NEC 690.12 Rapid Shutdown – More on Conductor Length

Our first article NEC 690.12 Rapid Shutdown for String Inverters on Flat Roofs we explained the basics of implementing a rapid shutdown system using string inverters on a roof.  In that article, we gave a simple example of a single array.

What happens when there are two separate subarrays feeding the same inverter, or the subarrays are greater than 10′ apart?

The code doesn’t clearly state how to approach this scenario. In these types of situations, Pure Power looks at the philosophy of the code and what it is trying to achieve, and develops an interpretation consistent with the intent of the code.

Intent of the Code:

The intent of the rapid shutdown code section is to provide an area of work for emergency responders to safely move around and conduct operations on the roof without the risk of touching an energized conductor.

In the event of an emergency, the emergency responders can activate the rapid shutdown initiation device, then safely move around the roof knowing any areas within 10′ of an array may be energized, but as long as they remain greater than 10′ from a PV array, any solar AC & DC conductors they encounter will be de-energized.

There are a lot of differing opinions on how to interpret 690.12(1), which is the part  that is supposed to define the distances of the controlled conductors. Lets start by looking at the code’s language:

The Code

Requirements for controlled conductors shall apply only to PV system conductors of:

  1. more than 1.5 m (5 ft) in length inside a building or
  2. more than 3 m (10 ft) from a PV array

Here is our breakdown of these two items:

PV system conductors of more than 1.5 m (5 ft) in length inside a building

The first part of 690.12(1) defines the controlled conductor distance for conductors inside a building. This clearly states if you run the conductors in the building, any length of conductors over 5′ is a controlled conductor and subject to the rapid shutdown rules. Less than 5′ and it’s not. This part is pretty black and white. This is more common in residential systems, but usually not encountered on commercial scale flat roof systems.

PV system conductors of more than 3 m (10 ft) from a PV array

The second part of 690.12(1) defines the controlled conductor distance for conductors more than 3 m (10 ft) from a PV array. This part applies to a majority of flat roof systems.

The black and white interpretation of this part is that the conductors are not controlled conductors as long as they dont extend more than 10ft from a PV array. As such, we create a 10’ boundary around each subarray, as explained in our previous article NEC 690.12 Rapid Shutdown for String Inverters on Flat Roofs. Any conductors inside the 10′ boundary are not controlled conductors and not subject to the rapid shutdown rules.

What about larger systems with multiple subarrays, or multiple subarrays feeing the same string inverter, combiner box, or relay contactor?

Adjacent subarrays

A topic that often comes up with AHJs and other industry professionals is whether you can extend a conductor from one subarray’s 10’ zone into an adjacent array’s 10’ zone.  The code does not have any language stating the 10’ is from an individual array, but rather the general statement “from a PV array”.   So, from a black and white code perspective, the conductor won’t be a controlled conductor as long as its 10’ or less from a PV array (it doesn’t need to be a specific array). It would be nice if the code explicitly stated “any array” to avoid doubt, but we still take away the same meaning from a literal interpretation of the current language.

Here is an example of this scenario:

Rapid-Shutdown-Adjacent-Arrays

However, let’s look at this closer and make sure this black and white interpretation isn’t a loop hole that circumvents the intent of the code.  If an emergency responder knows any conductors more than 10’ from an array may be energized, they can stay 10’ away from each and every subarray or PV module and be safe. In the heat of the moment, they are not going to start tracing conduits to determine which subarray the conductors start and stop in.  How can an emergency responder know which subarray is the source of energization? The conductors may even be energized from both sides. There is no practical or reasonable way for an emergency responder to make that determination. Therefore, they must rely on the simple rule that any conductors within 10’ of any and all arrays will not be energized.  The source of the energization, or the routing of the conductors inside that space, is irrelevant with respect to the actions the emergency responder must take.  Therefore, running a conductor from one array’s 10′ zone into an adjacent and continuous 10′ zone is consistent with the intent of the code, consistent with the actions emergency responders need to take, and does not pose additional risk to the emergency responder.

