Solar Isolators: Single or Double Pole?

The choice between a single or double pole isolator switch between a solar array and a charge controller in a solar power system depends on the system’s configuration, particularly the voltage type (DC) and grounding method. Here are the key considerations:

Single Pole Isolator Switch

  • Use: A single pole isolator switch disconnects only one conductor in the circuit. In a solar PV system, this would typically be the positive line.
  • Applicability: It’s often used in systems where the negative line is grounded. In such cases, disconnecting the positive line isolates the array.
  • Simplicity: It’s simpler and may be less expensive than a double pole switch.

Double Pole Isolator Switch

  • Use: A double pole isolator switch disconnects both the positive and negative conductors, completely isolating the solar array from the charge controller.
  • Applicability: This is particularly important in ungrounded systems or systems where both lines are active. It ensures complete isolation, which is safer for maintenance and troubleshooting.
  • Safety: Provides an extra level of safety, as it ensures no current can flow from the panels when isolated.

Factors to Consider

  1. System Design: The grounding configuration of your system is a key determinant. A single pole isolator may be sufficient if your system is designed with a grounded negative. However, a double pole isolator is advisable for ungrounded systems or where extra safety is desired.
  2. Regulations and Standards: Local electrical codes and standards may dictate the type of isolator required. Some jurisdictions might mandate double pole isolators for all solar installations.
  3. Voltage and Current Ratings: Ensure that the isolator switch is rated for DC voltage and current produced by your solar array.
  4. Manufacturer Recommendations: Check the recommendations from the manufacturer of your solar equipment. They might specify the type of isolator switch that is best suited for their products.
  5. Safety Considerations: A double pole isolator generally provides a higher level of safety, as it ensures complete disconnection of the solar array.

Ground Referenced vs. Floating Systems

  1. Ground Referenced Systems:
    • One line is grounded, limiting its voltage to zero.
    • Common in DC systems and North American AC systems.
    • Requires fewer breakers/fuses.
  2. Floating Systems:
    • Neither line is grounded.
    • Safer in theory, as there’s no direct path for electrical shock.
    • Needs careful management of breakers/fuses for safety.

Why Use Double Pole in Ungrounded (floating) Systems?

  • Safety in Shorts: If two shorts occur, a double pole system prevents excessive current in ungrounded wires, reducing fire risk.
  • Protection for Each Line: Each line (positive and negative) gets its own protection, safeguarding against overcurrent.

Practical Examples

  • AC Systems: In 240 VAC North American systems, each line (L1, L2) is 120 VAC to ground, requiring protection.
  • Floating Systems in Practice: Used in manufacturing and large ships for safety. Indicators like lamps can show grounding status.

Special Cases

  • Large Systems: In systems with varied loads (like large solar arrays or inverters), double pole breakers/fuses are essential for each cable pair.
  • Panel Fuses: In multi-panel setups, fuses in the positive lead can prevent overheating due to shorts.

Other Grounding Considerations

  • Grounding also plays a role in lightning protection, static discharge, cathodic protection, and more.
  • In some cases, like with multiple solar panels, additional fusing might be needed for safety.


In many cases, a double pole isolator is considered the safer option, as it ensures that both the positive and negative lines are disconnected, completely isolating the solar array.

Using a double pole breaker while you could use a single pole breaker doesn’t do any harm. So, if you are still in doubt, use a double pole isolator breaker.

When in doubt, it’s always best to consult with a solar energy professional or an electrician who is familiar with solar PV systems.

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