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  1. #1
    Forum Member len1582's Avatar
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    Default Dangers of Solar Panels

    Got this the other day and feel it's worth passing on..

    Dangers of Solar Panels

    The thing to know with solar panels is they cannot be shut down, they are ALWAYS ENERGIZED. And they are energized with up to 600 volts of DC current. For example, you cannot put an ax through them to open up a roof to vent - your putting the ax through 600 volts. If fire is infringing upon solar panels on the roof it will compromise the integrity of the panels. You then have 600 volts of live electrical energy - and what don't you do when you have live electrical energy - you don't put water on it. Even if the roof burned through and the panels fell into the structure, unless the panels were destroyed (de-energized) by the fire and/or falling into the structure, they can still have the potential to be live. They have to be treated as such and have the potential of 600 volts of DC current.

    A basic solar system consists of: The solar panels themselves; a combination box; a disconnect box; and an inverter. The panels all feed into a combination box. The combination box (which is almost always located on the roof) takes in all the energy and sends it to a disconnect box. The disconnect box takes the energy and then sends it into the inverter which converts the DC current into AC current. From there the AC energy "pushes" into the structure's normal electrical system.

    The combination box has fuses in it that come from the solar panels themselves. If you access that box, you can pull all the fuses inside and "kill" anything after the combination box. But remember the panels are still live and have up to 600 volts in them. If you "kill" the energy at the disconnect box - anything up to that box is still energized - the solar panels, the combination box, the line going from the combination box into the structure and into the disconnect box are all still energized. The power company pulling the meter for normal service has no effect whatsoever on the solar panel system. It is all still live and has up to 600 volts of DC current. The only "good" thing when it comes to the disconnect box and the inverter is that they need to be co-located with the normal service panel for the structure and each should be marked as appropriate.

    Even if it's nighttime and the solar panels have not been exposed to direct sunlight for several hours they still are energized and can kill you. It is estimated that the panels would need to be covered with an opaque tarp for 7-10 days before the panels will "de-energize" down to minuscule levels. (although the handouts specify that this is an option for safety steps - it is not accurate per the presenter)

    So far in the State of NJ, there is no recorded injury to a Firefighter caused from coming into contact with a solar panel system. Ironically, New Jersey comes in second when it comes to solar panel system installations in the nation, behind California.

    The question asked which really put things in prospective - someone asked that since California is number one when it comes to Solar Panel System installations, "...what do their Firefighters do when a structure fire involves these systems?" Answer was "... they let it burn!"

    I'm not suggesting that we adopt this strategy. But the reality is - I really don't have an answer and it seems as if the Fire Service industry, nor the Solar Panel Companies, does either.

    Just - please be aware and please be careful if you roll up to a structure where a solar panel system is installed - bottom line, if can kill you.


  2. #2
    Forum Member FWDbuff's Avatar
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    Another, different type of dangerous solar panels are the ones used to heat water. There is a heat-exchange fluid inside the panels (kind of like coolant/anti-freeze)that is pressurized, that gets extremely hot. If you are operating on a roof near these types of solar panels, use extreme care not to disturb the panels or the pipes hooked to them- It will spray out under pressure, and may cause extremely nasty burns.
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    OK. Basic electricity here. It is impossible to have 600 volts of DC current. In an electrical circuit the Voltage = The Current X the resistance (Ohms Law). Current is measured in Amps. Each photovoltaic cell generates about 0.5 volts. A cell that measures 4.5 x 1.5 will produce 0.5 volts and 1 amp of current giving 0.5 watts. If you connect 120 of these together you will get enough electricity to run a 60 watt light bulb. In order to get say 12 volts DC you would need to connect 24 of these cells in series.

    Next, the solar panels are simple transistor devices with a glass covering. At heats exceeding 150 degrees F most silicon devices fail. Such is the case with these devices. In a fire situation, the danger is non-existent at the panel. The danger exists at the converter where the DC is converted to AC. Even then, it is only 120 volts. Of course this applies to residential use. Industrial systems will be far different.

