How to Avoid Fire Risk and Improper Use of Alternative Power (2024)

How to Avoid Fire Risk and Improper Use of Alternative Power (2024)

As the world continues to seek alternative energy sources to combat the adverse effects of fossil fuels, the use of solar panels and other renewable energy technologies is on the rise. While in South Africa, most of us just want electricity generation that is not reliant on the grid because of load shedding. And with the increasing use of these power solutions, there is a growing concern about the improper usage of these technologies, leading to fire risks and other dangers.

It is crucial for households and businesses to understand how to safely and efficiently harness the power of solar panels and other energy sources while minimizing the potential risks. In this article, we will discuss the top risks, improper uses, and dangerous practices associated with alternative power.

What Are the Top Ten Risks of the Improper Use of Alternative Power?

The use of solar panels and renewable energy in rural areas, particularly in South African regions, presents unique challenges. The theft of solar panels and wires, along with the improper usage of renewable energy devices, can lead to limited power and potential fire hazards. Understanding these risks is crucial for preventing incidents and ensuring public safety.

1. Fire Hazards

6. Electromagnetic Interference

2. Explosions

7. Limited Accessibility for Emergency Responders

3. Toxic Emissions

8. Unintended Environmental Impact

4. Overheating

9. Waste Management Challenges

5. Poor Air Quality

10. Grid Instability

Man fixing electrical wire to avoid fire risk improper user of alternative power

What Are the Top Ten Improper Uses of Alternative Power?

When using renewable energy such as solar systems, it is important to aim for efficient and safe usage to reduce the risk of incidents. Properly connecting the solar PV panels to the household appliances and the energy systems without exceeding the recommended capacity can help in maximizing the advantage of clean energy without risking fire hazards or overloading the grid.

1. Overloading Systems

Drawing more power from sources than they can handle can lead to overheating, reduced efficiency, and causing potential damage to the power system components.

2. Ignoring Ventilation Requirements

Inadequate ventilation for devices such as generators or batteries can result in the accumulation of noxious gases, posing health risks and increasing the likelihood of fires.

3. Incorrect Installation of Solar Panels

Poorly installed solar panels may not function optimally and can pose fire risks. Rooftop installations that obstruct proper ventilation and firefighting access are examples of improper installations.

4. Misusing Lithium-ion Batteries

Overcharging, discharging too quickly, or using incompatible chargers with lithium-ion batteries can lead to overheating, fires, and the release of toxic fumes.

5. Using Poor-Quality Batteries

Opting for substandard batteries can increase the risk of malfunctions, explosions, and environmental pollution due to inadequate safety features.

6. Neglecting Regular Maintenance

Failing to perform routine maintenance on any power devices, such as generators or battery systems, can result in decreased efficiency, higher energy consumption, and potential safety hazards.

7. Disregarding Environmental Impact

Selecting and implementing your energy projects without considering their potential environmental impact, such as habitat disruption or water pollution, can lead to unintended ecological consequences. This point is particularly important for commercial and industrial applications of renewable energy sources.

8. Incomplete Compliance with Safety Standards

Ignoring or neglecting safety standards and regulations during the installation and operation of alternative power systems can compromise the overall safety of the system. This can happen easily if you hire unqualified installation companies or attempt to do it yourself without the proper tools, knowledge, and qualifications.

9. Improper Waste Disposal

Inadequate disposal practices for end-of-life components, such as solar panels or batteries, can contribute to electronic waste and environmental pollution.

10. Inefficient Energy Storage Practices

Failing to optimize energy storage and retrieval processes in alternative power systems can lead to energy wastage and reduce the overall efficiency of the system.

Burning electrical cord - fire risk improper use of alternative power

What Are the Top Ten Dangerous and Illegal Misuses of Electricity?

