Secure Operations: Key considerations for ensuring equipment quality and safety

By Shamim Siddiqui, Manager, Design & Engineering, Amplus Solar

Solar energy is no longer a pipe dream – it is an everyday solution for power generation. Photovoltaic (PV) systems are astonishingly simple, efficient and impressive. But at the heart of these solar installations are two simple but critical co­mponents: solar direct current (DC) cables and connectors. Solar DC cables are the lifeline of a PV system, carrying the generated DC power produced by solar panels to the inverter, which converts it into alternating current (AC) power that may be us­ed for direct consumption. So­lar DC cables, unlike AC power cables, ca­rry a co­nstant electric charge, posing distinct and serious safety problems. DC faults, for example, can cause arcs that are more persistent and difficult to extinguish than AC arcs. To securely address such concerns, the key is to use cables specifically developed for solar applications, which have greater heat resistance and insulating properties. These DC cables generally have insulation layers made of cross-linked polyolefins (XLPO), which are manufactured under conditions of high pressure and heat. Being halogen-free is among its most significant qualities, granting it the advantage of not emitting harmful gases when exposed to fire. Ad­ditionally, XLPO cables are ultraviolet (UV) and water-resistant, making it an ex­cellent choice for resisting degradation in harsh environments.

Although they may only account for 1-2 per cent of the overall plant cost, DC cables, which link modules to combiner boxes and inverters, have a considerable influence on the performance of the entire plant. The­re­fore, to enable optimal power output from a solar plant, ensuring the quality and proper size of these cables is essential. Similarly, it is important to properly source and size the AC cables that transfer solar energy from inverters to the grid. However, these cables are flexible and can be easily stripped, ne­ce­ssitating safe installation procedures, and good workmanship and material han­d­­ling at site. Reckless handling, wiggling on sharp edges and improper installation can cause serious damage to a PV plant as well as its human workforce. It is recommended to follow additional safety protocols and lay these cables in adequately s­i­zed conduits and cable trays sealed at bo­th ends, to seek protection from rodents, sh­arp obstacles and harsh environmental conditions and increase their life substantially.

While DC cables are the lifeline of a solar power system, connectors are the glue that holds everything together. Solar DC connectors enable strong, stable and secure electrical connections among various components. The importance of these co­nnectors in a PV system cannot be undermined. They are designed to be weatherproof and UV-resistant, providing reliable, long-life performance in the harsh outdoor environments typical for solar installations. Since DC arcs are severe and potentially fatal, it is critical to follow stringent safety protocols during workmanship at site to make safe and tight connections. Proper stripping of DC cables, using a specialised MC4 crimping tool to guarantee a strong electrical connection, and stopping the wire from coming out are essential to es­tablish a tight and secure crimp. Thereafter, it is important to screw the nut on to the connector to ensure a tight and waterproof seal. These safety procedures, carried out by skilled personnel, ensure the security and integrity of electrical connections. All essential and appropriate personal protective equipment must be used, which goes without saying.

The Y-connection is also used widely to connect two strings in parallel. It effectively combines the output of two or more strings in one, allowing for the connection of a greater number of panels while maintaining proper voltage and current levels. A major advantage of such an arrangement is the significant cost-saving in DC cables, circuit breakers, associated conduits, trays, or tr­en­ches and other balance of system ac­cessories. Proper installation further in­volves correctly matching cable and connector types, ensuring tight and secure connections, and employing proper cable management strategies to protect against environmental factors and prevent accidental disconnection. Solar cable technology is constantly evolving, with the major goals being to lower voltage dips, boost efficiency and save costs. In order to avoid voltage dips, wider cross-section cables are employed together with shorter cable lengths. Increased operating voltage is another area of attention, since it may also aid in reducing energy loss.

In conclusion, while solar panels and inverters often get the limelight in PV systems, the solar DC cables and connectors play a crucial role in ensuring the safe and efficient operation of these systems. Pr­oper attention should be paid to the quality and safety of such equipment as India pushes forward with its aspirations for solar power. They might only make up a small por­ti­on of the total cost, but they are crucial in maintaining optimal solar generation.