Bad guys are stealing all sorts of things. Perhaps, that’s why theyare called “bad guys.” One thing that has pretty fair value these daysis copper wire. Copper wire is worth 40¢ a foot these days and a typical solar panel system might have a few hundred dollars in wire right there for the taking. The interesting thing about taking the wire off of asolar house is that you won’t even notice that it’s gone.
Take it at night and the next morning the panels (if they left them) willsimply not fire up. They will just sit there and you will drawelectricity from the grid the same way that you did before you had solar panels. Unless you have a monitoring system like every SkyPower system, you might not even know for another month or two and that’s a lot oflot power in addition to the lost copper.
We’ve talked about stealing inverters in other blogs, so we’ll leavethat for another time. We’ve talked about what happens during a fire orother damage event, so that, too will be left to another blog. Frayed,eaten or weathered wires have also be discussed, but they are a veryreal threat over time. So what else could go wrong with the wires?
The ends of the solar panels have clips on them called MC4?s. Theseare designed to join in one way only and remain water tight. You can’tget them apart without a special tool once they are joined and they canonly be put together in the proper way … except …
Your panels are combined into strings or groups of six, seven … maybe even ten or twelve panels. In this way, the panels can collect enoughvoltage (up to 600volts) to power the inverter and drive the system.Panel one connects to panel two and then to panel three and so on. Eachconnects to the next with the MC4?s. What happens at the end of thestring? If your installer is an idiot, he cuts off the last MC4 andconnects the open end to a junction box of some sort. Doing this is both dangerous and voids the warranty, not to mention creates a situationwhere rain could short out your array and light your house on fire.Assuming that he doesn’t do that, he still needs to create a “tail” or a wire with an MC4 on one end and an open wire for connection on theother.
Think about this for a moment. One end of the string is 600voltspositive and one end is 600volts negative (Actually there is a totaldelta of 600volts so if one end is +600, the other is zero … but that’s a bit too technical. Let’s just understand that there is a massive anddeadly amount of power here.) So connecting them correctly is reallyimportant. If you have two strings, you could get 1,200volts if you doit the wrong way. Three gives you 1,800 and so on. Inverters blow upafter 600volts … all inverters. It’s a National Electric Code thing.Goof up this part of the project and you have a five thousand dollarpiece of junk … and you might burn down the house.
Another reason you don’t want the inverter on the outside of thehouse is that a bad guy with some electrical smarts could change yourwires easily enough and combine the strings at night when there is nopower and no danger. When the morning comes, bang! The system now triesto flow a gazillion volts through the inverter and you have a big flashand a good chance for a burned up house. On the less sinister side, they could simply disconnect some stuff and then offer repair services.
In all cases, be cautious around those wires and switch boxes. Thereis NOTHING in there that you can fix and without special high voltageprotective gear, so you don’t even want to open them. Put away thatscrewdriver … no really, put it down. “A fool with a tool” is a phrasewe use a lot in the solar world … don’t let that be you. Your familywon’t appreciate the coverage on the ten o’clock news.