We recently exchanged insights with an industry friend on the subject of solar panels. In increasing numbers, companies are further monetizing their real estate assets by leasing warehouse roofs for the installation of solar panels. It is understandable; after all, this creative use of space can help a company achieve both financial and environmental stewardship goals.

 The stakes are high. If successful, this trend will likely spread. It’s therefore crucial to develop standards to make the process as smooth, effective, and as safe as possible. To that end, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Office of the State Fire Marshal, released a set of guidelines for the safe installation of solar panels. As always, the ultimate goal is to ensure safety and mitigate risk while preserving functionality and cost-effectiveness.

 Highlights of the report include:

  •  Labeling the System: One of the simplest guidelines is also one of the most important. All elements of the photovoltaic system must be clearly marked with readable, explicit, and weather-resistant communication. The report contains explicit instructions on how a system is to be marked, including the appropriate font, color, and size for the materials.
  • Providing Safe Access and Ventilation:Hindsight is 20/20, painful lessons are learned through incidents like the fire at the New Jersey Dietz & Watson warehouse. Firefighters were extremely limited in their ability to combat the blaze, partially due to the fully charged solar panels covering the roof of the building. To prevent this in the future, this report approached the spatial element with specific, measurable solutions. It suggests perimeters and pathways that not only allow firefighters to move freely on the surface, but also create ventilation should a fire occur. Specific requirements vary and depend on the type and construction of the roof.
  • Location of Wiring and Conductors:Many accidents can be avoided by simply paying attention to the placement of potential hazards. The California report makes explicit recommendations for the location of conduit, wiring systems, and raceways for photovoltaic circuits. Two of the main objectives of these guidelines are to limit the potential danger of cutting a live circuit and to eliminate, to the greatest extent possible, the hazard of simply tripping on a wire or conduit.

Benefits of Recognizing Hazards Early

Installing solar panels on the roofs of commercial and industrial buildings is a growing trend. It is important to recognize the inherent risks and make every reasonable effort to mitigate them. When it comes to these types of trends, the best way to minimize growing pains is to recognize the hazards before they happen. This report is a meaningful step toward making fire safety real, understandable, and important in the minds of those it affects most.

The Solar Photovoltaic Installation Guideline was also a triumph of collaboration. It was the collective effort of a task force made up of fire safety professionals and solar energy experts, ensuring that all voices were heard in this complicated, but vital process. For a complete copy of the report, please click here.