Making Solar Firefighting Safe

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As more stories come out about the dangers solar panels pose to firefighters, we take a moment to review the steps being taken to mitigate the dangers. The key is for all stakeholders to work together to find solutions.

 

Another story has come out about the dangers of solar for firefighters. Apparently, concerned firefighters in Los Angeles have been warning homeowners that solar panels on their roof may prevent fires from being put out. A CBS station in Los Angeles covering the story pointed to incidents like the one in which a warehouse fire burned for 29 hours because firefighters considered it too dangerous to tackle.

It’s true that solar panels can pose hazards when fighting fires. The main concern is the danger of electric shock from energized panels. Even if a system is turned off, the panels can keep generating power — not just from the sun but even from the fire itself.

 

However, as the CBS news story itself pointed out, there have been no such incidents in the LA area. And more important, there are ways to mitigate the risks.

 

Lest homeowners be dissuaded from going solar because of concerns over fires, it’s important to note that both the solar industry and fire departments are taking steps to deal with the issue. We thought this would be a good opportunity for a reminder of what’s being done:

 

  • Firefighters are now training for just this kind of situation. Fire departments around the country are working to educate their staff on how to deal with fires on buildings with solar systems.

  • Homeowners can post diagrams to notify firefighters where solar panel boxes are located. Placing standardized signage outside the home can help alert crews that there’s a solar installation.

  • Building codes and product standards are being developed to ensure the safety of firefighters.

  • As we reported last year, UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is working to ensure solar systems and fire-fighting procedures for them are as safe as possible, as well as training firefighters in safety measures.

 

The key, as UL noted, is for all stakeholders to work together to find solutions. Talking about solar panel dangers may sell local news, but it’s a misleading way to frame the issue.

 

Of course, firefighters should be kept as safe as possible. That doesn’t mean a homeowner (or a business) should not install solar. In light of all the benefits solar confers — cost savings, energy independence, and an improved environment, to name just a few — it seems worth finding a way to make it work for everyone.