the Maintenance section of the O&M manual.


Regular professional inspections are vital. They ensure your system is not just functional but also safe.


Not ‘set & forget’


Remember, solar panels are not a 'set and forget' technology. They require ongoing attention and care. Regular testing and maintenance are essential for their long-term safety and efficiency. This means scheduling regular checks, following the advice given during these inspections, and updating any components as recommended by experts.


So, remember, proper PV systems maintenance is crucial for safe and efficient operation. Regular checks, adherence to safety standards, and professional installation are key to making the most of solar energy. By taking these steps, you can enjoy the benefits of solar power while ensuring the safety and longevity of your environmentally friendly technology.


Future Learning Opportunities


RiskSTOP’s Paul Farmer is planning to provide underwriters, brokers and their clients with further information around managing the risks of PV systems through a series of webinars and live presentations in 2024. If you’d like to register your interest in hearing more from Paul about this topic, please provide your details here and we’ll be back in touch.



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