Q: Are solar hot water panels safer than solar electric panels?
A: No. While there is no risk of shock or electrocution from a solar hot water panel, solar hot water panels pose different hazards. In some configurations, water in the panels could be at city-level pressure. It would also be 150˚ to 180˚F or hotter. Breaking the plumbing in such situations could result in a firefighter getting scalded. There is also the risk of glass breakage and injury from sharp metal edges if the frames are damaged.
Q: Can solar panels support the weight of a firefighter?
A: “Solar shingles” can support the weight of a firefighter, but PV modules cannot. The glass of the modules will break. Do not step on or cut into PV panels during roof ventilation, especially during daylight. Find another place to ventilate if possible, or change your attack strategy.
Q: Can the water from a fire hose be sprayed directly at solar panels without damage to the panels?
A: It is questionable and depends on the force of the water involved. A safer approach would be to use a finer spray directed from an off-angle to the solar panel glass.
Q: Does activating the “Rapid Shutdown” system turn off the solar panels?
A: No. It simply moves the point at which the solar panels are disconnected closer to the array. On the other side of the Rapid Disconnect hardware, the solar panels will still be generating voltage and current if they are illuminated.
Q: How do I get more information?
A: You can sign up for our email list to receive updates on Solar PV events, trainings, legislative items, and more.
Q: How do we differentiate solar electric panels from solar hot water panels during a fire?
A: Solar hot water panels have plumbing attached to them. At least two pipes are needed - one for the incoming cool water, the other for the heated water to return to the storage tank. Solar electric systems have wires.
Q: If there is a solar electric system involved, will pulling the meter kill all power from the solar electric system?
A: No. The only thing it will stop is the electricity coming from the utility company. Although the inverter will not be operative, the solar panels will continue to generate voltage as long as they are illuminated. If a battery backup system is part of the solar electric system, removing the meter may activate it and cause some of the circuits in the structure to continue to be electrically “hot."
Q: Should I be concerned about ventilating in the vicinity of a PV array?
A: Yes. Wiring from PV arrays is required to be run sufficiently below the roof to provide a safe distance for ventilating. However, requiring it does not mean the installer followed the rules and that the wires in the attic are installed according to code. Wiring run below the roof deck is required by NEC Article 690 to have labels installed directly above the wiring on the roof-side of the deck. When fighting a fire, these markings may get burned away.
Q: What happens if the PV glass gets broken (or is already broken) during a fire or fire mitigation efforts?
A: If the incident occurs during the daytime or when the PV panels are illuminated, there is increased risk of electric shock if contact is made, or through water conductivity.
Q: What other hazards exist for firefighters when a fire is at a house equipped with solar panels ?
A: Shock, slip, trip, broken glass, hindered access for ventilating, sharp edges from aluminum frames, “chimney effect”, and the added weight on the roof.
Q: What toxins are released when solar panels burn?
A: Fumes from ethylene vinyl acetate, Kevlar®, Tedlar®, polyethylene, rubber, the polymer junction box, and - if hot enough - heavy metals such as cadmium, tellurium, copper, indium, selenium, gallium, arsenic, lead, silver, zinc, and aluminum. Effects are: Cadmium Telluride - a known carcinogen. Gallium Arsenide - highly toxic and carcinogenic. Phosphorus - highly toxic.