    Also, if you are attempting to vent through the panel there is little danger. The biggest danger would be the flying glass. The wires connecting the cells are very small. If you were able to create a condition within the panel that would give a large amount of power the wires would melt instantly. Again, the real danger is not in the panel itself. It is in the distribution and converter system
    Last edited by ScareCrow57; 12-26-2008 at 11:40 AM.

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    IACOJ BOD FlyingKiwi's Avatar
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    Agreed.

    Look at lots of small photovoltaic devices connected together in a panel next time you are near one.

    See the big heavy cables capable of carrying sustained voltages of 600 DC without frying and bursting into flames. Not likely sunshine.

    Yes there is risk, of the system compromising during fire and becoming energised with the house voltages via contact with other wires.

    But if you are going to open up the roof isn't it faster to do it where the point of least resistance exists? Chopping through a panel or going beside it and chopping through the roof?

    Which one would I pick?

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    Good catch on the Amps vs Volts thing. I missed it the first time through.

    One other interesting thing, if you happened to put an axe through a solar panel and made a connection across two cells inside, you would only have 0.5V across it, which isn't going to shock anybody.

    I don't see why there would be any appreciable charge left in the solar panels after dark. Is there a large capacitance in the panels themselves? Anybody know?

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    Quote Originally Posted by FlyingKiwi View Post
    See the big heavy cables capable of carrying sustained voltages of 600 DC without frying and bursting into flames. Not likely sunshine.
    You don't need large cables to carry 600VDC, as long as the current remains low.

    Using the numbers from a previous post, if each solar cell produces 0.5V and 1A in direct sunlight, and you placed 1200 of these cells in series, then you would have 600V at 1A available at the panel terminals. This could be carried by 28 gauge wire (smaller than telephone hookup wire) with some good insulation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by len1582 View Post
    Got this the other day and feel it's worth passing on..

    Dangers of Solar Panels

    The thing to know with solar panels is they cannot be shut down, they are ALWAYS ENERGIZED. And they are energized with up to 600 volts of DC current. For example, you cannot put an ax through them to open up a roof to vent - your putting the ax through 600 volts. If fire is infringing upon solar panels on the roof it will compromise the integrity of the panels. You then have 600 volts of live electrical energy - and what don't you do when you have live electrical energy - you don't put water on it. Even if the roof burned through and the panels fell into the structure, unless the panels were destroyed (de-energized) by the fire and/or falling into the structure, they can still have the potential to be live. They have to be treated as such and have the potential of 600 volts of DC current.

    A basic solar system consists of: The solar panels themselves; a combination box; a disconnect box; and an inverter. The panels all feed into a combination box. The combination box (which is almost always located on the roof) takes in all the energy and sends it to a disconnect box. The disconnect box takes the energy and then sends it into the inverter which converts the DC current into AC current. From there the AC energy "pushes" into the structure's normal electrical system.

    The combination box has fuses in it that come from the solar panels themselves. If you access that box, you can pull all the fuses inside and "kill" anything after the combination box. But remember the panels are still live and have up to 600 volts in them. If you "kill" the energy at the disconnect box - anything up to that box is still energized - the solar panels, the combination box, the line going from the combination box into the structure and into the disconnect box are all still energized. The power company pulling the meter for normal service has no effect whatsoever on the solar panel system. It is all still live and has up to 600 volts of DC current. The only "good" thing when it comes to the disconnect box and the inverter is that they need to be co-located with the normal service panel for the structure and each should be marked as appropriate.

    Even if it's nighttime and the solar panels have not been exposed to direct sunlight for several hours they still are energized and can kill you. It is estimated that the panels would need to be covered with an opaque tarp for 7-10 days before the panels will "de-energize" down to minuscule levels. (although the handouts specify that this is an option for safety steps - it is not accurate per the presenter)

    So far in the State of NJ, there is no recorded injury to a Firefighter caused from coming into contact with a solar panel system. Ironically, New Jersey comes in second when it comes to solar panel system installations in the nation, behind California.

