Another Road Incident Involving Solar Panels

Loose solar panels

This is something you don’t want to see come flying towards you on the road to wherever. It’s another case of improperly secured solar panels – but a different scenario.

On Wednesday, Queensland Police reported a ute towing a box trailer was heading south on the Gateway Motorway at Bracken Ridge (a northern suburb of Brisbane) that morning when two solar panels in the trailer came loose, were flung out and one hit a vehicle travelling behind it.

Police say the driver travelling behind the ute escaped injury, but judging by the video it looks like the front of the vehicle may have sustained some damage. This could have turned out a tragedy had that panel gone through the vehicle’s window, or if the driver over-steered into the barrier trying to avoid it. There are just so many things that could have gone incredibly wrong in this incident potentially resulting in multiple casualties. But while there were no physical injuries, the victim in this incident might experience lingering negative effects from his/her brush with death.

Police appealed for anyone who witnessed the incident or may have dashcam footage from the area at the time to contact them, but in a subsequent update noted the driver of the vehicle involved has been located. No further details were provided on the driver or circumstances.

And on a related note …

Caravan Solar Panels – A Reminder

This hasn’t been the only case of improperly secured solar panels coming loose on our roads – and the outcome in one incident cost lives.

In late December last year, video was released of a narrowly avoided wayward solar panel in an incident near Eastern Creek in Western Sydney. Earlier in the year, three people died and four were hospitalised after a driver lost control near Ross in Tasmania’s Midlands when reportedly trying to avoid a solar panel.

Unlike the Bracken Ridge incident on Wednesday that appears to be the result of an unsecured (or improperly secured) load in a trailer, the solar panels in both these instances came off the rooftops of caravans – and this led to revealing what could be a widespread problem.

The incident in Tasmania motivated a local camper trailer owner to check its rooftop solar panels. He was shocked to find the panel mounting brackets were only secured with adhesive, and with a little upward pressure he was able to break the seal. He advised owners of caravans with solar panels to inspect theirs and check to ensure the mounting brackets also have mechanical fixings – and if in doubt about the integrity of the installation, consult a specialist.

It’s quite likely the adhesive-only practice is still occurring given chatter on various forums supporting this approach and the number of ads out there still promoting solar panel mounting bracket solutions not requiring mechanical fixing.

Until this is addressed, we may see continued incidents and further tragedies – and there’s enough to watch out for on the roads as is.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Hi,

    RE: Caravan solar panel attachment.

    If the correct adhesive is used, with proper surface prepration, etc. (always make me think of Yul Brynner!), there is no need for mechanical fasteners.

    Wrong ashesive, poor prep, etc., probably will cause failure.

    dRdoS7

    • Adhesive!!!!! Missed it by that much!

    • But at the end of the day, are you prepared to stake your driver’s licence on it?

      Such events would incur fines (for not securing load) loss of points (for negligence), loss of licence, rejection of insurance, possibly manslaughter and worse case, jail time.

      I do question the suitability of general solar panels on moving objects. The vibration alone must do some microscopic damage to the cells. Will that be covered by warranty. I guess it wouldn’t matter it fell off and got damaged when it lands on the road. Warranty won’t cover that. Normal solar panels are designed to be fixed to buildings.

      Oh, by that rationale, why not just use adhesive on house roofs to fix solar panels? Oh, that’s right, you have to deal with wind forces. How is it then that is different to fixing solar panels to a caravan roof where it has to deal with lateral wind forces caused by nature and the air resistance caused by headwinds, plus road vibration? Hmmm, hmmm….. stands to reason that some mechanical fixing IS required on any object to prevent wind lift, whether it’s stationary or moving.

      You can argue as much as you like about adhesive only fixing. It falls flat because if it is so good, why is it not done on house roofs to fix solar panels and do away with expensive railings fixed to tiles and corrugated roofing? And houses don’t move!