Alternative interpretation – Length of conductors

Over the years, we’ve had discussions on other interpretations and implementation ideas for this article of the code. Some believe the 10’ boundary should be interpreted as conductor length. We disagree with this, because the code doesn’t say anything about length in part (2). More importantly the 10′ conductor length interpretation doesn’t provide a realistic benefit to the emergency responder. Responders need to react quickly and focus on the task at hand, not deciphering complex implementations of the rapid shutdown rule. They are not going to start measuring the lengths of conductors to see if the controlled conductor zone is actually 5’ or 8’ from the array, as it may vary from subarray to subarray.  The 10’ boundary is the worst case scenario and something responders can easily understand and react to without hesitation or distraction. As such, even if a conductor length interpretation was implemented on a system, the responders will still need to assume the 10’ zone is worst case and proceed accordingly.  Therefore, we believe the 10’ length of conductor interpretation should not be used.

Labeling

If solar professionals are confused on how to interpret the rapid shutdown code, I can only imagine how confused the non-technical emergency responders must feel. As such, Pure Power recommends that you add directions on the label.  A directory label is already required to be placed on the rapid shutdown initiation device per 690.12(4), but we believe you need do to more than just call out the name and location of the main disconnect switches. To ensure the safety of the emergency responders, be sure to include directions to this label that concisely explains how to use the rapid shutdown system.

Rapid-Shutdown-Label

I hope this clarifies things. If you have any comments or suggestions Id be happy to discuss them.

2014 NEC 705.12(D)(2) – A new 120% rule… and more

In a previous article “The 120% Rule Explained – 2011 NEC 705.12(D)(2)” we clarified the philosophy of the 120% rule for load (supply) side interconnections of solar PV systems. The 2011 code was clean, understandable, and easy to safely apply.

In the 2014 National Electric Code, 705.12(D)(2) was expanded to describe how to do a load side tap on feeders & buses. There are now 3 options for interconnecting at a bus bar.

2014 NEC changed for the better, but you may not even realize it since their language is so confusing. Below I will break down the 3 busbar options so you can easily understand when to apply each one.

 

Option A – 705.12(D)(2)(3)(a) – 100% of Bus Ampacity Rating

The (confusing) code:
The sum of 125% of the inverter(s) output circuit current and the rating of the overcurrent device protecting the busbar shall not exceed the ampacity of the busbar.
The simple equation:
2014NEC705.12(d)(2)(3)(a)

Summary:
Unlike the 2011 NEC where we used the inverter circuit breaker rating, now we use 125% of inverter FLA. This is a small twist that will help us add a few more amps of PV since this will usually be slightly lower because we don’t need to round up to the next size breaker.

This is similar to the 2011 NEC’s 120% rule, except more restrictive because they took away the 120% factor that was applied to the bus rating. If you use this option, there is no restriction on where the backfeed breakers are located.

 

Option B – 705.12(D)(2)(3)(b) – 120% of Bus Ampacity Rating

The code:
Where two sources, one a utility and the other an inverter, are located at opposite ends of a busbar that contains loads, the sum of 125% of the inverter(s) output circuit current and the rating of the overcurrent device protecting the busbar shall not exceed 120% of the ampacity of the busbar. The busbar shall be sized for the loads connected in accordance with Article 220. A permanent warning label shall be applied to the distribution equipment adjacent to the back fed breaker from the inverter that displays the following or equivalent wording: WARNING: INVERTER OUTPUT CONNECTION; DO NOT RELOCATE THIS OVERCURRENT DEVICE

The simple equation:
2014NEC705.12(d)(2)(3)(b)

Summary:
The left side of the equation is the same as Option A. The difference is the 120% factor applied to the bus bar. This will allow us to connect a larger PV system, and the only restriction is the interconnection must be at the opposite end of the bus as the utility service.

This is almost the same as the NEC 2011, the only difference being 125% of inverter FLA rather than breaker nameplate (which is 125% of inverter FLA but then rounded up).

