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Solar panels and fire safety  Smart Choices Archive

Solar panels and fire safety

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As solar, or photovoltaic (PV), electricity generation has become common, more consumers are considering this technology. Something you may not have included in your list of points to ponder:

What happens in case of a fire? Do solar panels on the home’s roof have any impact on the ability for firefighters to fight a fire? The answer is a definite "yes."

Fire-related issues to be aware of:

  • With roof panels, there are several potential safety issues. First, the added weight of the panels could cause the roof to collapse earlier under fire conditions. Another hazard is the potential for the panels to slide off the roof as the fire burns. Roof-mounted panels also limit the ability for ventilating the fire; fighters must ventilate in other locations on the roof.
  • There is potential for electric shocks or electrocution from panels—wherever they may be located—even if it’s nighttime. That’s because the photo cells in the panels make electricity from any light, even moonlight, the light from the fire, or the firefighters’ portable work lights. If it’s light enough to see the panel cells, then it’s light enough for them to produce electricity. Covering the panels with a foam blanket won’t stop energy production; covering them with a tarp may work, if it’s thick enough (many are not). Firefighters are advised to never cut the panel or wires connecting them. Disconnecting the main disconnect to shut off power does disconnect the lines from there on, but beware that the lines feeding from the panel are still on and energized.
  • Firefighters are advised to never make contact with any part of solar panels while attempting to disable them.

Solar installation advice:

  • When installing solar panels, it’s crucial to have the project completed by a licensed electrician knowledgeable of solar installation.Tackling solar as a DIY project could lead to a fire.
  • Make sure your roof is structurally sound for handling the additional weight of the PV panels. This is good advice for day-to-day operations and is super critical in case of a house fire.
  • If you have the option to install the panels somewhere other than your roof, consider doing so. That’s because from a firefighter’s perspective, it’s safer for you, the integrity of your home, and for the firefighters, too,.For example, on farms, solar panels are often adjacent to animal housing. That is a safer option, as is subscribing to a community solar project, where the panels are away from your buildings.
  • Some PV systems have micro-inverters located on the panels. These devices will disconnect the power at the panel if the incoming power is shut off. This can reduce the risk of injury for firefighters as well as utility line workers from backfeed of electricity from the panels.

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