Firefighting & Solar Panels: All You Need To Know

Home Firefighting & Solar Panels: All You Need To Know
Solar Panel Installation
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Solar panel installations have been on a rapid rise over the last few years. As a result, over the last ten years, the total electricity produced by solar energy has increased promptly. The quick rise of an emission-free energy source is beneficial for our planet in many ways. However, the growing use of solar panels presents specific new and severe concerns. 

Firefighter safety can be jeopardized by solar panels, with electrocution a genuine hazard. In case of any emergency, photovoltaic systems provide a challenge to firefighters’ ability to put out a fire quickly. Scroll down to learn about the danger of solar panels for firefighters. 

Why Is Solar Panel Firefighting An Issue?

Firefighting is naturally hazardous, and attempting to stop a fire in a building that has solar panels will add more dangers to the firefighters. Solar panels are becoming increasingly powerful, and the majority of them are built to resist huge hailstones and strong winds. This makes it harder for firefighters to use a common building fire fighting strategy: slashing a hole in the ceiling to release heat and smoke.

Furthermore, as new models frequently have sleek and nearly undetectable designs, firemen might not know if the building has solar panels until they reach the roof. Even when solar panels are dry, dust-repellent coatings can make them relatively slippery.

Another problem develops when the system is not directly incorporated into the roofing material, and a gap exists between the roof and the panels. It can be a primary issue if there is leaf build-up beneath the panel, which builds a combustible fuel source. 

When this happens, a single spark or even a huge one from a lightning hit can cause a small fire to develop more quickly and furiously. De-energizing the system is another primary challenging issue that firefighters might face. 

How To Ensure Safety During Solar Panel Firefighting?

When firefighters arrive at a house that is damaged by fire with solar panels connected to the power grid, there are two primary choices for shutting down the power to solar panels, both of which are quite fast. The first method is to switch off the inverter by flipping the button on the front panel. 

It constrains the panels to close in less than 10 seconds, which is relatively fast and explains the perks of inverters’ speedy shutdown. In addition to that, firefighters can also switch off the AC disconnect box as an extra precaution. 

Another way firefighters can stop the system is by completely turning off the electricity to the home or building. For that, they will have to clip the tag at the bottom of the metering can and open the panel to exclude the meter. The power to your home is turned off when they discard the meter.

Novices to solar may be perplexed as to why grid-tied solar panels have to be closed during power outages. The shutdown has to take place because when utility employees are called to fix downed lines, they cannot possess surplus energy produced by the panels still streaming back to the grid. If the panels fail to shut down, it might put those workers in a risky situation.

The conclusion for solar panels and firefighting safety is a quick rapid system shutdown, whether for unscheduled outages or a fire breakout. With this protection in place, firefighters would not need to worry about electrical safety when using water to extinguish solar-related fires.

Code And Regulations

Here are the codes and regulations related to solar panel installation, solar panel fire fight, and firefighter safety and emergency response for solar power systems: 

Building Codes

  • These regulations allow AHJs to follow a consistent and uniform framework for licenses, inspections, and charging procedures, all of which are performed to assure a building’s safety and stability.
  • Building codes can be of two categories based on the type of structure: the International Residential Code and the International Building Code.
  • The International Residential Codes apply to detached residences with one or two families, as well as buildings with no more than three floors. The International Building Code applies to structures that are larger in scale and are not covered by the Residential Code.

Fire Codes

  • The fire codes were created to help people optimize their solar PV potential while also guaranteeing that firefighters can safely conduct their jobs.
  • In order to protect and defend the public, these codes are in place to reduce the danger of fire-related problems. They are also designed to keep firefighters and other emergency personnel safe.
  • The International Fire Code (IFC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) are the standards in the United States which make up the fire codes.

Electrical Codes: 

  • Electrical codes were created to assure the protected design, installation, maintenance, and examination of solar PV system electrical gear.
  • The National Electric Code, also known as NFPA 70, includes these codes. There are two articles in the NEC dedicated entirely to solar PV systems.
  • Solar Electric Systems are covered in Article 690, and Interconnected Electrical Power Production Sources are covered in Article 705. These articles together will assure the electrical safety of solar PV system installation, process, and maintenance.

What To Do If There Is A Solar Panel Fire

We have listed step by step instructions to follow for solar panels and firefighter safety when there is a solar panel fire breakout:

  • Find ESS 

When there is a solar panel fire, the firefighters should walk around the complete area of the building to discover solar panels or energy storage systems (ESS). In general, based on the province and building codes, these systems will be installed outside, such as in a basement or a garage. 

Building rules around the country need a signboard to be stationed on the outside of the home, which acts as an indicator to know the location of the solar or battery system and where the system shut offs are fixed. Firefighters can find this warning board on the electrical utility box on the outside of the building.