 

Option C – 705.12(D)(2)(3)(c) – Sum of inverter and load OCPDs.

The code:
The sum of the ampere ratings of all overcurrent devices on panelboards, both load and supply devices, excluding the rating of the overcurrent device protecting the busbar, shall not exceed the ampacity of the busbar. Permanent warning labels shall be applied to the distribution equipment that displays the following or equivalent wording: WARNING: THIS EQUIPMENT FED BY MULTIPLE SOURCES. TOTAL RATING OF ALL OVERCURRENT DEVICES EXCLUDING MAIN SUPPLY OVERCURRENT DEVICE, SHALL NOT EXCEED AMPACITY OF BUSBAR.

 The simple equation:
2014NEC705.12(d)(2)(3)(c)Summary:

This usually won’t be used for the interconnection, since including the existing load breakers in the panelboard would likely overload the left side of the equation. However, you can use this for sizing your downstream solar AC collector panels and subpanels, which are often used in today’s string inverter systems.

Photo of the Month – January

Here is something that’s crazy, and yet we completely understand why they did it. Some evil genius put duct tape around the vents of a NEMA 3R transformer. If this transformer is heavily loaded it runs the risk of overheating, but at least snow cant drift under the vent hoods and cause a fault such as this one: Faulted transformer from snow drift .

Transformer1

Transformer2

I thought this was great, but technically I cant endorse doing this on any project we engineer.

For more info on selecting the correct enclosure rating for an outdoor dry type transformer, see our January 2016 post 480 to 208V transformers – Caution when mounting outdoors.

The 120% Rule Explained – 2011 NEC 705.12(D)(2)

Everyone knows about the 120% rule, but not everyone understands the situation it is trying to protect against. This article will explain Pure Power’s philosophy on the 120% rule.

The Code
In the 2011 National Electrical Code (NEC), the language in 705.12(D)(2) is straightforward:

“Bus or Conductor Rating. The sum of the ampere ratings of overcurrent devices in circuits supplying power to a busbar or conductor shall not exceed 120% of the rating of the busbar or conductor.

In the 2014 code, this one sentence has been revised to be several paragraphs long with different scenarios. However the philosophy holds true, and once you understand the philosophy of the simpler 2011 version of 705.12(D)(2) you will be able to understand NEC 2014’s more sophisticated version.

Example of a typical commercial facility electrical service equipment:
Below is a depiction of a typical commercial switchboard. It is very common for the sum of the branch circuit breakers to add up to more than the main circuit breaker. The engineer that originally designed the building and electrical system understood that the loads were intermittent, and very unlikely to be maxed out at the same time.
120 rule 1-Start

 

System without solar, under normal load:
This shows the system under a typical load. None of the branch breakers are pulling the full load, and the total current is less than the bus and main circuit breaker rating. Everything is perfectly fine in this scenario.
120 rule 2-Normal-Load

 

System without solar, under overload condition
If the branch breakers draw more current than the main breaker’s rating, the main will trip and protect the bus.

120 rule 3-Overload

 

System under overload condition with solar interconnected load-side.
The load breakers are drawing more current than the main breaker’s rating, however the main is not tripping to protect the bus. The solar is acting like a “backdoor”, allowing additional current to feed the loads. The loads are able to pull much more current than the bus is rated for, but the main breaker doesn’t “see” it. The bus will overload, overheat, and fail (possibly catastrophically). This is what the 120% rule is protecting against!
120 rule 4-Overload-with-PV

 

System under overload condition with solar interconnected line side (supply side)
How does a line (supply) side interconnection affect the overload scenario? Below is the example with the same load. Since the solar is on the line side of the main, it cant sneak anything past it to the distribution section. It doesn’t matter if the current is coming from the PV or the Utility, if it exceeds 800A the main breaker will trip to protect the bus. The main circuit breaker will continue to protect the switchboard just as it always has, nothing to worry about.
120 rule 5-Line-side

 

Conclusion
Real life examples are not always as cut and dry as the example above. You can have cold sequence metering, tapered buses, interconnecting at subpanels, etc, things can get very tricky. As long as you apply the philosophy above to the new language in NEC 2014, you can work through the problem and ensure a load side interconnection cant overload the bus.

