Solar panels, also known as photovoltaics (PV), have become a common site on the roofs of domestic and commercial buildings in recent years. More than 190,000 were installed in 2023, driven by their energy efficiency and ‘green’ credentials.

However, while PV may be kinder to the environment, as with all things there are always risks to be managed and fire safety experts are worried about an increasing trend in solar panel fires. It has become clear that there is a need for better care and regular checks of solar panels to minimise the potential of fire incidents.

A common misconception is that PV systems require little to no maintenance. Many overlook regular checks and repairs, thinking these systems are mostly self-sustaining. However, like any electrical or PV system need consistent maintenance to ensure safety and efficiency.

RiskSTOP have provided some essential maintenance guidelines below:

Guidelines for Commercial PV System Maintenance

Proper solar panel maintenance is not just about keeping them clean, it’s about ensuring the full system is safe and functions well. The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 emphasise the need to reduce electrical risks, including fire hazards. Regular inspections and maintenance are key parts of these regulations.

Guidance on how to properly inspect and test commercial solar PV systems and thus ensure compliance with the Electricity at Work Regulations is outlined in standards like BS 7671 Requirements for Electrical Installations and BS EN IEC 62446-2 Photovoltaic (PV) Systems – Requirements for testing, documentation and maintenance – Part 2: Grid connected systems – Maintenance of PV systems. These standards detail the scope of work required to evidence compliance with The Electricity at Work Regulations.

When solar panels are fitted, the installer must provide a PV Operation & Maintenance (O&M) manual. This outlines specific care and maintenance routines tailored to your system. If you don’t have the manual, you should refer to the BS EN IEC 62446-2 standards or follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Choosing the right professionals

It is required that a competent electrician inspects your solar PV system at least once a year. This means someone who has sufficient technical knowledge and experience appropriate to the type of installation and equipment, to include both AC & DC, and having membership of a UKAS accredited registration scheme such as those operated by NICEIC (National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting), ECA (Electrical Contractors Association), Napit Certification or SELECT (Electrical Contractors Association of Scotland).

During these inspections, electricians produce detailed reports. These reports highlight any issues and categorise them based on how urgently they need to be fixed. Immediate dangers require swift action. All electrical testing and inspection, along with any necessary actions, must be recorded in the Maintenance section of the O&M manual.

Regular professional inspections are vital. They ensure your system is not just functional but also safe.

Remember, solar panels are not a ‘set and forget’ technology. They require ongoing attention and care. Regular testing and maintenance are essential for their long-term safety and efficiency. This means scheduling regular checks, following the advice given during these inspections, and updating any components as recommended by experts.

Proper PV systems maintenance is crucial for safe and efficient operation. Regular checks, adherence to safety standards, and professional installation are key to making the most of solar energy. By taking these steps, you can enjoy the benefits of solar power while ensuring the safety and longevity of your environmentally friendly technology.

Source: RiskSTOP

Insurers will often ask:

  1. Are the panels regularly being maintained?
  2. Is any of the power being sold back to the national grid?