  • Shut off all systems

Electricity to the residence is only separated once the primary breaker from the grid utility and the DC/AC detach from the solar and storage have been switched off, which will be done by the solar fire rescue team. 

As switching off only the main utility breaker will generate the residence’s backup battery, it is critical to switch off all of the systems to avoid an electric shock to the inside firefighters.

If the ESS is damaged by fire and firefighters have to get near that, immediate flame impingement can make the system degrade and perhaps induce thermal runaway. 

It is vital that firefighters air the space first if the battery is in a detained place and exposed to heat above 150 degrees F (internal or external). Firefighters can start to suppress the fire when the space has been thoroughly ventilated. After that, they can assess whether the ESS has to be separated or not. 

  • Ventilation strategies 

If the incident commander (IC) orders vertical ventilation to aid inside teams in their life-saving efforts, firefighters should be aware of two key points. First, based on the light source, solar panels can generate electricity at any time of day or night. At night, a 1000V array produced 800V and 340mA, according to a UL investigation. 

As solar panels can generate energy that passes via a conduit at any time of day or night, firemen should avoid cutting, damaging, or touching any component of the system. Second, if the conduit is disguised, firefighters should not cut a hole in the ceiling since it can easily expose them to electrocution. Staying away from the roof is the easiest and safest technique for firefighters.

  • Stop fire from a distance

If solar panels located on a house’s roof catch fire, firefighters should be aware that the solar panels’ backs are constructed of flammable material and can readily catch fire. They must also notice that a considerable amount of flames in or around the solar panels could indicate that the roof is also on fire, prompting the IC to order a protective operation.

Firefighters can safely put off the fire by using a straight spurt of water from a distance of at least 20 feet or a fog pattern from a distance of 5 feet. A solar panel or battery fire does not require foam to put off. In addition to that, tests have revealed that the most helpful tool is plain water to stop solar fire. 

  • Using the similar strategies to put off battery fire 

If a battery is on fire or is entangled in a building fire, be it in the side of the home, in a garage, or in the basement, firefighters can use the same fire flow techniques that they used to put off the solar panel fire. However, if the battery is in a tight location, firefighters have to air the space well. 

After that, they can reach it in full firefighting gear with SCBA, and begin spurting water from a distance of at least 20 feet in a straight stream. As the team moves forward, they can use the fog pattern to safely put off the fire from a distance of 5 feet. Firefighters have to move towards the battery from the side since the battery’s solid metal shell will divert the water stream away from the burning enclosures.

  • Perform overhaul for fire fighting solar panels

Following the extinguishment of a residential fire involving solar panels and batteries, firefighters have to exercise caution during the cleanup process. Due to the potential damage to solar panels and the cables that travel through the pipe to the charge controller or inverter, all the structure fires should be examined by a licensed electrician. Until this is completed, firefighters must not touch any component of the system.

After the battery is extinguished, firefighters can proceed to saturate it with water until it reaches ambient air temperature. They have to wear complete PPE and SCBA and should not touch the battery. In addition, firemen need to wait for a trained electrician to assess its state of charge and regulate its deportation from the building. 

The fire department should be bold and reach out to the solar and storage industries so that firefighters have a resource to call if a homeowner is not accessible on the site. The local electrical utility firms will only be able to assist with the connection to the residence from their utility lines. 

How To Prevent Solar Panel Fire?

Solar panel reconfiguration and fire fault detection algorithms are two types of preventive solutions for solar panel fire accidents. Reconfiguring PV modules has the benefit of decreasing hot spots and increasing power efficiency. Meanwhile, the fire fault detection method has the advantage of precisely detecting defective spots.

Technical criteria must be followed in order to limit the likelihood of PV fire mishaps. The UL 790 “Safety Standard for Roofing Material Fire Test” combustion and flame spread test must be passed by the PV module. In order to prevent fires caused by DC side faults, the inverter has to be constructed without fuses. 

PCB boards, inner inverter transformers, and other high-temperature internal components should be built of non-combustible or non-combustible materials. In addition to that, control equipment, junction box, and power distribution equipment should have non-combustible internal components. 

All wires must have a flame retardant coating and be composed of materials that emit little smoke and are low in toxicity. The fire-proof sealing regulations have to be applied to holes, like cord inlets and outlets of power distribution equipment in buildings, equipment inlet holes, junction boxes, cable trenches, and cable penetration holes. 

Key Takeaway

Prospects and first responders will be protected if PV systems are turned off in compliance with the National Electric Code. In addition to that, visible labeling in the home or building should specify which power cables are linked to the PV system and where the various components are located so that firefighters could quickly and easily access them. 

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