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Energy Efficiency


Renewable Energy

November, 2010

PV module frame
AS/NZS 3000:2007
It is especially important that a PV module frame
earth (equipotential bond) is provided
when connected to NON-ISOLATED INVERTERS
[ non galvanically isolated or transformer-less ]

There can be an a.c. component on the d.c. supply.

This is capacitively coupled to the module frames
producing an a.c. voltage. While not likely to be
lethal, if not depleted by earthing, an electric shock
will be enough to cause a person to fall off the roof
e.g. the system owner, while cleaning modules.

If a fault develops in the PV array, the grid

voltage will be present this is likely to be lethal.
Earth wires must be run so that the removal
of one component (e.g. module) does not interrupt
the earthing of other parts of a system.
In other words daisy chaining earth
connections is not permitted.
Minimum recommended CSA - 4mm
The PV earth connection is direct to the earth link
not via the inverter earth connection.


5.1.2 Selection and installation requires that
earthing arrangements shall be selected and
installed to ...
(c) Mitigate voltage differences appearing
between exposed conductive parts of
equipment and extraneous conductive parts
through equipotential bonding arrangements.
5.6.1 General
Equipotential bonding is intended to minimize the
risks associated with the occurrence of voltage
differences between exposed conductive parts of
electrical equipment and extraneous conductive parts.
NOTE: Additional equipotential bonding
requirements apply for ...
(e) photovoltaic arrays,
in accordance with AS/NZS 5033 Size
(a) ...the equipotential bonding conductor required ...
shall have a cross-sectional area not less than 4mm.

Refer to the CEC GC Installation guideline.

PV String

GC Inverter

AC Switchboard

Issue 2 June, 2011


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Energy Efficiency

Renewable Energy

November, 2010

and Electrical Safety

Fuse may not

operate under fault

To start to address the issues it is first very

important to consider why earthing of exposed
metal of electrical equipment is mandated by
standards. Figures 1-3 show the basic principles
on which protection of personnel from shock is
provided by earthing exposed metal of electrical
equipment as required by standards.
C onducting frame

Conducting frame


Figure 3
Consequences if there is
a fault in equipment where the
frame is not earthed


Earth r eturn

Figure 1
Typical metal framed
electrical equipment

shows a piece of equipment correctly connected

under normal operating conditions with no faults.

shows a piece of equipment where the earth

connection to the frame as been left disconnected.
Under fault conditions the equipment frame may be
raised to a lethal voltage and the current flow will be
through the person.
This is a very dangerous
and potentially lethal arrangement.
What happens if the neutral connection to an
installation becomes disconnected or broken at
the point of attachment (POA) to a building ?
This is a serious situation and can lead to serious
safety issues in an installation
which are not specific to PV.

Conducting frame

Fuse will operate

under fault

Earth return

Figure 2
Typical metal framed
electrical equipment
connections with fault in
equipment to earth

shows the same piece of equipment if a fault to

frame occurs showing the path of the current flow.
Under these conditions no current flows through
the person because the frame is connected to earth
and the person is standing on earth so there is no
potential difference that would produce current
flow in the persons body.

Issue 2 June, 2011

If the neutral becomes interrupted at the POA and

the earth of the installation is not a very good return
conductor to adjacent earths and neutral connections
it can lead to a significant voltage present on the
earth/neutral link of the installation as that point is
connected to metal cases of electrical equipment
including toasters, washing machines and other
appliances. Under these conditions the metal cases
of those pieces of equipment can be raised to a
dangerous voltage with respect to the actual earth.
If a person comes into contact with, for example a
toaster, and also some earth point not connected to
the installations MEN point then they may receive a
To reduce the likelihood of this type of occurrence
the appliance standards require exposed metal of
electrical equipment to be earthed.

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Energy Efficiency

Renewable Energy

November, 2010

PV Module Frame Earthing

It has been suggested that PV modules should not
be earthed because if the neutral becomes detached
at the POA then the PV array frame may reach a
dangerous potential.
If you were to take this advice and not earth an
array because of the chance the frame could
become live, then you need to carry the thinking
through to the conclusion that earthing any metal
case is dangerous.
So we need to cut all earth wires to toasters,
washing machines, etc.
which would be a very DANGEROUS situation
if any fault developed in the appliance.
Currently PV systems with NON-ISOLATED
inverters are required by CEC to have module
frames earthed.
Refer to the CEC GC Installation guideline.

The module frames are no different to a toaster body

because the voltages on the module frames are the
grid voltage with a superimposed dc component due
to the solar.
The fault current available can be the full grid fault
The main issue is fundamental electrical safety
principles. There are also leakage currents to earth
but this is a secondary issue.
If you do not earth the frames and a fault develops in
the PV modules or wiring, then the frames can
become live with the grid voltage plus some
superimposed d.c. voltage depending on the type
and location of the fault.
This is the fundamental reason why frames are
required to be earthed and it is no different to the
safety earthing of a toaster.

The EL-042 Renewable Energy Systems

and EL-001 Wiring Rules committees support
the earthing of PV module frames for safety.

Issue 2 June, 2011

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