Materials developed at Sandia help extinguish solar panel fires before they ignite

December 22, 2020 10:29 pm Published by

As solar panels become popular and their voltages increase, there is a need to have built-in capabilities to extinguish fires caused by arc-faults, which are high-power discharges of electricity that can create explosions or flash events due to damaged wires.

Sandia National Laboratories researcher Kenny Armijo has spent 10 years working alongside other researchers at the labs and local company Guardian Sensors Inc. to understand and characterize these hazardous arc-faults. Their work led to development of electrical in-line connectors that automatically predict and prevent photovoltaic arc-faults before they can ignite electrical fires.

“As solar panels become more efficient, they’re able to produce more power,” said Armijo. “More power means that they’re going to have higher current and higher voltage levels. As you increase the current and voltage levels in next-generation solar panels, it becomes a bit more dangerous because as you increase the voltage, you get a higher propensity for arc-faults. This new self-extinguishing mechanism could solve that problem.”

The in-line connector developed by Guardian Sensors — about an inch long and the diameter of a dime — contains a metal spring covered in a special type of self-extinguishing polymer material developed and tested at Sandia over the last five years. Like current connectors, the self-extinguishing mechanisms would link a series of solar panels like a string of Christmas lights that could operate together in a field or on a roof.

Read the complete news release about the development of electrical in-line connectors that automatically predict and prevent photovoltaic arc-faults before they can ignite electrical fires. Learn more about Sandia’s 40+ years of photovoltaic R&D.

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