Fires in homes are generally caused by kitchen mishaps, heating system fires or electrical malfunctions. When it comes to rooftop solar fire safety, the solar industry’s track record is excellent — with only a few documented cases in which the solar system actually caused a fire (generally due to improper wiring or equipment malfunctions).
Unfortunately, when home fires do occur, rooftop solar panels can become an impediment to a firefighter’s ability to safely and quickly put out the fire. Firefighters must turn off the power to the rooftop system so that the panels are no longer energized; this is not always possible with high-voltage DC systems. In many cases, firefighters vent the roof so that smoke can escape and they can pour water on the source of the fire. With solar panels covering the roof, firefighter’s ability to vent the roof over the fire is limited.
Improving rooftop solar fire safety is being approached from two directions. First, new solar panel, racking and inverter standards are going into effect that will make solar equipment even safer. Second, new fire and building codes are being implemented that improve firefighter access to rooftops with solar. Unfortunately, these new standards are complicated and make equipment more expensive; and new firefighter access requirements significantly reduce available roof space for solar panels. It’s an issue that requires a compromise among firefighter safety, property damage and clean energy generation.
My guest on this week’s show is Matt Paiss, San Jose Fire Captain and Line Training Officer. Matt provides safety training for firefighters, particularly as it relates to rooftop solar power systems. He’s also very involved in the development of new UL standards and local fire safety codes. So please tune into this week’s Solar Energy Show for a firefighter’s perspective on the challenges and benefits of rooftop solar power systems.