The SolarKal Quarterly 1Q23: Solar Fires – Shining Light on a Burning Topic

Quarterly Report




David Wei


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Early last year, fires involving solar panels at Amazon and other businesses across the country were front and center – we saw several headlines that raised the specter of fire risk.  

This is a key issue for rooftop solar projects, and for this edition of the Quarterly, we wanted to dive into fire risks to better understand the rates and causes, with help from two of our marketplace’s solar installers.

How often do fires happen?

Solar PV systems do not present a greater fire risk than other electrical systems.  Extensive electrical reviews and fire safety regulations in the US ensure the safety of the systems, but like all electrical equipment, there is a risk, albeit a very low one, that they can cause fires.  

There’s not much data on commercial and industrial solar panel fires in the U.S. but a report from 2021 examined the 2 million solar systems in Germany and found 350 instances of solar systems catching fire in the last 20 years.  Of those 350, 120 found the system to be at fault.  

That’s an at fault incident rate of 0.006% over 20 years.  

Another report noted that the US Fire Administration recorded 155 fires between 2015 and 2018, or about 40 per year and an 0.002% incident rate per year amongst the US’s 2 million systems.  

To put that in perspective, at a 0.002% incident rate, your at home heating equipment is more likely to cause a fire.   

Still, how can fires be avoided?

Per the DoE, the leading causes of solar fires are design flaws, component defects, and faulty installation.  It is essential to work with a well-vetted supplier with an expansive and exemplary track record to construct your solar system.  

One of SolarKal’s solar partners, Jacob Sussman at Evergreen Energy, notes that fires happen when “a surge of electricity with too much power flowing through the system burns the wires.  Poor installation is the cause and the design was insufficient.”  

In truth, the hard work in mitigating fire risk is done well before installation through multiple fire safety and electrical reviews that are mandatory for all commercial and industrial solar systems. These electrical codes have been greatly enhanced in the last couple of years to lower the chances of fire further.

Systems are designed with strong safeguards, adhering to best practices like National Electric Code requirements, which includes the installation of a rapid-shutdown disconnect switch on the outside of the building that is easily accessible to the Fire Department.  This allows firefighters to power down a solar system during a fire event and safely enter the building and control the fire and is all part of the relentless process improvements in solar safety. 

Another SolarKal installer, Rick Schrack of Advanced Solar Products, suggests “the number one thing owners should do is to properly maintain roof drains and make sure that roof drains operate as intended.”  The logic is that clear drains stop water from pooling and helps keep roofs clear, which can reduce electrical discharge risk.  

What should I look for in my solar installer?

Tracking the record and service of a solar installer is key. It is imperative to thoroughly vet and interview potential installers to get an accurate assessment of their fire safety record and to work with a vendor that stands behind their work. 

Schrack of Advanced states, “We’ve been in business since 1991, and we have yet to have a fire event – it’s the quality of the workmanship – we have a full staff of engineers and trustworthy subcontractors.  We’re going to install things to spec and not allow [fires] to happen.”  

Communication with and approval from the right stakeholders is also crucial.  Sussman of Evergreen notes, “we have good communication with township officials and work closely with fire chiefs to ensure best practices for fire safety.  Better safety practices across the board is a win for everyone.”

Warranties are also a major asset for owners.  Our clients often benefit from 5-year bumper-to-bumper warranties from our partners, like Advanced Solar Products and Evergreen Energy, that provide peace of mind – especially as the majority of fire incidents occur during the first year of operation.  If, in the unlikely chance your system causes a fire, having such a warranty covers damages to the system and to the building itself. 

Who handles the due diligence?

SolarKal handles all of the due diligence for you, assuring that your commercial and industrial solar panels are reliable and secure. SolarKal’s marketplace is specifically designed with installer quality in mind, and our nearly 200 vendors are rigorously vetted for process, record, and quality.  SolarKal conducts detailed interviews, gathers 140 different data points from each vendor ranging from safety to # of MW installed, and performs reference checks as part of the qualification process necessary to gain access to our marketplace. 

SolarKal leverages this marketplace to provide its clients with a comprehensive solar-as-a-service suite that ranges from portfolio management, to direct apples-to-apples analysis of technical details including workmanship and equipment warranties, to contract and liability negotiations.

Have any additional questions about fire safety or other risks associated with solar?  If so, please reach out to an advisor

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