SA’s Solar Power Surge Raises Safety Concerns: Seven tips for rooftop safety 

Solar revolution is a bright spot, but a hidden fire risk lurks behind the panels.


South Africa’s rapid rooftop solar adoption, with households and businesses installing over 5,400 MW in just a year, has eased pressure on the national grid – leading to the longest load shedding break since January 2022.

However, this surge has raised safety concerns, with firefighters reporting that one in six fires they respond to daily involves solar installations. 

Dr Andrew Dickson, Engineering Executive at CBI-electric: low voltage, explains the culprits behind these fires: substandard installations, ground faults, arcing, lack of maintenance, and debris from the environment such as dust, leaves and dirt.

“Current owners and those considering making the switch must do their due diligence to ensure the safety of their rooftop solar installations.” 

Below, he offers seven tips for safe installations:  

  1. Avoid ‘fly-by-night’ installers: You might have seen the TV ads warning against the use of substandard installers. They’re spot-on. The Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO) has seen a rise in complaints about solar system installations, particularly poor workmanship and installations that do not meet safety standards. Always choose certified and experienced installers who follow industry best practices as well as safety regulations and standards. Crucially, ensure they provide a Certificate of Compliance –a must for insurance and warranty purposes.  
  1. Don’t be Fooled by Fakes: With the solar boom comes a rise in counterfeit panels and equipment that pose safety risks. These products don’t meet safety regulations and can malfunction. Insist that your installer uses only high-quality components from reputable manufacturers that come with certification documents for a safe and reliable system. Remember: if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. 

ALSO READ: How rooftop solar is changing South Africa’s energy landscape

  1. Safeguard your investment: Spikes in voltage from lightning or other electrical disturbances can damage your inverter and batteries. Ensure that surge protection devices (SPDs) are installed and that periodic inspections are conducted to make sure they are in proper working order. Most warranties do not cover damage from these incidents if protection has not been installed.   
  1. Avoid arc fault risks: Solar PV systems operate using direct current (DC), which carries a high risk of damage in the event that arcing occurs. Arcing is an intense burst of light and heat caused by a continuous flow of electricity jumping a gap between two points where a potential difference (voltage) exists. This is the cause of over 40% of fires in these systems. Worn wires, loose connections, and degraded insulation can all trigger arcing. Invest in DC circuit breakers designed for solar systems as they can minimise the impact of arcing by interrupting the circuit in a timeous manner. Alternating current (AC) circuit breakers are not suitable in DC applications. When choosing the right circuit breaker, remember they need to be certified for the correct operating characteristics of the installation and should not be influenced by environmental temperature changes to ensure that the protection levels are maintained.  

ALSO READ: Gauteng gets big solar farm, funded by developers

  1. Maintenance is the magic word: Make a habit of visually inspecting your panels monthly for cracks, corrosion, or debris buildup. Ensure that conductors are checked for insulation fatigue and corrosion and that connections are tight. Every five years, schedule a professional inspection by a qualified technician to make sure that everything is functioning properly and to spot any potential problems.  
  1. Keep it clean: Rain helps with cleaning, but dust and grime can build up. Clean your panels with a gentle spray from a hose and soft brush. This is critical as research has found that soiling lowers solar efficiency, raises maintenance expenses, and reduces the lifespan of PV systems. Aim for cooler mornings or evenings to avoid shocking the panels with a sudden temperature change. For stubborn dirt or depending on your environment, consider professional cleaning every one to two years.  
  1. Stay watchful: Most solar power systems come with monitoring capabilities to track performance. Keep an eye on this data for any unusual drops in efficiency. This could be a sign of a dirty panel, an inverter issue, aging components requiring closer inspection or something else needing attention. Monitoring is a must for warding off any potential catastrophes.  

“By following these steps, you can ensure a safe and efficient system.

ALSO READ: Durban University of Technology launches solar boat

“Remember, while going off-grid already has a high price tag of between R150,000 and R350,000, skimping on safety can cost significantly more.

“With unsafe installations, you run the risk of property damage, injury, or even death. Invest in proper safety measures – it’s the smartest decision for your wallet and your well-being,” concludes Dr Dickson. 

For more information, go to https://cbi-lowvoltage.co.za/content/solar or follow CBI-electric: low voltage on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, X or YouTube

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