If you do not have an electricity connection to Eskom, finding ways to get electricity can be difficult. This is the situation for some rural and informal settlements. Their situation can make it tempting to ignore safety protocols and to use dangerous methods to gain access to a connection. But South Africans with easy access to power sometimes also try to abuse the system. Sometimes, people in residential areas use illegal and also dangerous DIY hacks to get power without having to pay for it. These practices are perilous and have many negative effects.

1. Illegal Electricity Connections

Unauthorized connections to the electrical grid or neighbouring properties to access alternative power can lead to electrical overloads, fires, and pose a significant safety hazard.

2. Theft of Solar Panels

Theft of solar panels is a prevalent issue in South Africa. Stolen panels not only result in financial losses for owners but can also encourage dangerous practices by those involved in such illegal activities.

3. Unauthorized Battery Disposal

Improper disposal of lithium-ion batteries or other energy storage devices can lead to environmental contamination and health hazards due to the release of toxic chemicals.

4. Unregulated Installation Services

Hiring unqualified or unlicensed individuals to install alternative power systems may result in substandard installations, increasing the risk of fires, electrical malfunctions and personal injury.

5. Illegal Sale of Alternative Power Equipment

The black market for alternative power equipment may lead to the distribution of substandard or stolen components, posing safety risks and contributing to the proliferation of dangerous practices.

6. Unsafe DIY Installations

Individuals attempting to install alternative power systems without the necessary expertise may compromise safety standards, resulting in electrical hazards, fires, and damage to property.

7. Overloading Generators

Overloading diesel generators beyond their capacity to meet high energy demands can lead to overheating, breakdowns and fire hazards.

8. Unauthorized Modification of Devices

Tampering with power devices, such as modifying your panels or altering battery configurations, can lead to malfunctioning, fires, and increased safety risks.

9. Illegal Dumping of Electronic Waste

Discarding end-of-life components improperly, such as dumping panels or batteries, contributes to electronic waste pollution, impacting the environment and public health.

10. Bypassing Safety Regulations

Ignoring safety regulations, permits, and guidelines set by authorities when installing or using alternative power systems increases the risk of accidents, fires and electrical failures.

Burning house - improper use of alternative power

Solar Panel Safety

Solar panels, while promoting clean energy, can pose fire risks if not installed and maintained correctly. Professor Richard Walls, an expert in fire safety, advises that solar installations should be promoted with a focus on proper installation to ensure safety. Fires caused by rooftop solar panels can be challenging to extinguish, and access for firefighters may be hindered, emphasizing the need for quality control in installations.

It is essential to qualify the installation of solar panels and other alternative power sources to ensure that they meet the required safety standards. Additionally, regular maintenance and inspection of the solar panels and energy devices can help in preventing potential fire risks and ensuring public safety. In the event of a fire incident related to solar panels, firefighters should be equipped to handle the unique challenges posed by the renewable energy technologies.

Lithium-Ion Battery Safety

Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used in power solutions and can hold a charge or reignite days after suppression. PHD Powerhouse urges users to exercise caution when dealing with these batteries. Incorrect installations and poor-quality batteries can increase the risk of fires, explosions, or the release of toxic fumes. If there is a fire, it is important to move away from where the battery is and not to touch it.

It’s not a good idea to touch the contact points where the wire is connected to the battery at any time, since you can get shocked, with a large amount of energy coursing through you. If you need to use a battery to switch on necessary devices, it is important to use a compatible inverter and to store the battery in a safe, dry place. Regular maintenance and repair of inverters is important, and your supplier can replace your battery as soon as it starts showing signs of end-of-life.

Professional Installations and Compliance

To mitigate fire risks associated with these power sources, PHD Powerhouse aligns with the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association’s (SAPVIA) recommendation for professional, safe, and compliant installations.

As the demand for alternative power continues to rise, it is paramount for users to prioritize safety and adhere to guidelines provided by experts and authorities. PHD Powerhouse encourages responsible usage, professional installations, and compliance with safety standards to ensure a secure and efficient alternative power experience, free from fire risks.