    The question asked which really put things in prospective - someone asked that since California is number one when it comes to Solar Panel System installations, "...what do their Firefighters do when a structure fire involves these systems?" Answer was "... they let it burn!"

    I'm not suggesting that we adopt this strategy. But the reality is - I really don't have an answer and it seems as if the Fire Service industry, nor the Solar Panel Companies, does either.

    Just - please be aware and please be careful if you roll up to a structure where a solar panel system is installed - bottom line, if can kill you.
    Where did you get this info? Are these your own words or are you reposting this info? Because now we have your post saying there is a credible threat and another persons post saying there is none. Before i discount either persons post, i am interested in where each sides facts are coming from.

    It seems as though either someone is right and someone is wrong, OR, there is a third scenario. Since we are talking about a situation that could (possibly) seriously injure or kill someone, i would really like more information.

  8. #8
    Forum Member len1582's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WD6956 View Post
    Where did you get this info? Are these your own words or are you reposting this info? Because now we have your post saying there is a credible threat and another persons post saying there is none. Before i discount either persons post, i am interested in where each sides facts are coming from.
    It seems as though either someone is right and someone is wrong, OR, there is a third scenario. Since we are talking about a situation that could (possibly) seriously injure or kill someone, i would really like more information.
    This was e-mailed to me at the firehouse. These are not my words at all. I'm just passing on some info that I felt could be useful. I'm glad it's getting some discussion so if there is anything not correct it can be set straight. Anyhow, I used to be a plumber not an electrician.

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    I got my information from looking at solar panels and an Electrical Engineering degree.

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    Wink

    Quote Originally Posted by ScareCrow57 View Post
    I got my information from looking at solar panels and an Electrical Engineering degree.
    Ditto




    added to meet minimum message length requirement

  11. #11
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    Well clearly there has to be some explanation as how the first post (That was sent to the thread starter via email) came about.

    Whether it's wrong information or not, clearly somebody took the time to write it out and then send it. And it has specific information in it. It's not simply a one sentence generalization about a suspected hazard. There is obviously more to the story.

    A degree in electrical engineering most certainly would help anyone to have a much more complex understanding of electricity, but simply having that degree does not mean you are an "expert" in all things electrical obviously. Solar Cells have only recently become very popular. And with that, new technology. So once again, i am looking to hopefully find somebody who has actual proof that the first post is 100% false based on todays technology.

  12. #12
    IACOJ BOD FlyingKiwi's Avatar
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    It is not 100% wrong, and it is not 100% right.

    Come back to Volts and Amps to get a clearer picture of what you are looking at.

    Volts can be equated to the volume of flow you are getting out of a length of hose. Amps can be equated to the pressure of the water through the length.

    You can have 500 GPM running out of the end of 6" LDH looking like you could pee further. Put the same amount through a 1 1/2" line and you had better hang on to the end.

    Look at it from a Firefighters perspective, not just from on the roof but in the structure as well.

    You pull up in the daylight hours, there is fire inside, the external power gets isolated, your crew goes in and sprays water.

    What happens next?????

    They get FRIED.

    Because the panels on the roof just zapped them.

    You need to disconnect BOTH sources of power, and watch out that they don't use battery storage from the panels as well. A large number of modern installations will use storage cells to smooth and control the feed of power to the AC converter.

    A basic solar system consists of: The solar panels themselves; a combination box; a disconnect box; and an inverter. The panels all feed into a combination box. The combination box (which is almost always located on the roof) takes in all the energy and sends it to a disconnect box. The disconnect box takes the energy and then sends it into the inverter which converts the DC current into AC current. From there the AC energy "pushes" into the structure's normal electrical system.

    The combination box has fuses in it that come from the solar panels themselves. [B]If you access that box, you can pull all the fuses inside and "kill" anything after the combination box.[B/]
    Uh huh. Me take screwdriver and go shag around for 5 minutes on the roof taking the screws out and pulling fuses.

    YEAH, RIGHT.

    Rubber handled bolt cutters meet electrical cable. Job done, vent the roof if needed and get out of Dodge.