      • Hi,

        Rails are used because it’s the cheapest/easiest/fastest method to mount panels on a corrugated, tile, or Cliplock type (which I can’t remember the name of) roof. Solar panels can then be installed on any age/condition roofing, no preperation required.

        Quality adhesives are used in many situations where mechanical methods can’t be used.

        You’re not Ronnie Chieng, so don’t compare apples to oranges.

        If you want to see how it’s done:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXhfOtO6U18

        In an ideal world, caravan builders would put structural members in place during manufacture.

        dRdoS7

        • No idea who Ronnie Chieng is, never heard of him, so pointless remark to make and could care less who he is… not going to bother googling him. Not relevant here.

          Here is an interesting blog by SolarQuotes…

          https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/install-solar-panels-metal-roof-without-leaks/

          Which happens to mention about Australian Standards and there is a specific one for PVs. So, I have access to Australian Standards and looked it up…

          Well, howdy dooody do…. there is a specific section about attaching PVs to vehicles!

          AS/NSZ 5033:2012
          (There is not one single word mentioned in the standard about adhesives. Clearly the omission of it must mean that it’s not allowed, otherwise it would have stated what type could be used).

          Section 2.2 deals with how PV modules are to be fixed. There is no mention of adhesives. Only frames and fasteners.

          More specifically, there is a specific subsection about mounting PVs to vehicles in the standard quoted here:-

          Section 2.2.8 (note this is an additional requirement on top of what is required for static structures such as buildings)

          2.2.8 Additional requirements for PV modules mounted on vehicles
          PV modules and/or arrays fitted to vehicles shall comply with all relevant national design rules for safety of vehicles.
          In particular, attention is drawn, but not limited to, the following:
          (a) When operating on a road, shall meet the vehicle dimensions and mass rule (i.e. not exceed height or width limits etc.).
          (b) When operating on a road, shall meet with the external projections rule (i.e. not project in such a position or be of such a protrusion as to be dangerous to other road users).
          (c) When operating on a road, shall meet the vehicle lighting rule (i.e. not be placed in such a position to obscure lights or reflectors).
          (d) Strength of attachment method and ability to withstand forces likely to be present on a vehicle under normal operation and under emergency braking conditions or in a collision or accident.

          The main ruling is that it must resist wind action which implies mechanical fixing. Adhesives is for putting stickers and decals on vehicles……nothing more or less.

          I don’t think PV mounting frames/rails on buildings are cheap.

          As I understand the AS ruling. It’s simple, PVs must be mechanically fixed to vehicles as it is for buildings.

          • Hi,

            Yes, a good find.

            But:

            ========================================================
            (d) Strength of attachment method and ability to withstand forces likely to be present on a vehicle under normal operation and under emergency braking conditions or in a collision or accident.

            implies mechanical fixing

            As I understand the AS ruling. It’s simple, PVs must be mechanically fixed to vehicles as it is for buildings.
            ========================================================

            I don’t see that mechanical fixing is mandated.

            Maybe you could post the relevant clause? See what the latest version of the AS/NZS 5033 says.

            dRdoS7

          • Yes, the general clause is 2.2 Mechanical Design (appropriately named)

            It’s too long to post.

            In summary, this section deals with the frames and fixing types (depending on roof material and substructure).

            But the key one refers to Wind clause 2.2.5. It is obvious in points a/b/c that it refers to mechanical fixings. Nothing about adhesives. Again, if AS allowed adhesives to be used, then it would have clearly stated that, since it’s not. It’s not allowed. Although this refers to buildings. attaching them to vehicles is an extension covered by clause 2.2.8 which additional requirements are stipulated.

            The very fact it mentions the embedment depth of the fixings into timber or minimum metal thickness are the key operative words here that mechanical fixing is required.

