Solar power safety

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are connected to the normal power supply for use in homes and businesses. As they are powered by the sun, or any other source of light, they can continue to generate power from the solar modules up to the inverter even if the mains power has been disconnected.

As a result, solar PV systems pose an electrical safety risk for residents, Ergon Energy and emergency crews in times of severe weather events such as storms, cyclones and floods.

It is critical to remember solar modules and their cables should be treated as if they are live.

Download and keep our Solar PV Safety brochure (PDF 1.5 mb).

Preparing for a severe weather event
When preparing for a storm, cyclone or flood event, it is important to always follow the manufacturer’s or installer’s shutdown procedures. Shutdown procedures should be located at the inverter and/or on the main switchboard.

A general shutdown procedure is as follows:

Turn off the inverter AC mains isolator (this is usually found in the meter box)
Turn off the PV array isolator (this is usually found next to the inverter)
If there seems to be a risk that the water level could reach up to the inverters and cables, also arrange to turn off the roof top array isolator (if fitted).
If you are unsure of the shutdown procedure, contact the manufacturer or installer.

After a storm or cyclone
After a storm or cyclone, do not attempt to reconnect solar PV systems if your property has suffered roof damage. Your roof may be live or residual moisture may have caused the system to become live.

Visually inspect the system in a safe way, and if concerned, call the installer or a licensed electrical contractor.

Contact a Clean Energy Council accredited installer to test or recommission the system, or a licensed electrical contractor to test that it is safe. And if safe to switch the system back on, monitor the inverter to ensure the system is operating correctly.

During a flood
During a flood event, do not attempt to turn off a solar PV system if any of the components are covered in water or if parts of the system are still wet. This could result in a fatal electric shock.

Do not approach the system if parts are submerged, and if forced onto a rooftop to avoid floodwater, keep well away from solar panels and wiring.

Do not assume your system is safe if Ergon Energy has disconnected supply. PV systems still produce DC voltage while there is daylight.

WARNING: Solar PV systems do not require mains power to generate a DC supply. A licensed electrical contractor or Clean Energy Council accredited installer will be required to fully shut down the PV array, to ensure safety.

After a flood
Following receding flood waters, do not attempt to operate any switches as residual moisture may have caused solar PV systems to become live.

You could potentially suffer a serious or fatal electric shock, even if mains power is disrupted.

Contact a Clean Energy Council accredited installer and ask them to recommission the system for you. A list of accredited installers can be found on the Clean Energy Council website.

If an installer is not available, contact a licensed electrical contractor who can check your system to ensure that it is safe.

Ensure that the solar PV system inverter is replaced if it has been submerged or partly submerged.

REMEMBER: Do not reconnect any solar PV systems unless a licensed electrical contractor has certified the installation is safe. And treat all solar PV installations as energised.

IMPORTANT: If your home or business becomes inundated with floodwater and the mains power is still connected, contact Ergon Energy immediately on 13 22 96 to arrange disconnection.

For more information
For more on electrical safety, visit the Electrical Safety Office website.
This post was first published by Ergon Energy.

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The Author

I took an interest in the Australian energy sector close to ten years ago and since then have monitored the trends, technologies and direction of the Australian Energy Market. I was drawn to the Australian solar market in 2008 and since then have worked heavily in the field. I am partnered with national and international solar energy companies, from manufacturers of solar panel and inverter technology, online software developers that introduce tools to quote, monitor and manage solar power systems and media organisations who like myself, closely monitor the solar and renewable energy sector.