Solar panels need special attention in an emergency
by Alan Yonan Jr. | July 31, 2022
In my household preparation for hurricane season starts with a trip to Costco to stock up on non-perishable foods. Our 14-day supply this year includes a case of spam, canned vegetables, dry ramen, and a 20-pound bag of rice. Not exactly Michelin Guide quality, but good enough to get the job done if we need to hunker down for an extended period.
Another consideration in our hurricane planning is our solar panels. Fortunately, government building codes in Hawaii require rooftop solar systems to be installed securely enough to handle most severe weather events. The company that installed our system says that depending on the location on the island and the height of the building, systems built to code are generally rated to withstand at least 105 mph winds.
However, if your panels are damaged or torn from your roof by high winds there are some things to be aware of. First off, it’s important to remember that although solar panels generate electricity from sunlight they also may generate power while exposed to other sources such as moonlight, fire and intense lightning. With the growing number of rooftop solar systems in Hawaii it’s important to know the proper steps in an emergency situation. Here are some tips Hawaiian Electric offers to keep safety first:
- Don’t touch panels and components. Always assume they are energized. In the event your solar system is damaged in a storm or torn from your roof contact your solar contractor and
- Call 911 in the event of an emergency or fire. Do not handle your solar system, throw water on it, or inhale fumes that may be emitted, as they are flammable and toxic. Inform 911 operators that there are solar panels on the roof and specify whether they are solar water heating or solar photovoltaic.
- Notify first responders upon arrival that there are solar panels present and point out where the A/C disconnect switch is.
- If you have battery storage for your solar system, be sure to have proper signage visible to alert the existence of a solar battery near the main switch breaker.
- Lithium-ion batteries found in many energy storage systems provide high energy density. Take the proper precautions to avoid fires that may be caused by overheating, overcharging, electrical shorting, etc.
- Contact your solar company to inquire about specific operational details and safety measures relevant to your system.
For more information please review Hawaiian Electric’s Emergency Preparedness Handbook.
Alan Yonan Jr. is a senior communications specialist at Hawaiian Electric.