Queensland floods and solar power arrays: safety and precautions

The cataclysmic flooding in Queensland has devastated individuals and communities, taking and ruining lives, and leaving large sections of cities and towns underwater. As the flood waters recede and people survey the damage, there are a few things to keep in mind for those who have roof-mounted solar power systems. Most importantly, solar panels continue producing electricity even if your utility has cut off power to your property, and water and excessive moisture, not to mention complete submersion of electrical parts, can compromise vital safety features. You could face serious injury from electric shock.

In response to the dangers that can occur when water and solar power arrays mix, the Clean Energy Council Australia has released an information sheet outlining some guidelines about what to do and what to avoid doing to ensure minimum risk of injury to your and your family or damage to your system. Their recommendations are as follows:

Before a flood:

Follow the ‘shutdown procedure’ which is (or should be!) marked on your inverter or meter box. Generally speaking, this entails

1) shutting off the inverter AC mains isolator, usually in the meter box,

2) turning off the PV array isolator, usually next to the inverter,

and 3) if there is a chance that the water level might reach as high as the inverter and cables, turning off the rooftop array isolator, if you have one in your system.

During a flood:

Do not switch your solar power system on if any of the components are covered in water or still wet. Doing so could result in a lethal electric shock.

After a flood:

1) Do not attempt to operate any switches. There may still be moisture or water in the components, and you could suffer injury even if your system is not connected to the grid, or your area is still not being services with electricity.

2) Contact a Clean Energy Council accredited installer and ask them to recommission your system. If the installer who installed your system is not available, contact a licensed electrician who can check your system and ensure that it is not dangerous. (List of accredited installers.)

3) Replace your inverter even if it has been only partially submerged in water.

© 2010 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Sources and links:

Clean Energy Council, “Safety Bulletin–Floods and household solar panels” (pdf)

ABC, “Solar Panel Shock Warning Issued

Queensland Flood Relief Appeal website

Photo credit: Brisbane Times

James Martin II