Solar Safety for Firefighters: The Story That Won’t Die

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Despite attempts to ensure that solar is safe for firefighters, stories continue appearing that warn of the many risks posed by solar systems. That’s good timing for SolarEdge to showcase the inverter-embedded rapid shutdown functionality now available in all its inverters.

Last fall, we ran a story on the measures UL (Underwriters Laboratory) is taking to make solar safe for firefighters. With a combination of education, testing, and new technologies, UL is working diligently to make fires a non-issue for solar. 

But we continue to see stories about the dangers to firefighters. Of course we’re all concerned that those who protect us be kept as safe as possible. At the same time, fearmongering sells. So the stories keep coming.

 

In places like California and Arizona with hot, dry summers, this time of year is also fire season. So we’ve been seeing warnings popping up in local media about the dangers of solar. With solar systems becoming much more common, the issue has come onto the radar in a way it never was before.

 

What is the issue? There can be a few challenges for firefighters:

 

  • Having panels on the roof can mean there’s no clear path to cut a ventilation hole, and can increase the risk of tripping.

  • The extra weight of the panels on the roof can be a concern when sending firefighters into a structure, especially if it’s the attic or top floor. The added weight can cause the roof to lose integrity more quickly.

  • Even if a system can be turned off and the sun isn’t shining, the risk of electric shock remains an issue. That’s because solar panels can generate electricity from streetlights, floodlights, the firefighters’ flashlights — or even the fire itself.

  • Besides the obvious difficulty of spraying water onto a live, and possibly damaged, electrical circuit, the panels can prevent the water from reaching the roof. In some cases, firefighters have had to wait for a structure to partially collapse to get water around the panels and into the structure.

  • It can also take firefighters longer to cut through roofs with panels, which can be crucial for ventilating a structure.

 

What’s to be done? UL is hoping that increased education will help, and the solar industry is working to help develop codes and standards to ensure safety.

 

Technology can also help. SolarEdge Technologies, which makes power optimizers and PV inverters, announced recently that its new inverter-embedded rapid shutdown functionality is now available in all of its inverters. Moreover, this functionality is not just available in new installations but is even easily upgradable in existing installations.

 

The rapid shutdown function de-energizes PV source circuits from all sources to less than 30 Volts within 10 seconds. Since SolarEdge systems include power electronics at the module level that can shut off power coming from the roof, these systems are able to de-energize PV source circuits to the Rapid Shutdown specifications. No additional roof-mounted devices are required with SolarEdge.

 

SolarEdge will showcase the new inverter-embedded rapid shutdown functionality at Intersolar North America in booth number 8421.

 

With technological solutions like this, and further education, we should be able to keep firefighters safe.

 

Speaking of hot, dry places like Arizona, the Fort Mojave Mesa Fire Department recently installed a solar system of their own. That shows that at least some firefighters appreciate the benefits of solar and feel that they outweigh the risks.