13/04/2024
Solar power, photovoltaic or “PV” installations on roofs of businesses or large-scale sites – we’re seeing them more and more. But what we don't always realize is that it is extremely important for these PV systems to be installed properly. A mistake in an installation can cause an electric arc, electric shock or fire, with all its consequences. Chris Brandenburg, founder and owner of Brandenburg PV inspecties B.V., is a certified inspector who checks PV systems on a daily basis so that they meet the current standards and guidelines for safe installations. It is his mission to protect all rooftop PV installations as much as possible from all possible risks. He does this by offering inspection services, providing advice and sharing knowledge. "On a hot day I have no peace of mind. I worry about solar panels on all the roofs and hope there’s not a fire." Chris tells us more about the inspections he performs and shares his real-life experiences.

Starting as a repairman at a large inverter manufacturer, Chris quickly moved on to technical support. He then became an expert in the safety and commissioning of PV systems at various companies in the solar industry. "At one point I travelled all over Europe to commission large PV systems. I liked doing it 24 hours a day. I’m a real PV person!" Two years ago, as a graduate in electrical engineering and based on his knowledge and experience, Chris started his own company, Brandenburg PV Inspections.  His company focuses specifically on inspecting PV installations according to the Scope 12 guidelines. "When I started, there was an increasing need among insurers for PV plant inspection, or inspection was required for very large-scale PV plants. My first inspections were according to the NEN1010 guidelines, and since 2021 PV installations have had their own inspection: Scope 12."

Scope 12 is a standardised safety inspection specifically for PV plants. It is not built onto other inspections. This inspection is initiated by parties, insurers and inspectors from the market, as well as by others. The SCIOS foundation owns this quality system and also manages and develops 11 other Scopes within the sub-schemes Combustion Installations (Scope 1 to 7), Electrical Equipment (Scopes 8 to 10) and Explosion-proof Installations (Scope 11).

Chris’ inspection company is fully certified and authorised to perform Scope 12 inspections. "An independent inspection provides clarity and certainty about the safety, quality and economic efficiency of a PV installation. Our experience is that there’s an increasing need for an inspection of this nature, partly due to the increase in awareness of the risks of a fault in the installation," Chris explains.

 

"For us as Scope 12 inspectors, everything in a PV plant must be traceable and demonstrable"

 

An inspection by Brandenburg PV Inspecties consists of up to three parts: firstly, a construction inspection, secondly, a completion inspection (Scope 12/NEN1010), and thirdly, an additional thermographic examination. The building inspection is carried out during construction or around the time the project is completed. It pays particular attention to the method of construction on the roof before panels are installed. For instance, this includes mounting material, ballast, cable management, connectors, and adjustments. "Where necessary, we still have the chance to make adjustments in order to discover any errors early on and thus avoid unnecessary (repair) costs." Chris does not work alone. Together with four other Scope 12 inspectors, he performs independent inspections of project-based and large-scale PV installations.

 

Better PV installations, reduced (fire) risks
Chris started out in the early stages of PV plant inspection. "We were being asked whenever there was any doubt about an installation. Project developers wanted everything above one megawatt inspected. I developed a practical method on-site myself. In that sense, I have a head start in this field specifically for the PV market. For everything I see on a roof, I ask the question: Is it safe or not? This also includes a risk assessment. The installation might have to be taken offline because the fire risk is too high." Meanwhile, there is greater awareness of the consequence of errors in PV installations. Many problems can result in an electric arc, electric shock or fire. Chris explains: "If we look at all the cabling in a PV installation, those cables are like tentacles. A DC voltage runs through them and we shouldn’t underestimate this. Cables not properly attached will increase the risk of short circuits. With a DC installation, there’s a serious chance of an electric arc, and this creates a (fire) risk."

Mutual knowledge sharing leads to better PV installations

Chris has a clear mission: "Everyone involved needs to be aware that safety is a must."  That's why, in addition to Scope 12 inspections, he also conducts Scope 12 workshops. In three different modules, Chris teaches PV installers and inspectors how to install and maintain a PV system in accordance with Scope 12 guidelines. Knowledge sharing is the best way to create awareness. "As well as keeping my own knowledge up to date, I see that the installer also needs the right information to use materials properly. I can guide the installer through this process and I’m happy to be working with other experts in the market." Together with companies such as HellermannTyton, Klauke (via HK electric), Van Der Valk Solar Systems, PVX Multimount, ETEPRO, Stäubli, and Shesolar, Chris shares all the knowledge an installer needs so that the installer can excel in quality. "I do everything in my power to minimise risk in PV installations. And I’m not just sitting still. In order to remain SCIOS-certified, I’m expected to be up to date on the latest knowledge. Providing training courses and workshops allows me to do this. And I’m a board member of the Branch Association of SCIOS Certified Companies, which represents the interests of SCIOS certified inspectors and installers."

Interview met Chris Brandenburg
© HellermanTyton foto: Interview met Chris Brandenburg

Together with HellermannTyton, I look at specific cable management issues and identification in PV installations. Solar panels are subject to weather influences, such as extremely high or low temperatures, moisture penetration, mechanical stress and UV radiation. Take the cable tie for example. The range is huge, so it's possible that the installer doesn't always use the correct cable tie in the PV installation – with all the consequences. The joint goal is to help that installer implement a better PV installation. “That's how I discovered the hammer test,” Chris explains. “There are specific cable ties that have a high degree of UV resistance, and these are highly suitable for PV installations. To find out if a cable tie is UV resistant, knock it flat with a hammer and then hold a light source behind it. Is the cable tie translucent? Then it is not UV-resistant. It's a handy tip!”

 

"By working together and using each other's knowledge and experience, we achieve PV installations with less risk."

 

Furthermore, nothing is more annoying than not being able to trace the source of a problem when there’s a malfunction. Identification, and especially the correct use of identification, saves a lot of time and also ensures an installation that is safer and one with traceability. Chris gives an example: "We had a failure on a pitched roof with seven rows of solar panels. There was an installation plan, but it wasn't correct. That meant having to search for the failure by checking every panel. Together with my colleague, I spent a whole day trying to find the problem, which was not very convenient and involved unnecessary cost. In the end, it turned out that a bird had built a nice little nest in a looped cable and connector on one of the panels. Damage and moisture had caused the installation to fail. This again shows how important it is to periodically check the installation. A PV installation must also be properly maintained over the years. In accordance with Scope 12, this is done at least every five years."

 

"I also feel that contributing to this is my calling."

 

A bright future for PV installations
Chris welcomes any activity that improves the installation of PV systems in our country. "I also feel that contributing to this is my calling. It is estimated that just over 10 % of all roofs have solar panels. We’re still only in the early stages and of course we don't want the risks to increase. On the contrary, we want to be ahead of them. For example, as of 2023, a Scope 12 inspection will be mandatory for livestock buildings with solar panels. That's a great development, and one that will certainly apply to a number of installations in the long run. I also expect that it won't be long before there’s special certification for recognized PV installers". He offers good advice for both installation owners and installers: "Read up well and be informed. The goal is that installation owners choose the right investment for the long term and that installers are more aware of the risks and how they can achieve an installation with as little risk as possible. More importantly for both is that it is carried out by a SCIOS-certified company, and that the team is well informed and trained. If that’s the case, we’ll all have a bright future!"

 

Explanation SCIOS certification:

SCIOS certification is intended for installation and inspection companies that perform inspections, emission measurements and maintenance on technical installations, these being combustion installations, electrical equipment and explosion-proof installations. For PV-installations specifically, SCIOS Scope 12 inspection has been developed.

Solar farm
Brandenburg PV Inspecties B.V.

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