What line crew safety hazards do members create when installing DER tech without proper standards?

Distributed energy resources (DER) are easier than ever to obtain today via the web and with the enormous number of DIY kits, videos, and how-to’s out there. Unfortunately,  some folks risk installing these technologies without being aware of the danger posed to MTE employees. Solar panel kits, wind turbines and generators, to name a few, that are improperly installed can seriously injure linemen and other crew members, not to mention homeowners and residents. This is a growing problem.

Without proper installation and safety measures, members can unknowingly expose themselves to risks they may not have thought about. I get phone calls all the time from members who say their DER system isn’t “big enough” to push back voltage onto the grid. While that may be true most of the year, there is almost always going to be weeks, during spring and fall especially, that a  system generates more power than the home uses. As a result, it is pushed back on the grid. If the proper protective equipment—typically verified by Underwriter’s Laboratory--isn’t installed, electricity may back feed on the grid during an outage. This is a huge risk to people’s lives because  our transformers are not “smart.” They transform voltage up or down; and if your DER system is pushing back, that transformer can step it up to 14,000+ volts! We step it down from our line at 14,000 volts to 240 volts to safely enter your breaker panel and feed your loads. However, when a DER system pushes back on the grid and the correct protective equipment and installation standards haven’t been used, it could step up voltage and injure or even kill someone.

We strongly encourage our members to reach out when thinking about installing DER technology. We do have installation guidelines and best practices to share as well as our knowledge. Making sure your system can safely disconnect from the grid during an outage, use of proper equipment and obtaining permits and inspections are just the beginning of a successful and safe installation. Please feel free to reach out with any questions to tim.suddoth@mtemc.com.