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With solar panels becoming more prevalent, questions about its safety have also increased. Related to the topic of solar panel electrocution is its handling. Just how safe are solar panels to touch? Will you get burned by merely touching it? Or are the panels safe?
Solar panels are safe to touch because the cells are covered by an aluminum frame and tempered glass. The cells beneath the glass generate current, but you cannot touch these unless you break the glass.
Solar Panel Construction and Protection
You can tell solar panels are safe to hold by watching an installer handle it. They are holding the panel in their hands and don’t get electric shock .But how is this possible when PV modules convert the sun’s energy into electricity?
To understand why it is safe to handle solar panels, you have to learn the basics of how they are made.
Solar panels are made up of individual cells. The cells are placed between a backsheet of polymer plastic and a tempered glass front plate. Encapsulant EVA is applied on the backsheet and front plate and the frame holds the structure together.
In other words, there are multiple layers protecting the cells. You cannot touch the cells, only the protective glass. Even if the glass is cracked there is still sealant around the cells. manufacturers use different designs, but this basic setup of having multiple layers of protection is used all the time. This is why you can clean rooftop solar panels without being electrocuted.
Tempered glass is stronger than regular glass, capable of withstanding 1 inch hail at 28 mph. The glass not only protects the cells, it also protects you from the electric current going through it. The aluminum frame not only secures the cells, but it serves as a means to carry the panel safely The backsheet and encapsulant hold the cells in place and also keep the current contained.
This multi layered design keeps the modules secure. Even when it is converting high levels of electricity, there is little risk of being burned or electrocuted. Of course no failsafe system is perfect. The glass cover could break and expose the cells. Those cells will be dangerous and lethal if the voltage level is high. Do not touch the cells if the glass has suffered damage. While the EVA may provide protection, you should contact your solar installer immediately.
So while solar panels are safe, there are still risks you should be aware of. The most dangerous are burns and electric shock. These apply to all solar panels, from a few watts to large, 6kwh solar arrays.
Can Solar Panels Burn You?
Solar panels are tested and work best at temperatures ranging from 59 F to 95 F, but during summer, the glass can reach 104 F to 149 F. High quality systems can handle the heat, but obviously you wouldn’t want to touch those.
149 F is extreme, and more likely the highest would be at 104 F. That will not burn you, but you will feel the heat and withdraw your hand. If the panel gets too hot, have it checked by an expert because it could be arcing . Left untreated this can literally burn up your system, so inspection is important.
Solar panels are designed to handle extreme weather so heat should not be an issue. As long as the system is properly installed the components will run fine. Even if the solar panel gets hot you don’t have to worry about getting burned. The only instance that is likely to happen is if you touch the panel cell glass.
The one time you actually have to touch a solar panel is to clean it. And you start by hosing the surface so it cools down. Wait until the temperature drops a little before cleaning the modules. If it rains regularly in your area, you don’t even have to hose the panels as the rain will do it for you.
If it is hot, do not touch your solar panel even if it is not connected to anything, and if you have to clean it, wait for the temperature to drop a little. if your system monitor indicates the panel is running too hot, call an expert to check for loose wires, cables or problems with the inverter, charge controller or battery.
How Much Electricity are in Solar Panels?
Solar cells produce very low voltage and are covered by tempered glass. But if the glass doesn’t hold and you make contact with the cells, it will generate an electric shock.
Each solar cell produces only 0.5 V at 8 amps. The bus bars where the cells combine in a series is 40 to 45V. Depending on your health, that could be lethal or just a tingle. 50V is usually considered dangerous, so 45V is too close to that.
The average solar panel for homes are rated 300W with 7 to 9 amps of current at 40V. Given that 0.1 to 0.2 amps are lethal for humans, stay away from and do not touch the solar panel terminals. There are safety instructions on your solar panel guide so you should refer to that as well.
Solar panels are safe provided they are installed correctly and you know how they work. It is no different from the power supply in your house. It is only dangerous if not handled properly. With your system monitor you can determine if there is a system error and have it fixed immediately. We have written about solar panel electrocution so check that out if you want more in depth info.
Solar Panel Safety Tips
Solar panels by themselves cannot be turned off. As long as there is sunlight there will be an electric current going through the cells. The volts may be so low as to be negligible, but it is there. That is why there is a glass plate, backsheet and aluminum frame on each panel. These allows the installer to install the system safely. But there are other ways to protect yourself from solar panel hazards. The following are the most efficient methods.
If solar panels are grounded with copper wire , risks of shock are eliminated. Even if it is a high powered system, there is no danger of shock when there is proper insulation. And the gloves that installers wear have insulation too for added protection.
Grounding solar panels is required, so there is no excuse not to do it. No matter how large or small your solar system is, grounding must be done, and there will be inspectors who will go over your system regularly.
Rapid Shutdown Systems and Microinverters
While solar panels cannot be shut down by itself, a rapid shutdown system can do the job. The NEC mandates that all new solar panels installed have a rapid shutdown system to protect firefighters in case of fire.
This system consists of a box and an on/off switch. Turn off the switch and the voltage supply in your solar array drops to zero so It is as good as eliminating voltage in the panels. Microinverters have built in quick shutdown as well. String inverters do not have this feature but there are add-ons available.
A rapid shutdown system may have been designed for firefighters, but it will also protect you. If you or any of your household accidentally touches the solar panel and get an electric shock, you can turn off the switch right away.
Solar Panel Covers
Putting on a cover will “turn off” a solar panel too. This is a quick and easy fix in case you don’t have a rapid shutdown system in place. If you are cleaning or installing a solar array, cover the other panels with a sheet, leaving only the one you are cleaning or working on. This is almost as good as shutting the power off.
You can put any opaque sheet on a solar panel, but there are specially designed covers for this task. It is better to buy a cover that is made for PV modules. Also, this is not an alternative to rapid shutdown systems, but should complement it.
The bottom line is solar panels are safe to touch, and you can see that with the huge numbers being installed. However you should always be careful around electricity even if it is low voltage. By exercising caution you will be fine around solar panels.
I am an advocate of solar power. Through portablesolarexpert.com I want to share with all of you what I have learned and cotinue to learn about renewable energy.