            2.2.5 Wind
            PV modules, PV module mounting frames, and the methods used for attaching PV modules to frames and frames to buildings or to the ground shall be designed to resist the ultimate wind actions. Attachments shall be appropriate for the importance level, classification and location, calculated in accordance with AS/NZS 1170.2. For applications beyond the limits
            of AS/NZS 1170.2, reference should be made to other publications or alternatively seek further advice, which may include wind tunnel testing.
            NOTE: Key issues to be considered include but are not limited to the following:
            (a) Fixing spacings appropriate to roof type and location on roof.
            (b) Minimum embedment depth (into timber) and the minimum sheet thickness (into steel).
            (c) Fastener specification (e.g. type or gauge).
            (d) Exclusion zones.
            (e) The maximum wind speed expected (or known) on site should be used, with due consideration to regular wind events (cyclones, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.).
            The PV array structure shall be secured in accordance with applicable building codes, regulations and standards.
            Wind force applied to the PV array may generate a significant load for associated building structures. This load should be included in the assessment of the capability of the building to withstand the resulting forces.

            ==========================================

            There are no ifs or buts about it, there’s just no way adhesives would be justified for fixing objects on vehicles that are subject to wind forces when stationary at a caravan park, let alone when it’s moving along high speed roads. Especially a lightweight object with a large surface area that lends itself to creating lift. (essentially, the basic operation of airplanes).

  2. Des Scahill says

    With older caravans, any adhesive may well have been applied some years ago, and exposed to all sorts of weather conditions esp heat when in use.

    If you’ve brought a second hand caravan, you’ve got no idea at all of how conscientious the previous owner has been about maintenance.

    One alternative to drilling holes in the roof or sides of your caravan so as to better secure any on-roof panels could be to use portable panels which you store inside the caravan., and pull out to charge caravan batteries as needed.

    Its not as convenient, but minimizes risk to yourself and others, and there’s lots of portable packages available. As well, being portable, you can maybe use the same gear to power or recharge other things eg. computers, hand-held devices etc etc.

    • Exactly, which is why portable solar panels were developed for that very reason.

      If caravan manufacturers wanted to accommodate solar panels, they would have made provisions for it, just like car manufacturers provision grooves/channels for roof racks to be fixed into.

      While we’re at it, lets remove the clunky safety chain from the tow bar, don’t need it. The tow ball fitting itself is enough to ensure the trailer/caravan stays hooked to the prime mover. Yeah right…..

  3. Hi,

    Key is reference is Building & Ground installation.

    I would be interested to read the Vehicle section mentioned.

    The caravan manufacturer puts solar panels on during production as standard equip., plus a second one as an option (not so when I bought one). AFAICT, they use the same fixing method I, and many others, have used. The roof is a single piece, sandwich construction, which can safely be walked on. I will contact them about solar panel fixing on existing caravans.

    BTW, a solar panel is not like an aeroplane wing. There is a lifting force, with a bit of turbulence due to the cavity caused by the framework under a panel, but there also must be a downward force. Also, there’ the force pushing on the side of the panel.

    I would imagine that if one started to lift, then there would be a massive force ripping it off the roof. I don’t know, and someone may be able to work it out. I’ve done a search but haven’t seenhwo to calculate what sort of forces are acting on the leading edge plus, lift & downforce, are actually applied. Actually the sideon force should be easy to calculate. The lift & downforce, I don’t know.

    As long as there is no factual information, people will be installing panel themselves. Probably will anyway, even if there is.

    I posted elsewhere that I installed 2 panels last year, One with Marineflex (by accident I picked up the wrong cartridge gun), the second with Armourflex (which I was supposed to use). That could have been a big mistake! I checked after I had done the first panel, but neither adhesive mentions not using on ABS, so I wasn’t concerned. After an earlier panel incident, I checked mine, and found one of the first panel’s 6 mounts looked like it was separating from the adhesive. It took some upward force, but it did come up further. Eventually I worked around the panel, and lifted it completely. The adhesive remained on the roof. I could not peel it back/up. I had to use a mechanical scraper to remove it. The second panel, has not separated from the adhesive. I have put a large crowbar, with a sheet of ply on the roof for protection, and am not able to lift the panel. Not very scientific, but only test method available.

    dRdoS7

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