Per a conversation between pv magazine USA, and the National Fire Data Center, there is no information available on the number of fires from solar power systems, rooftop or ground. The group says, that they don’t have a code for it yet so they don’t track it, meaning these events end up in a very large “other” category. The National Fire Protection Association does have a solar photovoltaics safety related page.
I’ve got a feeling there are some who definitely don’t consider this an “other” type of event.
In 2013, a warehouse in Delanco, New Jersey burnt to the ground. While there were issues with water supply at the site, firefighters were also unsure how to act due to 7,000 solar panels on the roof. This event was part of the logic that led to today’s National Electric Code requirements for module level automatic shutdown requirements, to protect first responders against the risk of electricity flow even if main electrical switches to the site have been shut down.
The Japanese Consumer Safety Investigation Commission recently reported on 127 rooftop solar problems, “including fires”, that occurred over a ten year period ending in November of 2017. Of those, thirteen led to fires from a modules or cable, and seven of those spread to the roof – but all seven included modules directly attached to the structure (solar shingles?). As of October 2018, there were 2.4 million homes with rooftop solar in Japan.
Research by German group Fraunhofer ISE noted there were greater than 1.4 million solar power installations in the country. As of the date of publication, February 1, 2019, and going back 20 years, approximately 350 solar power systems – 0.006% per Fraunhofer – have caught fire. It was found that the solar system was at fault in 120 of those cases, with damage being severe in 75 cases – and complete building loss occurring in ten cases.
Considering the US has about 2 million solar systems installed, the data above is quite comparable.
National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) looked at global solar power related fire standards and – above image – noted the challenges to be dealt with.
Most research notes that the equipment failures are even rarer than the fires themselves. Tightening connections is the number one challenge as loose connections can lead to sparks flying, which set nearby items on fire.
This general idea aligned with analysis on energy storage fires in South Korea, who found that in 23 events all of them were related to installation and design versus equipment. As well, the Walmart vs Tesla event mostly talked about the quality of contract work versus hardware, though solar modules with hotspots were noted.
And though it wasn’t a rooftop system, we did recently had fire when a bird “flew into a pair of wires, creating an electric circuit and a shower of sparks” and setting 1,127 acre fire that caused $8-9 million in damage at a 250 MW solar power plant, temporarily shutting down 84% of the facility.
This content is protected by copyright and may not be reused. If you want to cooperate with us and would like to reuse some of our content, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for this article. From an engineering stand-point, we need good, accurate data on any and all types of “failures” around PV arrays. First, so that we can determine the most practical solutions to help solve the problems. Secondly, we need the solid data to combat statements such as “turbines cause cancer” or :kill all the birds”.
Fires on our rooftops are a big concern, both for the occupants as well as the first responders – we need to know that the likelihood of a fire is minimal and that the industry is addressing the safety issues as we speak.
@John Weaver, I noticed in the picture to the article, there seemed to be solar PV panels that had actually ignited and burned. Been doing this for a while now and have never come across a panel that actually, burned. Have found panels that work in the morning but not in the afternoon, when poor interconnect wiring became intermittent conductors with the addition of heat. You could actually see where the problem was by running your hand over and pressing down from the back of the panel. The voltage would ‘spike up’ when pressure made the contact once again.
Do you know what caused these solar PV panels to burn? Is this what happened to the 7 Walmart’s where the systems failed and had fires?
So although fires from solar panels are very rare (most experts agree that a solar panel system is no more of a fire-risk than any other type of electric equipment) rest assured the anti-solar trolls will use the picture you provided and headline to further malign our industry.
I agree we need better data and should always be cognizant of safety issues, but couldn’t you have had a more positive headline? Like “Fire From Solar Panels are Rare, But Data Needs Improvement”?
I understand why you wrote this article, but those of us in the solar industry have to fight misperceptions and scare tactics all the time. Many people do not read past the headline and your headline is perfect fodder for social media sharing by trolls who want to hurt our industry.
I don’t object to your article. It is very well written, but the headline and the photo you used screams “solar is unsafe”.
When I project developer select the cheapest tracking with no thought the cable management, that cost kids pushed on to the installation contractor. when the project developer then select the cheapest insulation contractor bidding the work, that’s a recipe for disaster. It is nice to see poor design being blamed alongside bad workmanship. A house needs a solid foundation. solar design is more than just seeing how many panels helioscope fits on a roof and doing a performance estimate then putting the project out to bid.
Beyond cable management (particularly, cable tray vs. conduit) commercial solar should pay more attention to two items: finding water under the array + loose concrete covering the roof. Both of these items are safety hazards and are not addressed in code at all.
We are in the Waltham MA. in the USA. A developer is trying to get a 4,000 panel, 1 MW solar field installed on 9 acres in Lexington MA. The field will be in Lexington with not one Lexington resident within miles of the project. However, the solar field will be right up against Waltham resident property lines. Not a single person is against the field going in, but it will not have NO fire protection because it’s next to a drinking water reservoir. The panels will be on a steeply sloped hill in a forestry area. To put the panels in the developer plans to cut down ~800 trees. The panels will be set 50 feet off homeowner’s property lines. If there is a fire there is only one narrow entrance in across the equivalent of a driveway. The responsibility to put out the fire is Lexington’s, but they must travel to and enter through Waltham. The firefighters can’t use foam because of possible reservoir contamination. The fire department response strategy will be to “Let it burn in Place”. This doesn’t seem like a good project or response strategy, but the project is likely to get approved anyway? Comments????
By submitting this form you agree to pv magazine using your data for the purposes of publishing your comment.
Your personal data will only be disclosed or otherwise transmitted to third parties for the purposes of spam filtering or if this is necessary for technical maintenance of the website. Any other transfer to third parties will not take place unless this is justified on the basis of applicable data protection regulations or if pv magazine is legally obliged to do so.
You may revoke this consent at any time with effect for the future, in which case your personal data will be deleted immediately. Otherwise, your data will be deleted if pv magazine has processed your request or the purpose of data storage is fulfilled.
Further information on data privacy can be found in our Data Protection Policy.