The adoption of commercial and industrial (C&I) rooftop solar arrays gained significant traction in recent years as businesses aim to reduce their carbon footprint and cut electricity costs. However, as the industry expands, it faces several safety challenges.
Clean Energy Associates conducted safety audits on over 600 commercial PV rooftops, revealing safety issues in a staggering 97% of them. Several crucial measures can ensure the safe operation of rooftop solar arrays and allay common safety concerns.
Addressing damaged modules
One of the primary safety concerns in rooftop solar arrays is damaged modules, encompassing manufacturing defects, improper installation practices and maintenance problems. Identifying quality module providers becomes essential due to the challenging task of detecting manufacturing defects during rooftop installation. However, the more prevalent issue is damage resulting from improper installation and maintenance.
Installers and maintenance personnel sometimes walk and climb on solar modules, damaging the exceedingly thin PV cells. Mishandling modules can also harm the backsheet, potentially leading to safety hazards. To prevent such damage, it’s vital to educate workers on proper handling, transport and storage practices — and to continually reinforce that education.
Avoiding cross-mated connectors
When putting together design drawings, developers should include very clear requirements for connector installation standards and guidelines. Cross-mating or mismatching connectors from different manufacturers can cause electrical arcing and fires. To mitigate this risk, clear communication in the design drawings, as well as thorough training, are essential. Developers should ensure that installers are aware of the dangers of cross-mating and adhere to proper procedures during installation.
Correct racking practices
Diligently following the manufacturer’s installation instructions is crucial, especially when it comes to racking. Neglecting proper torquing, misplacing ballast blocks or anchoring systems incorrectly can result in catastrophic events such as modules flying off rooftops during high winds. To avoid such incidents, adherence to manufacturer recommendations is key.
Prioritize proper training
It’s important to establish clear and detailed specifications or work instructions for system design and installation. Implement interim steps like the “golden row” — a sample perfect row installed with all of the design and safety requirements of the system displayed — which helps ensure quality control during the installation process so that installers have an example to follow as they complete the array.
The golden row incorporates all terminations, wire management, connectors and other critical components required for the system. By inspecting this row and rectifying any deviations, you set a high-quality standard for the entire installation. Consistent oversight, training and communication are essential to maintain this level of quality throughout the project.
Lastly, a comprehensive audit before energizing the system can identify and rectify potential issues while the construction crew is still on-site, ensuring that problems are resolved before they demobilize. This proactive approach is key to addressing safety concerns and maintaining the integrity of the solar installation.
Solar energy is inherently safe when systems are installed and maintained correctly. To ensure the safe operation of rooftop solar arrays in commercial and industrial settings, it’s imperative to prioritize careful planning, implementation and auditing. When common safety challenges are addressed and best practices followed, businesses can confidently embrace rooftop solar as a sustainable, cost-effective and secure energy solution.