Solar panel fire season is all year round and it’s getting more intense in Australia



FRNSW, Author provided

Timothy O’Leary, University of Melbourne and David Michael Whaley, University of South Australia

2020 was a bumper year for solar power in Australia. More solar PV systems were installed in the first nine months than in all of any previous year.

Almost one in four Australian houses now have rooftop solar panels. But the number of solar panel incidents reported by fire and emergency services has increased too.

Fire and Rescue NSW reportedly put out 30 blazes sparked by panels in just three months late last year.




Read more:
Australian building codes don’t expect houses to be fire-proof – and that’s by design


The exponential growth in solar PV and associated problems has attracted media and political attention.

In 2018, federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor warned his state counterparts lives were at risk from substandard solar panel installations. An audit of the Clean Energy Regulator by the Australian National Audit Office found there were potentially tens of thousands of badly installed and even unsafe rooftop systems. The regulator had inspected just 1.2% of rooftop installations.

It’s a nationwide problem

State and territory regulators are responsible for electrical safety. Only Victoria mandates an inspection of each installed system.

Taylor announced an inquiry into the industry last August.

Last October, Fire and Rescue NSW Superintendent Graham Kingland said:

Over the last five years we have seen solar panel related fires increase five-fold. It is not uncommon to see solar panels cause house and building fires.

On Christmas day, ACT Fire & Rescue attended a fire at a home in Theodore where the solar panels caught alight. Coincidentally, the location was Christmas Street!

Last month, Energy Safe Victoria warned the public to get solar systems serviced.

And Queensland Fire and Emergency Services attended at least 16 incidents caused by solar panels in the first half of 2017 and 33 in 2016.

9 News reports on the fire risks of poorly installed solar panel systems in Queensland.

Components such as DC isolators and inverters, rather than the actual panels, are the cause of most solar-related fires. A DC isolator is a manually operated switch next to a solar panel array that shuts off DC current between the array and the inverter. It was intended as an extra safety mechanism, but the switches have caused more problems than they have solved – particularly when not installed correctly or when poor-quality components are used.

Solar is cheaper in Australia but poorly regulated

A recent report rated Australia as one of the cheapest per kilowatt for solar PV, but it questioned our safety standards. Most solar systems sold in Australia use DC voltages that can pose a serious fire risk.

Unfortunately, Australia has been slow to adopt safer solar regulations. In contrast, the United States has had safety standards preventing the installation of conventional DC solar systems since as early as 2014.

It’s more difficult for lower-voltage, microinverter-based systems (requiring no DC isolator switch) to catch fire, but it’s not impossible.

An amendment to the DC isolator standard (AS/NZS 5033:2014) to improve product datasheets and ensure isolators can withstand the harsh Australian climate took effect on June 28 2019. By then, over 2 million systems had been installed on Australian rooftops.

Added to issues such as flammable cladding, dodgy electrical cable and other “grey imports” (products not sourced from approved manufacturers) in the building industry, we are now playing a game of catch-up.




Read more:
Cladding fires expose gaps in building material safety checks. Here’s a solution


Poor-quality solar rooftop components have led to an expanding list of product recalls. The latest Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recall list includes installations managed by industry giants such as Origin and AGL.

One notable recall in 2014 reported a risk of “arcing” and “eventual catastrophic failure, resulting in fire”. It listed no fewer than nine traders operating nationally as having used this failed product. The recall noted that the product supplier, Blueline Solar Pty Ltd, was insolvent.

What should consumers do? The ACCC said:

Owners should immediately shut down the PV system following the standard shutdown procedure.

If a consumer suspects they have one of the affected units, they should have an electrician inspect and replace the DC isolators.

Solar systems do not fall under the National Construction Code unless an ancillary structure is being created. Most systems are simply fixed with rails to an existing roof. If the code covered rooftop solar, this would require private certification and a compliance check on any system, as is the case overseas.




Read more:
Australia has a new National Construction Code, but it’s still not good enough


Know what is on your roof

Research has shown consumers’ knowledge of solar systems is poor. Many owners have little idea if their system is working properly, or even at all.

And how would a consumer know what kind of DC isolator is on their roof or how to shut down the system in the event of a fire?

Solar panel systems are a growing incident category for firefighters. Yet even among firefighters there is some confusion on procedures to deal with a fire on live solar panels.

Firefighters put out a solar panel fire
Even some firefighters aren’t clear about how to deal with fires on live solar panels.
riopatuca/Shutterstock

Solar panel fires have yet to make it onto a top 10 list of domestic fire causes (statistically, your Christmas tree lights are a greater risk). But the sheer volume of installations and ageing components in uninspected older systems are increasing the risks.

One Aussie inventor has developed a product PVStop — “a spray-on solution to mitigate solar panel risks by reducing DC output to safe levels to offer homeowners and emergency personnel peace of mind”.

The latest update on Clean Energy Regulator inspections completed to June 30 2020 shows a negligible 0.05% decrease in substandard systems. Roughly one in 30 systems (3.1%) have been deemed unsafe and another 17.9% substandard.

Chart showing causes of unsafe and potentially unsafe solar PV installations

The Conversation. Data: Clean Energy Regulator SRES report

Without adequate solar PV industry standards, tools, inspection regimes, procedures or training, dangerous scenarios may increasingly put lives at risk. The high uptake of solar is very good news for reducing household electricity bills and carbon emissions, but safety issues undermine these positives.




