2014 National Electrical Code (NEC) has come out, and this version holds a bit of solar intrigue even for those who are not involved with engineering or construction. In response to safety concerns for first responders, like firefighters, the 2014 NEC now requires solar energy systems to have a “Rapid Shutdown” function. In simple terms, the requirement carries three interesting implications:
- Rooftop systems will need design and technology adjustments.
- There is newly created demand for niche safety products from PV technology manufacturers.
- The requirements will add some minimal costs to rooftop systems.
Although the Rapid Shutdown implications may give some developers and financiers initial concerns, we believe the requirement is merited, as it has been well-considered and will pose overall benefits, including:
- As solar adoption increases, the safety measures enable the safe deployment of PV systems and provide a known safe zone of operation for emergency personal which allows for standard protocols (i.e. no more bad press about firefighters and solar energy systems).
- Rapid shutdown solutions are currently available, and can be implemented in a number of ways, ranging from simple disconnects at the array level, contact combiner boxes, micro-inverters, string inverters, or DC optimizer products. It is open to interpretation and ultimate guidance will be provided by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), as to what level of adherence will be mandated and the methods in which the Rapid Shutdown is achieved.
- The 2014 requirement (NEC 690.12) will not add significant costs to rooftop systems.
- It will encourage more streamlined design and permitting processes at an industry level.
- It will have time to play out. Some markets may not adopt NEC 2014 until 2017, and the timing of compliance will vary by state. (Full adoption will not occur until well past 2017, as technology and regulatory standards will simply need time to standardize through volume of installations.)
Interestingly, the NEC initially wanted to require the Rapid Shutdown function to occur at the module level, but the industry did not have the existing technology to do so. In the next set of NEC codes (2017), it is expected that the NEC will require a module level disconnecting function. But, when a module level shutdown is achieved, it will present a potential avenue for system efficiency gains, which could diminish or offset incremental costs.
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