Safety When Installing Your Solar System.
It is a lot of fun installing a solar system but it is also dangerous. This is electricity people. It needs to be treated with respect, otherwise it can shock your eyes out or in the worst case, kill you. Besides electricity, there are other equally dangerous hazards you should be aware of at every stage of installing the solar system.
So in this article we're going to look at all those hazards and how you can protect yourself. Please read this one thoroughly to appreciate the necessity of safety whenever you're working on anything related to electricity. You know what they say, prevention is better than cure.
Handling solar panels
A solar panel is light on its own but when it's an array of them supported by a frame, the whole assembly can get weighty. So for the sake of safety, please don't lift the array alone, even if you're a son of a Hercules. There must be at least two people lifting the array.
And also considering the fact that the panels are made of glass which makes them fragile, always hold the panel at it's edges. Pressure on either face of it can crack it and you don't want a cracked panel because it doesn't perform well. So even when you hold it at its edges try not to press your fingers too tightly on either face.
If you're mounting the solar array on a high roof, it's wiser to use suitable lifting pulleys than using the ladder to get the array on the roof. There's a greater chance of dropping and cracking the solar panels when you try to climb the ladder holding a panel. The risk is not worth it, please use pulleys. If the roof is high, consider using safety harnesses when you climb up the roof. You might be sure of yourself but even still, wearing harnesses will earn you a piece of mind especially when you're a little clumsy working at heights.
Batteries used in a solar power system are deep cycle batteries. They're made of lead and acid. Lead is a very dense metal. If you've ever lifted a battery before, you can confess that they're pretty heavy. When you're installing a solar system involving batteries, you're most probably going to be lifting about 5-12 batteries. Lifting such weighty stuff can strain your back easily. Whenever you're carrying them around, try to keep your back straight up. Carrying them with your back bent will put strain your back even more. If you're the tender-hands type, there's no shame in asking for help from others. Have at least one person helping you do the job.
Unless your batteries are gel batteries, the acid inside will be in its liquid state. The acid is very corrosive. It can nicely eat up your clothes and burn your skin if it gets on you. If it happens that you've dropped a battery and it gets cracked, do not dare touch it with naked hands. Wear polythene gloves, triple-bag it with polythene plastic and label it hazardous waste.
If the acid spills on a floor, mop it up with disposable wipes. Triple-bag the wipes with the broken battery after mopping the floor. Do not throw away broken batteries in your usual garbage container. Most battery manufacturers buy broken batteries so you can consider selling the wreckage and make cash off something you would have thrown away.
If it happens that the acid gets on your skin, wash it off immediately with water and an anti-acid. Seek medical attention to treat the burning. If the acid gets in your mouth or in your eye, wash with milk and rush to see a doctor.
Another thing about batteries is that they emit hydrogen during their operation. So wherever you're installing them, the place must be well ventilated to prevent the hydrogen from building up. Hydrogen is mega explosive. The bomb kind of explosive. So please don't smoke around lead-acid batteries.
The terminals of a battery can release huge currents of electricity when short-circuited. A small metal, say a spanner, gets really hot very fast when it connects the terminals. So for the sake of safety, remove your fancy metal watches and your wrist/hand jewellery when you're working with batteries. Get rid of any chances of getting surprised by a sudden heated electrocute.
Handling inverters and controllers
There isn't much risk related to these ones except their weight. Inverters can be really heavy. You wouldn't want it to fall on your toes. Wear safety metal toe-capped shoes whenever you are carrying around heavy stuff.
In home solar installations, usually the inverter/controller is hung on a wall. Make sure the wall is strong enough to carry the weight. If the wall is not fit for the job, it's safer to make another structure, perhaps a specialized rack to carry the controller/inverter.
In the case where there's a fault with the controller/inverter, do not open the casing if you're not an electrician. This is electricity people, respect it to avoid getting electrocuted or in the worst case, burn your house down.
The length of the cables should always be kept at their minimum. All the components of the solar system should be as close to each other as they can get to keep the connecting cables short. Make sure all the cables are well insulated.
Electricity generated by solar panels and that from the batteries flows through the cables as DC current until it reaches the inverter. Unlike AC current, electrocution by DC current is more dangerous because you won't be able to let go. If the voltages are above 40V, it can be lethal for pets, children and people with heart problems. Anything above 60V can send a full grown Hercules to the grave.
If cables need to be joined together, use joint adapters/connectors to put them together. Making a hard-wired joint makes a bulge that can easily get exposed and may electrocute rodents/pets/you. The main concern about cables is the insulation. If the insulation is hard, short, continuous, waterproofed and heat-tolerant then you're safe.
Protecting your hands
During solar installation your hands will hold panels, frames, batteries, electricity cables, ladders, ropes, hammers, nails. You'll be touching, connecting, lifting, rubbing, pushing and pulling. In all of that, your hands can get hurt and you don't want that.
The best you can do to protect your hands is wearing gloves. There are specialized gloves for everything you'll have to do.
- Wear long polythene gloves that cover your hands and the rest of your forearms when you lift and carry batteries.
- Wear safety engineering gloves for all hammering, cable connecting and panel/controller/inverter mounting.
- If you're an electrician and you have to play around high voltage cables/terminals, wear electrically insulated gloves. Class 0 gloves will do the job well.
Protecting your eyes
Accidents happen in a very unpredictable way. And it's good engineering practice to expect and prepare against accidents. A hammered nail can snap and shoot into your face, acid can splash into your eyes if you accidentally drop a battery, dust and dirt can fall into your face whilst you're looking up the roof, anything can happen.
So to protect your eyes from such possible accidents, wear safety goggles. In the case where you're making your own framing for your panels, any grinding/welding should be done wearing a safety mask.
Protecting your body and feet
It is already engineering culture to wear a work suit and safety shoes whenever you do hands-on work. Your safety shoes should be metal toe-capped and your overalls should be made of a tough garment. Even when you feel hot inside your overalls, do not remove them as long you're still working.
Other safety precautions
- Keep children and the general republic away from the site during installation.
- If the site is in the open, fence it to avoid pets and wondering animals.
- Install your system during the day, if the sun sets before you're done, the sun will come up again tomorrow. Don't work at night.
- Always have a medical aid kit during work. If you're working with batteries, the kit should also include anti-acid gels/creams and lots of polythene bags.
- Wherever you live, you should know the fastest way to the closest hospital/doctor.
- Never ever, I repeat, never ever install a solar system alone. Even when you're now experienced and you know what you're doing, have at least one person helping you do the job.
I feel like I've said so little because the subject of safety is as huge as a bible. There are actually national laws set by governments about safety. However, what I've laid in this article should give you at least a hint of why safety matters.
If you keep the word you've read here, even if you're not a professional, you should be safe trying to work on your solar project. It's okay not to know what you doing when you're learning but with guaranteed safety. And it's not okay to risk someone's or your life/health/toes even when you know what you're doing.