Like any other source of electricity, solar panels can pose a hazard. If you have panels installed on your roof or elsewhere on your property, please be aware of the risks and keep a safe distance from the electric equipment.
Emergency responders should also be aware of the risks involved with a solar array. (Solar water heating systems are slightly different and are not discussed here.)
How do they work?
An array of solar panels generates direct current (DC) electricity. Inverters convert the power into alternating current (AC) that your appliances can use. A system may have many small individual inverters attached to individual solar panels or larger inverters located near the building’s electric meter or main distribution panel.
Most of the electric wires run through conduit along the outside of the building. Typically, an AC disconnect switch is mounted near the electric meter or the home’s main distribution panel. Each disconnect switch must be labeled to identify the solar array to which it is connected.
The disconnect switch will only disconnect the home from the solar array. The panels will still generate DC power and can cause a shock. If the solar system has a battery backup, it will also continue to produce power.
Remember, as long as the sun is shining, solar panels will stay energized.
Beware of hazards:
A variety of hazards are associated with roof-mounted and free standing solar systems. Be aware of the following:
- Shock or electrocution from contacting wiring
- Inhalation of toxic smoke from burning solar panels
- Roof collapse from weight of solar arrays
- Injury and endangerment of others from walking on, tripping, and falling on solar panels
Remain at least 10 feet away from a solar installation.
- Never walk on solar panels.
- Never cut conduit or the solar system’s electrical wiring.
- Never break a panel or contact a damaged system.
In case of emergency:
For the general public:
- Call 911 and activate the emergency response system. Notify 911 and first responders that you have a solar PV system.
- Open the solar array’s AC disconnect switches to de-energize the AC side of the solar system. The array will continue to produce DC power as long as there is a light source.
- Wait for first responders to arrive and remind them that you have a solar PV system.
For first responders:
- Circle the building and follow any solar identified electrical conduit to locate the solar panels.
- Open the solar AC disconnect switch if the building or home owner has not already done so. The solar array will continue to produce DC power as long as there is a light source.
- Cover solar panels with a black or blue tarp to block any light from shining onto the panels. Make sure the tarp is secured and will not blow away.
- Spray water if needed to extinguish fire in a safe manner.
Large solar installations:
Treat a large solar farm as you would an electric substation.
- Don’t enter a solar farm without permission from the electric utility. Only enter the facility when the utility confirms that the equipment is de-energized.
- If a bystander is inside the area and requires assistance, do not enter until it is safe to do so. Shout instructions to the bystander from a safe distance.
- Warn and signal any bystander to remain a safe distance from the area.
Download and print our guides for solar panel safety.