Now Hiring: Solar Engineers

Pure Power is now accepting applications from experienced candidates for the position of Solar Project Engineer.

Job Description

Pure Power is seeking experienced engineers to design and create construction documents for commercial and utility scale solar PV systems. Join the team known for producing best looking, most value engineered and constructable drawings in the industry. You will be joining a culture of constant education, improvement, and teamwork. As a Pure Power engineer, you will challenge yourself every day to make each design and drawing set the best one yet .

Responsibilities

  • Design and engineer commercial PV solar systems between 50kW and 5MW in size.
  • Develop construction documents using AutoCAD.
  • Travel to project sites from time to time to gather site-specific data, as required.
  • Site assessment and analysis both from on-site data collection and network tools.
  • Contributing to or writing technical papers.
  • Site specific production analysis of PV arrays using existing industry models.
  • Develop specifications, collect data, and complete utility interconnection applications and building permit applications.
  • Develop detailed equipment specifications.
  • Coordinate activities between clients, utilities, permit agencies, contractors, and other engineering firms.
  • While most of this work will be carried out in Pure Power’s office in Hoboken NJ, some travel to sites will be expected.
  • Roof surveying using total stations and other professional land surveying equipment.
  • Integrating energy storage systems into the solar PV system.
  • Mentor and train new and junior engineering personnel.

Required Qualifications

  • 2+ years’ experience designing commercial solar PV systems.
  • 4+ years’ experience working with AutoCAD with an understanding of layer control, dimensioning and scaling, sheet sets, blocks, xrefs, line weights, plot files, and file transmission.
  • Highly knowledgeable about commercial and utility scale PV installations.
  • Ability to communicate among construction, technical and non-technical personnel, both internally and outside the company.
  • Detail oriented, thorough, with excellent planning, process, and project management skills.
  • Strong mathematical and quantitative skills.
  • Strong verbal and written communication skill.

Preferred Qualifications 

  • Experience in traditional building design with an MEP firm.
  • Medium Voltage engineering experience.
  • Experience designing energy storage systems
  • Land surveying experience.
  • Hands on experience commissioning, testing, and troubleshooting solar PV systems.
  • NABCEP certification.
  • BS in electrical engineering, structural engineering, construction management, or other related discipline.

Compensation and Benefits
We offer a competitive salary commensurate with experience.  We pay 100% of our employee benefits costs and offer healthcare plans, long-term and short-term disability, life insurance, dental, vision and 401K.

Location
Pure Power is in the exciting township of Hoboken, with plenty of public transportation options. We also provide a parking spot for those that wish to drive to the office.

Pure Power strives for a multicultural work environment; diversity is a core value. AA/EOE.

Please send your resume to careers@pure-ps.com

2 Important settings for Thermal (IR) Cameras

Thermal (IR) cameras are a great tool for preventative maintenance and inspection of your PV system. With a little thermography “know-how” and some image focusing, problems can be discovered quickly before they create a fault or safety hazard in the PV system. Below are issues that can lead to a system fault that the infrared camera can expose:

  • Hot spots near lugs from poor wire terminations and untorqued lugs.
  • Hot spots on modules- indicating damaged cells.
  • Excess heat on feeders created by unbalanced loads

No two sites are alike; therefore, we must calibrate our camera to site specific conditions. Below are two important settings that are often overlooked when using an infrared camera.

