Fire risk for solar and batteries

Victoria’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade says it may take “Years to understand’ the fire risk posed by lithium ion battery storage


The MFB said the solar installations were vulnerable to faults across their systems, including isolation switches, inverters and installed wiring, and from deteriorating components.

The alarming figures come as the solar battery storage industry pushes to kill new regulations that would force homeowners to build a separate “fire bunker” housing for battery installations.

Under draft rules released by Standards Australia, lithium ion batteries are classed as “Fire Class 1” and would not be allowed inside or within 1m of a domestic dwelling. The industry will have until August 15 to respond to the draft regulations.

The safety moves are designed to avoid a repeat of Labor’s insulation batts scheme in which the rapid rollout of roof insulation in 2009 led to more than 200 house fires across the nation, and ultimately four deaths.

The MFB warned last night that the risk caused by the rapidly growing uptake of solar panels on homes had not yet been properly understood.

“In the past five years, MFB has responded to more than 40 fires involving solar panels,” a spokeswoman said.

“The causes of these fires vary but are usually sparked by system faults including isolation switches, inverters, installed wiring, and deteriorating components.

“As with any new technology, it will take some time before the risks associated with lithium ion batteries in solar panels can be fully understood.”

Energy Safe Victoria director Neil Fraser said at least eight solar panel models had been taken off the market in the past five years because of fire concerns.

“We are aware of as many as eight recalls nationally over the last five years of DC isolator switches which are located next to the solar panel on the roof,” Mr Fraser said.

“It is important that those ­people who have panels maintain them. They need to be cleaned regularly and inspected, preferably by a licensed electrician.”

Sales of battery storage have risen to 6750 battery installations last year, up from 500 in 2015, ­according to a recent survey.

Solar energy equipment supplier SunWiz forecasts at least a threefold increase this year.

The owner of a Sydney-based solar panel maintenance company said he had seen “hundreds” of fires caused by solar panels in the past five years.

SunSeeker Electrical owner Abdullah Sultan said this was because of “cowboy” installers operating under little regulation.

He said cheap products from China had forced local installers to drop prices and cut corners.

“There are a lot of cowboys out there who want a quick buck and the pricing isn’t regulated so you get people charging dirt cheap and customers don’t know what they are buying.”

The Clean Energy Council’s voluntary code outlines concerns that lithium-based batteries can overheat.

But CEC chief executive Kane Thornton said yesterday the lithium ion batteries were not a fire hazard, although he acknowledged it would take time to fully understand their risk.

“Things can go wrong from time to time but they are a relatively low risk, particularly relative to a bunch of other appliances and things that people have got in their homes: tins of lawnmower petrol, gas bottles, toasters.”


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