Solar In an Emergency | What To Do

 

2020 has brought some of the worst natural disasters Australia has seen. With intense fires, a global pandemic and intermittent flooding, it feels like we are just short of a locust plague and rain of toad. So, with imminent danger at the forefront of our minds, what should you do if you have a solar system and you are faced with a fire, flood or cyclone emergency?

Solar systems can become dangerous after exposure to fire, flood and cyclone conditions. Exposed wires, cracked panels and damaged batteries can lead to spot fires and lethal live elements. If not appropriately switched off, your solar system may still produce high voltage even though it may be disconnected from the network supply.

So how can you manage your solar effectively in an emergency?

The Clean Energy Council has produced a step-by-step guide to emergencies and solar. Read on for an overview of the plan and a few helpful hints from Solar Market.

Planning Ahead

To increase the chances of your solar system surviving a natural disaster, planning ahead is essential.

That being said, if you need to evacuate, then leave your house immediately. If you do not have time to sort your solar before leaving your property, then action ‘post-emergency management’ strategies (these are covered in the next section).

If you have adequate warning that a natural emergency is occurring in your area, there are some precautionary actions that you can take to protect your solar system in an emergency.

Grid-Connected Systems

Grid-connected systems have a ‘shutdown procedure’ already build in. To activate this procedure, you should follow the instructions marked on your inverter box. The shutdown procedure generally is as follows:

  1. Switch off the solar supply and mains switch.Solar In a Emergency
  2. Switch off the normal mains switch.
  3. Switch off the PV array isolator.

Stand-Alone Systems

It is important to follow these steps when shutting down a stand-alone system.

  1. Switch the solar array off.
  2. Switch the inverter off.
  3. Dependent on your stand-alone system, follow the battery shutdown procedure to isolate the battery bank.
  4. Disable the generator so that the auto start function cannot kick in.

Solar and Post-Emergency Management

Upon returning to your house it is important that you do not attempt to turn your solar system back on (or off). Touching or operating your solar systems switches could result in a high voltage electric shock. So what should you do when returning home to your solar system post-emergency?

  1. The first thing you should do when returning to your property is to contact an accredited installer to evaluate the safety of your system.
  2. Ensure that any repairs to the system or area around the modules are done after your system has been signed off as electrically safe by your accredited installer.
  3. Once your system has been given the green light, follow the start-up procedure to start receiving your solar benefits again.

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Understanding Batteries

Off-Grid Systems

For some households a battery system can be of great benefit and minimise a home’s reliance on the grid. However, it’s important to understand for a battery to be useful your solar system needs to be generating excess energy for the battery to store, which you can then use at night or when the sun is not out.

When selecting a battery, you’ll want to invest in a system that is most suited to your home and can drive the best return on investment (ROI). Despite a larger upfront cost, a higher quality battery may significantly increase your ROI.

    Battery systems start from $6,000 and costs can vary greatly based on the following factors:

  1. Cycle Life-Time

    The number of times a battery can fully charge and discharge.

  2. Battery Power (kW)

    How fast it can be charged or discharged.

  3. Storage Capacity (kWh)

    The maximum amount of energy a battery system can store.

  4. Battery Management System (BMS)

    An electronic ‘smart’ system that gathers data and manages the battery ensuring it does not overload or operate outside of its safe functioning zone..

  5. Inverter

    Battery systems require their own inverter if your solar system does not have a hybrid inverter.

  6. 'All-In-One Unit’

    A system which includes the battery, BMS and an inverter all in one unit.

  7. Warranty

    Length of time or cycles the battery system is under guarantee.

  8. Blackout Protection/Backup

    It’s important to note this is not a common feature of a battery system and could cost thousands of dollars to include. Blackout protection not only requires additional components but also a specialised installation and rewiring. For grid-connected homes, the cost for blackout protection can outweigh the benefit.

Additionally, if your purpose for adding battery is to go Off-Grid and become completely independent from the grid you will need to ensure your solar system can generate enough energy to power your home and your battery system is large enough to store this energy. For homes in metro areas going Off-grid is not cost effective and is only recommended for those in remote areas with limited access to the grid. Off-grid solar systems with battery start at approximately $30,000.
 

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