You can get a shock from a solar panel. A solar power system is an electrical system. However, shocks are very rare.
You can stay safe if you know what to look for. Solar panels are not dangerous. Broken panels or a malfunctioning system are potentially dangerous. Let’s talk about how to do that.
Here are some key points that I’ll cover, plus more you’ll need to know:
- Can I touch a solar panel?
- Risk of shock
- Dangers and precautions
- How to touch a solar panel
Getting a shock from a solar panel is not likely at all, but if it happens, it can kill you.
Can I touch a solar panel?
Yes, if the solar panel is not plugged in or in the sunlight. An uncharged solar panel is entirely safe. Once the solar panel gets in any light, it will start charging. If it is in direct sunlight, it has a charge of electricity that can shock you if things go wrong.
If the solar panel is part of a PV array, plugged into a set of batteries and/or the grid, the charge can be very strong. As long as everything is working correctly, you have nothing to fear. The array is grounded, and that keeps you safe.
Dangers happen when the panel is not working correctly and is on and making power. When both are present, this pair increases your risk of electrical shock and even death.
How likely is a shock from a solar panel?
Getting shocked by a solar panel is a very rare event. However, even a minor shock can kill if it hits the wrong way. Workers have died from electric shock when installing solar panels.
However, falls from the roof are more common, as are power tools, extension cords, ladders, and lifting things the wrong way.
Shocks from a solar PV array are a low-risk / high-consequence event.
This is the same type of risk as a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. It is comparable to a 100-year flood, which is so big that scientists predict it will happen only once in 100 years on any river.
Can a solar panel kill me?
Yes, but it is not very likely. A solar panel produces electricity. If everything’s working right, it channels that electricity safely away from you. However, if malfunctioning, a solar panel can give you a shock that kills you.
Most of this centers on your heart as a muscle. It doesn’t take a lot of electricity to make your muscles spasm.
If your heart spasms, it can stop working and start quivering instead. This is the major danger around any electrical items. It is rare, but it does happen.
What happens if I touch a solar panel?
Most of the time, nothing. Solar panels are safe the vast majority of the time. Take caution around them, the same as any significant electrical appliance. (If it looks fishy, don’t touch it.)
The solar panel shock hazard is low, but it is always there. To touch a solar panel completely safely, see the instructions below.
You might burn your hand if you touch it without gloves on. They do get hot.
Are solar panels dangerous?
Potentially. Everything that uses electricity is potentially dangerous. As PV arrays sit outside, they get more wear and tear than your toaster (potentially dangerous).
If hail breaks the glass, a child pulls out the ground wire, or small animals chew through wire coatings, the electricity within the system may get to you.
You know not to put a knife in a toaster plugged in. Treat solar panels like that.
What safety precautions should I take around solar panels
Being around solar panels is safe. Get away as fast as possible if you see fire, smoke, or sparks. That’s a rare occasion.
If you have a PV array in your backyard, you can do all your normal backyard activities around it. Encourage children to stay 4-6 feet away. They may take being allowed near it as permission to play with it.
Nobody should be playing with any significant electrical item.
How do I touch solar panels without getting shocked?
Approach the solar panels with some care. Look over them. Do you see any broken panels, battered cords, or loose wires? If so, stay away and call a pro.
If not, here’s how to do a full check.
1) Is the solar panel plugged into the house? Turn off the inverter. The inverter is the machine that turns the DC power into AC power so you can use it. There is often a switch near the inverter.
2) You only have to consider the DC in the solar panel system. This includes the solar panels, the rig they sit on, the batteries, and lines into the house or batteries.
3) The panels will probably be hot, so wear gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE). Head protection, eye protection, and general protective clothing can help you avoid shocks. Remember, those panels are on as long as the sun is shining.
4) Look over the panels and their holders (PV array) for anything cracked, chipped, or broken.
5) Look for the grounding wire. This should be a copper wire. It may be bare, green, or green and yellow mixed. Make sure that is running into the ground. This wire is crucial because it runs the electricity into the ground (instead of you).
6) Look over the wiring. Outside wiring can get run down by the weather, chewed by animals, or nicked by an overzealous weed whacker. See if there are any worn, open, or cut wires. Double-insulated wires provide excellent protection.
7) If you have one, use a ground fault circuit interrupter (a hand-held device) to stop the electricity or a current clamp to test the current.
8) One more thing to check—the batteries. Batteries, especially in banks, have their own set of electricity problems. You should go through the same checks on their systems that you do on the solar panel system.
9) If anything looks funny, don’t touch it. Otherwise, you can touch the panels to clean or do whatever you need.
Yes, this sounds like a lot. It’s the best way to know the system is safe to touch. The system will be fine the great majority of the time. The risk of shock is very low. But as the potential damage is so high, it’s better to be careful.
What if my solar panel is sparking or on fire?
Do not touch it or go near it. Call the fire department and let them know the fire is with your PV array, so they can come prepared.
The National Electrical Code (section 690.12) requires that PV arrays have rapid shutdown systems (unless it has no above-ground conductive parts. This device may be at the service disconnect point or elsewhere.
These systems reduce the voltage to 30 -80 V within 30 seconds. Once that happens, any shocks will be more minor.
What about cleaning?
Spraying water or cleaner on a broken solar panel can shock you or cause a fire. If you have a large set of panels or a rooftop set, you can call specialists to do the cleaning for you.
Otherwise, talk to the team who installed your PV array. They may have directions on how to clean it safely.
You are fine cleaning small solar panels on lights, emergency radios, and other smaller systems. They don’t have the voltage to do much harm.
Solar panels are completely safe the vast majority of the time. Treat your solar panels like the major electrical device that they are. Talk to the people who sold or installed your PV array.
They will know the model you have chosen and how it works. If you know how the system works, you can check it safely.
Having solar power is more than worth the risk. Climbing on your PV array for fun is not worth the risk.