July 24, 2019
While solar power is one of the most promising energy production methods currently and for the foreseeable future, its sharp appearance and clean environmental benefits do not remove the potential hazards inherent to electricity. Where there is live electrical power and industrial construction, there is the possibility of accidents, malfunctions, and danger to the site itself, the surrounding area, and the people who manage and maintain the site. Through awareness and proper operation, however, these inherent risks can be minimized and, most likely, entirely avoided. Here are five key safety concerns to be aware of when managing a solar site.
1. Ensure the Site is Your Only Concern
The operation and maintenance of a solar site should not be your primary concern, it should be your only concern. If there is a breach in the perimeter, the site will be exposed to several negative external factors that could wreak havoc on the equipment. Further, due to the live electricity being generated, any vandals or large animals that manage to infiltrate the area could be seriously injured, potentially leading to extensive legal issues and expensive repairs to the site. The easiest way to avoid such complications is to be aware of the perimeter! Always check the surrounding barrier, fence or other boundary structure, for any damage and be sure to preemptively make fixes that may be needed.
2. Regularly Inspect and Maintain the Equipment
A site is only as efficient and well-functioning as the equipment upon it. If the equipment is poorly maintained the power production will suffer, but more importantly, the risk of serious safety concerns will increase dramatically. Whether it be damage to the panels themselves or compromised hardware, the complexity of solar sites demands an attentiveness and eye for detail. Safety concerns generally start as small, easy-to-overlook issues that blossom into full-fledged disasters, so a site manager must have expansive knowledge of how each piece of the site equipment is meant to function on its own and in conjunction with the other equipment. Any extensive damage can be extremely expensive to repair, but beyond the financial loss, there is the possibility of severe harm coming to workers and the site itself. Spills can pollute the land on which the solar site sits, damaged conduits can expose workers to shock, and the list goes on. In other words, be detail-oriented and catch potential problems before they become large-scale catastrophes.
3. Regulate the Site’s Integrity
Whenever nature is involved, there is bound to be both predictable change and unpredictable fluctuation – a site manager must be prepared to counteract both. Natural disasters come to mind, and can include windstorms, hail, and any other extreme occurrence in between. It is vital to have plans in place to both protect against the potential damage and to repair any damage that may result. More likely than disasters, however, is the predictable wear and tear of weather patterns on the earth and your equipment.
A main issue that a site manager will unavoidably deal with is erosion. The reason it is so important to be aware of erosion and preemptive in repairing impacted areas is its direct effect on the integrity of the site’s structures. As the foundation wears away, the racking and other equipment may shift, not only leading to a decrease in power production, but also to a risk of expensive damage to the equipment.
4. Keep Nature at Bay
Sometimes a perimeter barrier isn’t enough. Animals can burrow beneath it, climb over it, or simply fly into the site. Once they’re in, they can (and will) unwittingly cause unfathomable damage to the equipment. From gnawing through wires to roosting in crevices, the seemingly minor and easy-to-repair destruction quickly adds up into dangerous and expensive equipment malfunction. Hand-in-hand with the headaches animals can cause is the intrusion of vegetation.
Leafy plant life can interfere with the solar panels, leading to a decrease in productivity. More concerning than this, however, is the possible damage plants can inflict on equipment. Root systems can compromise the integrity of foundations, causing structures to shift or collapse. The growth of vines or trunks can become entangled with wires, causing them to be moved out of place or completely broken. A less obvious but equally as dangerous result of vegetation is that it compounds the previously mentioned animal issues. Plant life attracts animals, and animals damage solar sites.
Excess vegetation can also increase the likelihood of fire damage – whether caused by equipment malfunction or natural disaster. It’s critical for every site to ensure that any potential fire has little or no fuel (dry vegetation).
5. Lead by Example
Perhaps the biggest safety concern every solar site manager should know is that they are the key to the entire puzzle. The responsibility of managing such a site is immense – a lot rides on your shoulders – but if you are attentive, detail-oriented, and knowledgeable, the safety concerns on this list can be handled with efficiency. If, however, you find yourself going through the motions, the dangers associated with solar sites can quickly catch you offguard.
Remember, you lead by example. If you don’t take your job seriously, those working with you won’t either. It’s in those moments of being lax that issues tend to raise their ugly heads, so always be on top of operation, management, and maintenance!
There are always unforeseeable events that can wreak havoc on a solar site, which is why contingency plans should be in place, but for the most part, the safety concerns every solar site manager should know are every day preventable things. The greatest preventer of those concerns becoming realities is, simply put, the vigilance of the site manager. For more information on the safety concerns associated with solar sites, please reach out to the experts at World Wind & Solar. While the tips provided in this article may be a good start to ensuring the safety of your site and employees, no tool is greater than the expertise and experience of trained professionals.
With satisfied clients nationwide, World Wind & Solar can provide cost-effective service solutions no matter your location. Call us today for a free quote at 661-822-4877.
If you would like to learn more about WWS’s solar services, visit our Utility-Scale Solar Services page.