Next week GT Research and the Solar Energy Industry will release their U.S. Solar Market Insight report indicating that the U.S. solar market experienced its biggest year with a 95 percent increase in megawatts installed, year over year. Solar was the No. 1 source of new electricity in 2016, accounting for 39 percent of the new additions.
The exponential growth of photovoltaics (PV) is not without concern, particularly as it relates to fires and firefighter safety. Upon arrival at a fire incident, the fire department typically cuts power to a building. Solar panels are required to feature shut-offs but in an emergency situation, it may not always be possible for firefighters to hit the switch. And of course, there is a good chance, day or night, that the units will still be energized. The constant state of electricity leaves firefighters at risk for electrocution. The weight of solar panels on a roof that needs to be vented is also a big concern. Fire departments usually attack fire from inside, but if they cannot vertically vent the roof above a fire due to solar panel placement, they will have to revisit their tactics and tackle it from the outside. If they attempt to fight the fire on the roof, they contend with the possibility of tripping over panels, or a roof collapse. NFPA Journal® covered these concerns and more in the article, Perfect Storm.
Last month, the Madison, Illinois Fire Department installed 236 solar panels at their station. They received nearly $270,000 in grant money to save money on their electrical bill. Additionally, the PV installation provides a great opportunity for local fire officials to deliver hands-on first responder training to Madison firefighters and other departments in the region. The station utilized several different solar panel types so that firefighters could get a broad understanding of products and hazards.
NFPA has great PV resources. Visit the PV systems landing page to learn more about the five NFPA codes that reference photovoltaics, research reports, articles, podcasts, international efforts, and other tools in one convenient location.