Emissivity
Emissivity is how well an object reflects radiation. Very reflective surfaces such as shiny metals have low emissivity. Absorbent surfaces such as rubber and electrical tape have a high emissivity value. Knowing this, the infrared camera will have to be calibrated when measuring bus bars and recalibrated when measuring insulated cable. Unfortunately, frequent recalibration is time consuming but very necessary to obtain accurate measurements. So how do we adjust and maintain two objects with different emissivity properties in one image- like a shiny aluminum mechanical lug and the XHHW jacketed feeder? You could take two different images with respective emissivity settings for each item or you could exploit your knowledge on emissivity and keep both items in one image. I will describe the procedure below, but first, it should be made known that this procedure incorporates contact with mechanical lugs and only qualified persons with de-energizing and system testing training should be performing this procedure:

  • Wire insulation has emissivity values of 0.95- equivalent to black electrical tape. Set the infrared camera emissivity level to 0.95 and apply black electrical tape onto the lug. Give the tape a few seconds to adjust to the temperature of the lug. This “surface” will now reflect both the temperature of the lug and also possess the emissivity properties of the wire insulation. Without the tape, the shiny surface would have registered much lower temperatures (due to low emissivity) and presented false results.
  • Safety first! Do not apply tape to any exposed components while the system is energized! Even though the system is off, always be mindful of line and load sides!
  • Here is a link of various materials and their respective emissivity levels, courtesy of Fluke. http://www.emlab.com/m/store/Fluke%20Thermal%20Camera%20Emissivity%20Values.pdf
    If you are using a model by Fluke or Flir, it’s likely the emissivity values are already programmed into the camera and you just have to select the proper one.

Background Temperature
Think of “background temperature” as “reflected temperature.” It is the infrared energy of our surroundings that is being reflected off the object that we are trying to measure. A real world example: Have you ever seen your IR reflection in the image? I tend to see this occur when capturing bus bar images in switchgear or panelboards. It also tends to be more dramatic on colder days when your body heat is much higher relative to the surface temperature of the measured object. This can cause false alarm when looking over the captured image as the alleged “hot spot,” which in actuality is a portion of your reflected body heat, is being registered by the camera lens. Be mindful of this concept. If you see a hot spot on your display, see if simply changing your position will fix this anomaly. If you find yourself in a small or cramped room and hot/cold background objects cannot be avoided from the image, you will have to calibrate your camera and use a curtain. The simplest way is to scan the room and note the average temperature. Adjust for this value in the background temperature settings. Then, place a “curtain” (I use a sheet of cardboard) between the background images and the camera- basically, right behind you. This will prevent any background heat from being reflected off the measured image and reaching the lens.
Thermal Background Temperature

Scary Photo of the Month – September

On this system, the installer stacked ballast so high that it shades the modules at noon of each day. Why would anyone use a hollow block for ballast?
Module interrow Shading

At the same site but on a different roof… There was ample space on the roof, but the installer placed the modules right up against the parapet wall where it would it would be heavily shaded in the afternoons year round.  Module Shading 2
Module shading 1

Scary Photo of the Month – August

We were called out to investigate a performance issue at a site, and were shocked to see this wire management. We suspect the AHJ made this contractor install physical protection after the strings were installed, which is why the contractor cut the PVC conduit in half, wrapped it around the wires, and zip-tied it back together. I don’t know how this could have passed inspection…

Wire-Management

However, the string wiring is still running unsecured on the roof. Ice and snow will lock up around the string wire and pull hard on the cables until something fails.

Wire-Management2

Wire-Management4

Even if you considered this adequate physical protection (of course its not), it’s not going to last long when it’s unsecured as shown by these photos here. In the rare instances where they used caddy blocks, they didn’t even secure the conduit so of course they started to fall off!

Wire-Management5

Wire-Management6

Wire-Management7

Scary Photo of the Month – May

I appreciate Shoal’s new arc fault technology as shown in this advertisement, however I was shocked to see the photo of a man standing on PV modules.

This is a reminder that you can not stand on solar PV modules like this if you expect them to last 25 years. Standing on the modules creates micro fractures on the cells that will lead to premature failure. If you were ever in a difficult situation where you needed to step on a module, at least be sure all your weight it applied to the frame and not on the module surface (but even that is risky).

standing-on-modules