SolarWorld to double check 1.5M PV panels

LIHUE — Oregon-based SolarWorld is recalling, or rechecking, about 1.5 million solar panels — including several on Kauai — due to the possibility of electric shock, electrocution or fire hazard.

Jeremy Menschel, a senior consultant at Islandwide Solar LLC in Lihue, estimated between 200 and 300 homes on Kauai have SolarWorld photovoltaic panels. Whether those panels have the improper ground lug, a potentially faulty part, is unclear.

“This is a major recall and the homeowners need to be aware,” Menschel wrote in an email.

SolarWorld said Thursday that solar panels installed with bare-copper grounding lugs can corrode, which may result in a faulty ground circuit and pose potential hazards. The improper lugs are brown in color.

The company says it is recalling about 1.3 million units in the U.S. and 210,000 in Canada. The units were sold by SolarWorld installers and distributors and other distribution companies from June 2011 to June 2014. They were priced between about $1,000 and $10,000, depending on the system’s size.

While there is no safety or quality issue regarding SolarWorld panels themselves, the wrong grounding lug could impair or eliminate the grounding circuit, the company says on its website.

“If the system then malfunctioned and energized the frame, an electrical shock, electrocution or a fire could potentially result,” it wrote.

To date, SolarWorld has received only one report of corrosion related to the bare copper lugs, and no injuries have been reported.

SolarWorld Spokesman Ben Santarris said the issue is that a third party manufacturer actually shipped two variants of the lugs. As a result of the recent findings, his company has proactively and voluntarily taken it upon itself to make sure all installations were properly done and inspected, he said.

Santarris could not confirm how many of the panels were installed on Kauai.

The systems included in the recall were installed after June 1, 2010. The installation instructions for SolarWorld systems sold after June 1, 2010, called for the use of GBL-4DB lugs for grounding. SolarWorld has revised the instructions to require tin-coated lugs, which are silver in color.

Menschel said Islandwide Solar installed SolarWorld panels on just two or three Kauai homes; however, it did not use the the bare-copper grounding lugs.

“I cannot stress enough how important this is,” Menschel said of homeowners contacting the company or its contractor to make sure their system is safe and up to date.

SolarWorld said consumers who can identify the improper lugs should contact SolarWorld for replacement. Those who can’t properly identify the lugs should have an authorized company agent inspect the installation and replace the lugs with tin-coated grounding lugs or an equally safe alternative for free.

Consumers can call SolarWorld toll-free at (877) 360-1787 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST, Monday through Friday. For more information on the recall, visit www.solarworld-usa.com/product-safety.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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