    Start thinking a bit about the overall picture here and it becomes simple.

    You don't need no stinking Electrical Engineers degree to cut cables.
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    Forum Member frenchfireball's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by len1582 View Post
    Got this the other day and feel it's worth passing on..

    Dangers of Solar Panels

    The thing to know with solar panels is they cannot be shut down, they are ALWAYS ENERGIZED. And they are energized with up to 600 volts of DC current. For example, you cannot put an ax through them to open up a roof to vent - your putting the ax through 600 volts. If fire is infringing upon solar panels on the roof it will compromise the integrity of the panels. You then have 600 volts of live electrical energy - and what don't you do when you have live electrical energy - you don't put water on it. Even if the roof burned through and the panels fell into the structure, unless the panels were destroyed (de-energized) by the fire and/or falling into the structure, they can still have the potential to be live. They have to be treated as such and have the potential of 600 volts of DC current.

    A basic solar system consists of: The solar panels themselves; a combination box; a disconnect box; and an inverter. The panels all feed into a combination box. The combination box (which is almost always located on the roof) takes in all the energy and sends it to a disconnect box. The disconnect box takes the energy and then sends it into the inverter which converts the DC current into AC current. From there the AC energy "pushes" into the structure's normal electrical system.

    The combination box has fuses in it that come from the solar panels themselves. If you access that box, you can pull all the fuses inside and "kill" anything after the combination box. But remember the panels are still live and have up to 600 volts in them. If you "kill" the energy at the disconnect box - anything up to that box is still energized - the solar panels, the combination box, the line going from the combination box into the structure and into the disconnect box are all still energized. The power company pulling the meter for normal service has no effect whatsoever on the solar panel system. It is all still live and has up to 600 volts of DC current. The only "good" thing when it comes to the disconnect box and the inverter is that they need to be co-located with the normal service panel for the structure and each should be marked as appropriate.

    Even if it's nighttime and the solar panels have not been exposed to direct sunlight for several hours they still are energized and can kill you. It is estimated that the panels would need to be covered with an opaque tarp for 7-10 days before the panels will "de-energize" down to minuscule levels. (although the handouts specify that this is an option for safety steps - it is not accurate per the presenter)

    So far in the State of NJ, there is no recorded injury to a Firefighter caused from coming into contact with a solar panel system. Ironically, New Jersey comes in second when it comes to solar panel system installations in the nation, behind California.

    The question asked which really put things in prospective - someone asked that since California is number one when it comes to Solar Panel System installations, "...what do their Firefighters do when a structure fire involves these systems?" Answer was "... they let it burn!"

    I'm not suggesting that we adopt this strategy. But the reality is - I really don't have an answer and it seems as if the Fire Service industry, nor the Solar Panel Companies, does either.

    Just - please be aware and please be careful if you roll up to a structure where a solar panel system is installed - bottom line, if can kill you.
    same article on firefighterclosecalls:

    http://firefighterclosecalls.com/fullstory.php?77468
    "sauver ou périr"

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  14. #14
    Forum Member len1582's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by frenchfireball View Post
    same article on firefighterclosecalls:

    http://firefighterclosecalls.com/fullstory.php?77468
    Thanks for tracking it down fireball.
    As I said electricity isn't my strength and I hoped posting here would get some facts straight. Glad it got us thinking and exchanging info.

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    Quote Originally Posted by WD6956 View Post
    Well clearly there has to be some explanation as how the first post (That was sent to the thread starter via email) came about.

    Whether it's wrong information or not, clearly somebody took the time to write it out and then send it. And it has specific information in it. It's not simply a one sentence generalization about a suspected hazard. There is obviously more to the story. There's some modern educational system "logic" for you.

    A degree in electrical engineering most certainly would help anyone to have a much more complex understanding of electricity, but simply having that degree does not mean you are an "expert" in all things electrical obviously. But indicates a considerable "expert" basis in most such subject. EE drove me crazy. I'll stick with polymers etc. Solar Cells have only recently become very popular. And with that, new technology. So once again, i am looking to hopefully find somebody who has actual proof that the first post is 100% false based on todays technology.
    Recently popular? Where have you been for the last 3 decades? The solar/photovoltaic cell fad has been going off and on for nearly 40years. Much like a case of the clap, keeps coming back. More interesting from a novelty standpoint but about as useful.

