Safety First: Installing Reliable Solar Systems

Edgar Lim

The solar industry is experiencing tremendous growth across the nation. According to the latest research by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, 1,795 MW (DC) of commercial and industrial systems are forecasted to be installed in 2019 alone. With this rapid growth, it is even more important that the quality of solar installations are held to the highest standards. Safety is paramount during all stages of developing and installing a solar system, and it is vitally important to partner with a trustworthy solar provider for the optimal performance of the asset.Firstly, proper engineering must follow local jurisdiction adopted codes and standards, including, but not limited to: the National Electric Code (NEC), the International Building Code (IBC) and the International Fire Code (IFC). The NEC provides guidance on the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment, while the IBC details structural and wind considerations for solar systems. Local and National codes also stipulate fire classification requirements of solar equipment, as well as seismic provisions for seismically-active areas. The IFC includes regulations for all rooftop solar systems and specifies the design of system layouts that do not restrict the access of first responders in the event of an emergency.Once proper engineering has been performed, responsible procurement practices are integral to developing a safe solar system. Equipment must be sourced from trustworthy suppliers, technically sound and financially bankable. Within the industry, suppliers are categorized as “Tier 1,” meaning they have undergone a thorough technical and financial due diligence process by numerous financial firms backing large-scale solar projects. All solar modules used in projects should comply with applicable standards that ensure they have gone through proper testing for safety (e.g. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) code sections). Inverters should also meet specific standards set forth by UL and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The mounting system designs should be evaluated and signed off by licensed structural engineers and meet local code requirements for maximum wind speeds and exposure categories, snow loads and seismic considerations at the bare minimum.By properly engineering the system and procuring quality equipment, the project construction team is set up for success. However, they must maintain a safe work environment. Only well-qualified and experienced installation partners should build and commission photovoltaic systems. A “safe” installer must comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. Solar developers can also enforce stricter guidelines, such as implementing a peer-reviewed Construction Best Practice document requiring industry-leading installation methods. Additionally, quality solar developers utilize a third-party O&M provider or engineering firm to perform mid- and post-construction inspections to ensure that systems are installed as engineered.Finally, once the solar system is installed and properly commissioned, the solar developer should facilitate a seamless handoff to an O&M provider to ensure optimal operation for the 25+ years of the system’s lifespan. O&M providers, such as MaxSolar, monitor assets within their portfolio using utility-grade data acquisition systems that inform them of real-time system performance. They should also conduct bi-annual preventative maintenance site visits to ensure systems are in good operating condition and correct any observed deficiencies. Under their watchful eye, solar systems owners can rest assured that their system performs optimally and remains safe.At PowerFlex, as industry-leading corporate solar developers and integrators, we take responsibility for engineering, installing and maintaining solar systems that comply with the highest bar of codes and standards. Safety is our first priority, and we have an experienced team with deep industry knowledge and trusted, long-term relationships with vendors and contractors. We provide our clients with best-in-class solutions and work hard to deliver reliable and valuable assets. Our team takes pride in PowerFlex’s impeccable references and repeat clients, such as Medline Industries, Target, and Preferred Freezer. If you are interested in going solar at your facility, contact us today to get started.