According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy solar power is more affordable, accessible, and prevalent in the United States than ever before.
The increased use of solar energy offers numerous benefits across the nation, including a clean energy source, economic growth, and job creation.
When photovoltaic (PV) power systems (solar panels) are under consideration for roof top installations, these systems on residential and commercial properties must be designed and installed so that firefighters have safe access to the roof.
Understanding the Issues
- Access. Flat solar panels on the roof may hinder the firefighters’ ability to provide vertical ventilation if the solar panels are not arranged per building code requirements. In a structure fire, smoke and gases rise. Cutting a hole in the roof allows these gases and smoke to rise out of the building. Solar panels located and spaced with pathways allow the fire fighters access to open roof areas to provide this ventilation as they fight the fire.
- DC and AC Circuits and Conduits. The solar panels continue to produce DC power as long as the sun is shining or even when bright lights are present, and the DC wiring in conduits from the PV panel arrays to the inverters will remain energized. The AC wiring in conduits from the inverters to the electrical distribution system will be de-energized by opening the main solar AC disconnect switch.
Addressing the Issues in Your System
- During the design phase, follow the guidelines in 2015 NFPA 1 Section 11.12 Photovoltaic Systems for Access, Main Disconnects, Circuit and Conduit Locations, Marking and Labelling; and in the National Electrical Code.
- Locate the solar panels with adequate space along edges, peaks and valleys, and pathways between the solar panel arrays for firefighters to gain access.
- Limit the physical size of the solar panel arrays to the dimensions as required in the code.
- Prominently locate and identify the Main System AC Disconnect Switch so that the disconnect may be readily accessible to d-energize the AC portion of the system.
- Locate conduits to avoid the pathways to reduce trip hazards and maintain open areas for ventilation.
- After installation, diagram your system as installed specifically identifying the location and purpose of all disconnects and equipment. Review and provide a copy to your local fire department for their reference.
- Label your systems clearly. The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires labeling to identify the system's operational characteristics, directs personnel to component locations, and acts as a reminder of PV systems on the premises.
Fire Fighter Safety and Response for Solar Power Systems
Today's emergency responders face unexpected challenges as new uses of alternative energy increase. These renewable power sources save on the use of conventional fuels such as petroleum and other fossil fuels, but they also introduce unfamiliar hazards that require new fire fighting strategies and procedures.