  16. #16

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    Default PV panels

    The original post probably had it's roots in an e-mail going around, that (without disclosing the originator, because I do not have his permission) started with this:

    "At this past Monday's Twp. Chief's meeting, I went to the presentation put on by the State of NJ last night at Amwell Valley Fire concerning solar panels and the danger they present to the Fire Service.

    The presentation lasted for about 2 1/2 hours and was what I believe time well spent. It really opened my eyes to the potential danger and problems they will be for us for any dwelling fire we will encounter where they are present. I'm going to attempt to give everyone a quick snapshot of what was covered.

    The thing to know with solar panels are that they cannot be shut down - they are ALWAYS ENERGIZED. And they are energized with up to 600 volts of DC current. For example, you cannot put an ax through them to open up a roof to vent - your putting the ax through 600 volts...." yada, yada, yada....

    I would guess that this guy does not know a lot about PV panels (Note: not all "solar panels" are PV...in the North East, most are NOT!), or the donuts and late-night hours were giving a bit too much "fuzz" to the snooze.

    I also would note that the purported source of all of this information is (supposedly?) the State of New Jersey! Wow, I mean that should be a surprise? It makes one wonder if there is not some old-guard utility company tie-in there...in the last "solar revolution", under the Carter admin., there was a lot of interest in PV, but little knowledge, and there was a lot of negative press purposefully disseminated by supposed "experts", most often coming from one utility company or another.

    It looks to me like the posts by "Flying Kiwi" and "Scare Crow" are heading in the right direction, but I will research this further via my friends in the industry, and report back.

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    Default Clarification

    I wanted to offer some clarity to this discussion. It is an area we all need to know about, but as is often the case; a few misconceptions can spin some VERY tall tales!

    I will address the issues one by one:
    1. Panels are only energized in daylight. Overcast days too, but NEVER at night. Scene lights will NOT energize the panels.

    2. If the panels, or the roof are on fire you will not get shocked by spraying water on them. Put the fire out.

    3. The voltages of panels are are anywhere from 24-48 volts each and generate from 125 to 200 watts in optimal conditions.

    These panels are "strung" together in series to increase the voltages to 120 vdc to 400 vdc. While 600 vdc is possible, it is pushing the UL ratings of the enclosures, wire, etc.. The current of these strings is usually from 5-9 amps. And that is only when there is a load (or put more simply, the inverter is sending the power back into the grid). If the inverter is off, there is no current only voltage, i.e. open circuit.

    4. The inverters that change the power from DC to AC, are powered by AC. If you shut off the main service breakers, the inverter is OFF and there is NO AC power being sent into the structure. There are capacitors in the inverters that can hold a charge for about 5 min, but in the daytime the panels are producing power anyway. When the sun goes down. Everything is de-energized.

    Here is the danger: There is ALWAYS energized DC power in the conduit from the panels to the inverter IN THE DAYTIME. So, secure all utilities (per SOP's) and stay away from the panels, and the conduit in the daytime.

    5. Do not break a panel with your axe! Each panel in the string could be carrying the FULL VOLTAGE of that string (120-400 VDC), so if you put an axe through it, you will very likely be getting the rest of the shift off! Don't do it....There is no need to do it, vent somewhere else, and kill the utilities at the main panel.

    6. There are often junction boxes on the roofs (residential systems), but these do not always have fuses. If you do pull a fuse under load, you can cause a fire. Don't do it...Bad idea.

    7. In California, we will not let a house burn because it has PV Panels on the roof. I may not be able to put my hole in the best place, but I will put one in where I can.

    As to the comments on water heating systems, they are pressurized to 15 psi if they have antifreeze (food-grade glycol) and up to 60 psi with water only, so while the water can be as high as 180 degrees F, there is not high pressure involved.

