By: Adam Baker
We’ve been on our share of solar sites. Here’s how we keep safe during PV projects.
We here at Affinity Energy try to be as safe as possible, especially when working on utility-scale solar sites. Here are four main things we consider part of our PV safety philosophy.
PPE PV Safety
These are the pieces of personal protective equipment I recommend at any active construction site.
- Glasses: Protect your eyes from things flying through the air, things coming up off the ground, you never know what you’ll run into on a construction site.
- Hard hat: I consider the hard hat most important for me, because I’m a little more subject to scratches, bruises, and bumps on the top of my head. It’s a little more obvious when it happens to me.
- Leather gloves: Leather gloves give good insulation and protection from electrical shock. Not to mention good grip.
- Hearing protection: Solar sites have a lot of noise from construction equipment, like post driving machines that make a repetitive loud noise, which can definitely cause long-term hearing damage.
- High-visibility vest: Whether it’s yellow or orange, a high-vis vest makes it even more obvious to moving equipment operators when you’re walking around. It helps you not blend into the background. Once construction is complete, the high-vis vest is the one piece of equipment you can probably go without.
PV Safety: Medical Supplies
When I travel, whether I’m going to a construction site or not, I keep in my car one of the biggest first aid kits you’ve ever seen. It’s got all the equipment for a medical emergency that a person might run into a need for. I don’t know how to use each piece of equipment in my bag, but if I’m at a location where there is a medical emergency, if someone else is qualified, they can take whatever they need out of my bag.
- A sphygmomanometer (blood pressure)
- Prep kits for surgery
- Burn sheets
- Hand sanitizer
- Poison absorber
- Snake bite kit (lots of solar sites in the desert southwest have a problem with snakebites)
- CPR accessories
- Surgical supplies
I’d rather have it and not know how to use it, than not have it and wish I did.
Electrical Safety at a Solar Power Plant
Because electricity is invisible, it’s not obvious if it’s live. This in and of itself is a huge safety hazard.
One of my best tools is an AC/DC clamp on current meter that doubles as a voltage detector. If you’ve isolated an AC circuit, tripped the circuit breaker, and want to do some electrical work, when you hold my tool up to the outlet, it provides a red indication that shows if voltage is present. This gives you an easy, non-contact verification that something is safe to work on.
If it tells you voltage is there, you can be pretty confident it’s there. However, if it doesn’t give you an indication, I like to have a backup plan to double check. I use my electric meter with probes to contact into the circuit to verify if voltage is present.
There are aspects of working in a solar field where DC voltage will be present whether you want it or not…and tools like my clamp on meter that detect AC voltage, don’t detect DC voltage. I’ve seen people try to use an AC meter to check whether DC voltage is present at a site. That is NOT an effective method. You need a DC-specific meter switched over to check for DC voltage to ensure power is isolated or turned off at the point where you’re trying to work.
Arc Flash PV Safety
We have some training in arc flash work, though it’s not typically what we do on solar sites. If there is a piece of energized equipment where arc flash is a potential, we generally don’t go in those environments.
We do have a class 2 arc flash suit, face shield, hard hat, and balaclava that’s all rated for that type of work, so if we’re in an area with that potential, we’ll be suited up.
But generally speaking, 24 volts and lower is the type of instrumentation work we do on a day to day basis.
Adam Baker is Senior Sales Executive at Affinity Energy with responsibility for providing subject matter expertise in utility-scale solar plant controls, instrumentation, and data acquisition. With 23 years of experience in automation and control, Adam’s previous companies include Rockwell Automation (Allen-Bradley), First Solar, DEPCOM Power, and GE Fanuc Automation.
Adam was instrumental in the development and deployment of three of the largest PV solar power plants in the United States, including 550 MW Topaz Solar in California, 290 MW Agua Caliente Solar in Arizona, and 550 MW Desert Sunlight in the Mojave Desert.
After a 6-year stint in controls design and architecture for the PV solar market, Adam joined Affinity Energy in 2016 and returned to sales leadership, where he has spent most of his career. Adam has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, and has been active in environmental and good food movements for several years.