Read more:
Making every building count in meeting Australia’s emission targets


The surge in installations, the introduction of batteries, the ageing of panels and components together with more extreme weather events mean solar panel incidents are likely to continue increasing.

Australia prides itself on being a world leader in household solar but until now we have not fully appreciated the safety risks. Fire authorities would do well to update fire safety guides that omit specific information on solar. And system owners should ensure they understand the risks and shut-down procedures.The Conversation

Timothy O’Leary, Lecturer in Construction and Property, University of Melbourne and David Michael Whaley, Lecturer, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia: NSW – Solid Fuel Fires Banned Until Further Notice


The link below is to a media release concerning the banning of solid fuel fires in State Forests throughout NSW due to bushfire concerns.

For more visit:
http://www.forestrycorporation.com.au/about/releases/solid-fuel-fires-banned-in-state-forests

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Indonesia: fires threaten to send even modest climate ambitions up in smoke


Sonny Mumbunan, University of Indonesia

At the Paris climate negotiations, Indonesia will bring to the table a target of an unconditional 29% emissions reduction by 2030, increasing to 41% on condition of international assistance.

Indonesia’s emission reduction plan (or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) is therefore slightly higher than its 2009 commitment to reduce emissions by 26% by 2020.

There are three problems with Indonesia’s INDC. The target is not ambitious; the plan is incoherent; and with the recent massive forest fires in Indonesia that have yet to be accounted for in the INDC it does not accurately reflect emissions for Indonesia.

Such a problematic INDC would affect the global efforts to adequately tackle climate change, since Indonesia is one of the biggest carbon emitters in the world. The forest fires have pushed the country into the top ranks of global greenhouse gas emitters.

Unambitious target

Each countries’ INDCs will determine whether the world can achieve a global target to reduce carbon emissions that can slow down global warming, limiting it to no more than 2℃ relative to the pre-industrial era.

Is Indonesia’s target ambitious enough so that when compared with other countries’ INDCs it can achieve this global target? Not really.

For Indonesia to meaningfully contribute to the global target, Indonesia’s emissions should be stable or decrease even when the nation’s economy grows. The latest assessment from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests this way of decoupling GDP growth from emissions growth to be ideal. However, Indonesia may find that difficult to do given that its economies depend on high emission sectors such as agriculture, forestry and energy.

At the moment, Indonesia does aim to decouple its GDP growth and emission rate increase, but only through relative decoupling, through which emissions rate increase is expected to be lower than GDP growth.

In relation to the global target as informed by climate science, the 29% emissions reductions target is not ambitious enough. Furthermore, with the depth of Indonesia’s problems, especially with the recent forest fires, Indonesia’s target should be higher.

Incoherent plan

Indonesia’s climate plan is not coherent. There are no proper relations between different actions, sectors and parts of planning process such as between the allocated budget and mitigation actions.

The incoherence is largely due to a problematic process in producing the INDC.

The 29% target was first produced by the Indonesia Development and Planning Board (Bappenas) using scientifically sound calculations. However, Bappenas was not participative in their process. They involved only a very limited circle of agencies and did not consult with regional governments, the private sector and NGOs. Transparency was lacking in the process and modelling.

The advisory board for Indonesia’s ministry of environment and forestry who prepared the country’s INDC used the result of these calculations to produce the INDC document. The advisory board’s process was more participative. They included more stakeholders to take part in their climate plan.

However, they took the number that Bappenas produced – 29% emissions reductions – from its modelling, and stripped the relations, assumptions and data that Bappenas used to come to that number. As a result, the INDC document entails rich inputs but these are not always connected and even contradict each other.

Forest fires

With these problems, Indonesia’s INDC should be revised. With the recent massive forest fires in Indonesia, the INDC should be more honest and include realistic simulations of peat-land management.

Deforestation and land use activities are Indonesia’s largest source of carbon emissions. Indonesia is the top exporter of palm oil. To expand plantations of oil palms, farmers often use the slash-and-burn techniques to open new plantations. With this year’s El Niño, with temperatures rising above the 1997 levels, the fires were some of the worst of recent times. At one point daily emissions in Indonesia surpassed emissions from the entire US economy as a result of the fires.

The fires will become a critical pretext for the Paris negotiations. They may increase the level of ambition of countries to do more. The issue of forest fires may also spur other countries to help more because the scale of the impact was enormous both for Indonesia and the international community.

Indonesia’s position in the negotiations

At the moment Indonesia seems yet to be prepared for the Paris 2015 negotiations. We have yet to see a specific agenda that Indonesia would like to bring to the table.

This is partly due to the recent organisational change after president Joko Widodo took office last year.

Under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the focal point for climate change negotiations was the National Council for Climate Change (DNPI). This council often prepared working groups to discuss different negotiation themes, such as financing, transfer of technology, adaptation, and others, ahead of the conference.

Joko Widodo merged the council into the Ministry of Environment and Forestry under a new directorate that oversees climate change. This ministry established the aforementioned Advisory Board.

With the new structure, the new directorate and advisory board did not have enough time to organise working groups that are able to undertake proper preparations. As a result, just days before the negotiation, we have yet to have a so-called Indonesia position for various issues on climate change action.

The Conversation

Sonny Mumbunan, Economist and research scientist at the Research Centre for Climate Change, University of Indonesia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Amazon: Wildfires


The link below is to an article that looks at understory fires and the impact they are having on the Amazon.

For more visit:
http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/how-hidden-wildfires-are-destroying-the-amazon