    A little about how I know this:
    I teach classes on FF Safety on PV Systems, have a degree in Solar Technology, and I have PV and Solar water heating systems myself. I am also a member of the California State Fire Marshals PV Task Force.

    I hope that helps. The article that started this has caused many people in both the fire service and the solar industry a lot of stress. It makes us look uneducated.

    Stay Safe Brothers!

    FE Matt Paiss, Truck 13B
    SJFD
    Last edited by MPaiss; 01-07-2009 at 11:33 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MPaiss View Post
    I wanted to offer some clarity to this discussion. It is an area we all need to know about, but as is often the case; a few misconceptions can spin some VERY tall tales!

    I will address the issues one by one:
    1. Panels are only energized in daylight. Overcast days too, but NEVER at night. Scene lights will NOT energize the panels.

    2. If the panels, or the roof are on fire you will not get shocked by spraying water on them. Put the fire out.

    3. The voltages of panels are are anywhere from 24-48 volts each and generate from 125 to 200 watts in optimal conditions.

    These panels are "strung" together in series to increase the voltages to 120 vdc to 400 vdc. While 600 vdc is possible, it is pushing the UL ratings of the enclosures, wire, etc.. The current of these strings is usually from 5-9 amps. And that is only when there is a load (or put more simply, the inverter is sending the power back into the grid). If the inverter is off, there is no current only voltage, i.e. open circuit.

    4. The inverters that change the power from DC to AC, are powered by AC. If you shut off the main service breakers, the inverter is OFF and there is NO AC power being sent into the structure. There are capacitors in the inverters that can hold a charge for about 5 min, but in the daytime the panels are producing power anyway. When the sun goes down. Everything is de-energized.

    Here is the danger: There is ALWAYS energized DC power in the conduit from the panels to the inverter IN THE DAYTIME. So, secure all utilities (per SOP's) and stay away from the panels, and the conduit in the daytime.

    5. Do not break a panel with your axe! Each panel in the string could be carrying the FULL VOLTAGE of that string (120-400 VDC), so if you put an axe through it, you will very likely be getting the rest of the shift off! Don't do it....There is no need to do it, vent somewhere else, and kill the utilities at the main panel.

    6. There are often junction boxes on the roofs (residential systems), but these do not always have fuses. If you do pull a fuse under load, you can cause a fire. Don't do it...Bad idea.

    7. In California, we will not let a house burn because it has PV Panels on the roof. I may not be able to put my hole in the best place, but I will put one in where I can.

    As to the comments on water heating systems, they are pressurized to 15 psi if they have antifreeze (food-grade glycol) and up to 60 psi with water only, so while the water can be as high as 180 degrees F, there is not high pressure involved.

    A little about how I know this:
    I teach classes on FF Safety on PV Systems, have a degree in Solar Technology, and I have PV and Solar water heating systems myself. I am also a member of the California State Fire Marshals PV Task Force.

    I hope that helps. The article that started this has caused many people in both the fire service and the solar industry a lot of stress. It makes us look uneducated.

    Stay Safe Brothers!

    FE Matt Paiss, Truck 13B
    SJFD

    Thank you for taking the time to post that. I was hoping somebody such as yourself with actual training specific to solar panels (Not just electricity in general) would post here and clear things up.

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    Default Glad it helps...

    Quote Originally Posted by WD6956 View Post
    Thank you for taking the time to post that. I was hoping somebody such as yourself with actual training specific to solar panels (Not just electricity in general) would post here and clear things up.
    I'm glad to be able to help, can't always...but I thought I could here. What is important for us to know is that the line voltages coming into the house present a MUCH greater hazard to firefighters than PV systems do. There are some hazards here, but they are not the "Big Bad Boogie Man" the original article post here presented them to be.

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    Default Solar Power Generator is good

    They can shutdown by taking off their power. They are not dangerous at all. Can you help me in building up a solar power generator? Your comments and suggestions are much appreciated.Thank you.
    Last edited by dextercath96; 01-31-2010 at 10:00 PM.

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