The Cape Town Municipal Fire and Rescue Service says the increased use of items such as solar installations, generators and rechargeable battery-powered inverters has prompted the department to reconsider its Incident Management Manual.
“While these devices play a critical role in keeping users’ lights on, and keeping their business going while load shedding, users are also reminded that they can pose a risk if not installed, stored, or used properly. In fact, systems that are not installed are properly, safely and legally is one of the biggest contributors to extended blackouts,” says the City of Cape Town.
To minimize potential damage, municipalities require all solar PV systems and/or batteries to be installed by a competent installer who must provide a Certificate of Compliance. All systems connected to the building’s wiring must be registered with the City of Cape Town prior to installation and, from October, only transformers approved by the City will be accepted for these systems. This is to reduce the risk of electrocution for those working on the electrical grids and also to speed up the solar system’s commissioning time.
speaking in a Daily Maverick In a recent webinar, Christelle Coleman, co-founder of Ami Underwriting Managers, said more Fire claims are now coming with the increase in solar installations.
The last thing you need in this scenario is for your house to burn down We realize that was the result of a faulty solar installation,” Coleman cautioned.
If you’re a reasonably responsible person by making sure your generator is serviced or your electrical wiring is done by a professional, says Ernest North, CEO of Naked Insurance, there’s nothing to worry about.
“However, if you use a person on the road to install the solar panels and inverter or you overload a connection point, and your house burns down as a result, your claim will likely be denied,” North said.
The City of Cape Town reports that recent incidents dealt with by the Fire and Rescue Service include:
- Four people were overcome with fumes from a generator in Barrow, resulting in one death.
- A gas explosion occurred in a house in Hout Bay, which resulted from the non-closure of the gas source, and resulted in the injury of one person with burns.
- Fire in a truck transporting lithium-ion batteries. The firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading to the trailer, avoiding great danger.
- The batteries on the inverter ignited in a store inside a mall, which led to the mall closing its doors while the accident was attended to.
- The solar panels on the roof of the plant caused the wires to bend, which led to a fire. Firefighters had to wait for technicians to isolate the panels before they could put out the fire.
- A firefighter was called to extinguish a fire on a nearby property after the battery bank overheated due to inadequate ventilation.
Municipal Committee on Safety and Security member JB Smith says while the city appreciates residents’ willingness to protect themselves from the effects of load shedding, the incidents highlight the need for caution and vigilance about how energy solutions are used and stored.
“Ventilation is a key consideration, given the risk of noxious gases from using petrol or diesel, but there is also a real risk of appliances overheating and catching fire. In the event of a fire, these modern batteries also require very specific firefighting methods, so households and businesses need to making sure they have fire extinguishers suitable for their specific needs,” he says.
Electrical equipment is not turned off before power is turned back on after load shedding, and improperly installed or unapproved solar PV systems and/or batteries increase circuit tripping risks and fire hazards.
What you can do to make sure it is safe to install rooftop solar PV panels
- Ask if the solar PV service provider has significant experience, with references.
- Ask if the solar PV service provider designed, supplied and installed the system or performed only one or two of these steps.
- The PV service provider must be accredited through a third party quality assurance program such as the PV Green Card accredited with the Photovoltaic Industry Association of South Africa (Sapvia) or the P4 Platform quality assurance programme.
- The installer must apply to the city to allow the system to connect to the grid to ensure the safety of the electrical grid, your home, and all those working on the electrical grid.
- If city employees and contractors are not familiar with the systems connected to the grid, they run the risk of electrocution.
- Written permission must be obtained from the City prior to installation.
- Get a structural engineering assessment – Ensure your roof can withstand the weight and wind load of solar PV panels when necessary.
- You will need to approve building plans if the panels protrude more than 600mm above the highest point of the roof, if they rise more than 1.5m above any point on the roof, or if, if floor-mounted, the panels in their installed position are more than 2.1m Above normal/final ground level. DM