How to make sure your solar panels are safe

As the number of fires linked to solar panels rises, experts explain how you can limit the risks and keep your home safe

Conor McGlone
Saturday 16 September 2023 07:56 BST
Mother’s terror as fire sparked by solar panels destroys council home

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Louise Thomas

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The rising spate of solar panel fires has sparked safety concerns as more homeowners turn to renewable energy to tackle rising bills.

An investigation by The Independent, using data obtained under freedom of information laws, showed there were six times the number of fires involving solar panels last year compared with 10 years ago.

The rate has increased sharply with 66 fires already recorded up until July this year compared with 63 for the whole of 2019.

Safety experts have voiced concern about a lack of regulation on who can install them and have called for change.

But if you have solar panels or are thinking of getting them installed, how do you ensure they are safe?

Use a registered installer

Martyn Allen, from the charity Electrical Safety First (ESF), advises choosing a registered installer who has been assessed for solar installations.

He said they must be aware of the standards that solar products should comply with including BS EN 61730-1, BS EN 61215, BS EN 61646, MCS 0065.

“This will provide a better guarantee of safety and also redress, in the unlikely event of something going wrong,” he says.

Gareth Simkins from the trade association Solar Energy UK (SEUK) agrees. “The best and simplest way for consumers to ensure that their solar and/or battery installation is conducted by a legitimate company is to make sure that their installers are members of MCS.

“We require all residential installer members of Solar Energy UK to be MCS-certified and to use products certified by the body to ensure safety and quality.”

Only use certified products

Ian Rippin, chief executive at Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) which certifies installers, said that its standard exists not only for the installation, but also for the products used.

An MCS-certified installation must only use products which have been tested for safety and performance to “robust industry standards,” he says.

“To ensure that their home solar remains safe and efficient, consumers should only invest in certified systems made of certified products, installed by a certified contractor,” he adds.

Experts say you should get soalr panels checked regularly for any possible faults
Experts say you should get soalr panels checked regularly for any possible faults (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Install a micro-inverter

Captain Richard Birt, who worked for 30 years as a firefighter before founding the platform Solar And Fire Education (SAFE), recommends homeowners consider retrofitting a micro-inverter system.

They can be connected to solar panels to convert the electrical output to a safer 230V AC voltage.

While this would add costs, Cpt Birt said it would only involve replacing the single string inverter with micro-inverters and homeowners could keep their panels and storage.

Get your solar panels safety tested regularly

Above all, homeowners must be aware that panels are not a fit-and-forget technology and require periodic testing, according to Gillian Perry, a major loss manager for insurance firm Zurich.

Mr Allen agrees, and adds that homeowners should have their installation regularly checked by a professional– preferably the company responsible for the installation. This would include taking any action advised as a result of the inspection.

Disconnect immediately if you spot problems

Finally, said Mr Allen: “If there are any signs of the installation not working as expected, signs of overheating, the smell of burning or unusual noises – isolate the supply and call the company who installed it”.

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