Solar companies urged to tackle rising fire risk

The solar power industry has been told its needs to increase its risk management after a rise in the number of major solar farm fires in recent months.

Research by fire suppression technology provider Firetrace International, revealed the industry is potentially underestimating the threat of fire, has urged companies to rapidly address the issue.

The report, “Hidden Danger – why solar farm fire risk could be greater than you think,”, said the risks were particularly acute as cumulative installed PV capacity increased by approximately one quarter in 2021, with the number of fires increasing more quickly than growth of installations in some markets.

In Australia, while statistics from the Australian PV Institute show that, between 2018 and 2020, PV installations increased less than three-fold, data from Fire and Rescue New South Wales (NSW) reveals that the number of solar fires attended by firefighters in the same period rose six-fold.

Ross Paznokas, global business development manager – Clean Energy, Firetrace International, explained: “With the number of PV installations dramatically increasing around the world, taking these steps will be vital in reducing fire risk, which is why we launched our best-in-class fire suppression technology into the solar industry earlier this year.

“We’re drawing on our experience in the wind industry, where the technology has already been installed more than 23,000 times in turbines across the world, and are working hard to support the solar industry in understanding the causes of solar farm fires, and gaining confidence to share this data so that we can learn from fire events and establish best-practice.”

The report examined a study by the UK’s BRE National Solar Centre –entitled ‘Fire and Solar PV Systems – Investigations and Evidence’, which detailed an investigation into a total of 80 potential PV-related fire incidents that led to the finding that researchers “strongly suspected a degree of under-reporting, especially amongst solar farms and domestic thermal events that were resolved by a solar installer/maintenance engineer,” and how this lack of transparency could prevent the industry from establishing an accurate baseline to continuously improve best practice.

“By collecting and analysing the research and data that is available on solar farm fire incidents, the report aims to provide valuable information for owners and operators on the main risk factors and what actions can be taken to reduce those,” added Paznokas.
According to the report, studies indicate there are three root causes for photovoltaic fires:

  • Error in the design system
  • Faulty product
  • Poor installation practice

“The photovoltaic component that presents the greatest fire risk, according to the report, are DC isolators, which cause around a third of solar fire incidents,” said the report. “However, DC connectors and inverters can also pose significant risks.”
While it is difficult to completely eradicate instances of fire at solar farms, the report outlines a number of steps to minimize the risk including regular testing by independent third parties, incorporating additional safety components, such as fire suppression technology, and ensuring defective parts are replaced quickly.