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Solar Power's Effects on Firefighting

Solar power is quickly climbing the ladder in the world of renewable energy. Solar panels have popped up on roofs and in fields all over the country and the world. They are a great tool to help people generate clean energy and lower their power bills, but this growing technology can pose new challenges for firefighters.

Solar power is energy that is harvested from the sun's rays. Solar power has been used throughout history in many different ways, including being used to dry clothing, meats, and other foods since people started to walk the earth. As time moved on, people have found ways to harvest and store the sun's energy and use it to power their offices, houses, garden lights, pool heating systems, and just about anything else. These solar power systems, also called photovoltaic (PV) systems, rely on the use of solar panels. Solar panels are made up of solar cells, and they are often seen on roofs, although they can also be set up on the ground. In some places, large arrays of solar panels are set up in a field to create what's known as a solar farm. Solar farms can be used to help an entire community lower its power bills by providing renewable energy to everyone.

  • Solar energy does not produce any carbon dioxide or other air pollutants.
  • According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, powering the average American household emits 10.97 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.
  • Proper placement of your solar energy system is imperative to harvesting the sun's energy efficiently.
  • It's estimated that 79% of American homes are good candidates for solar energy.
  • The federal government has incentivized the adoption of solar power systems using tax credits.
  • Some states have decided to work together to create solar farms in an effort to reduce their overall environmental impact.
  • In the summer months, when American homes receive more direct sunlight, people with solar panels may build up a stockpile of energy, which they can sell back to the power grid.
  • The sun's energy can be stored in batteries or in supercapacitors
  • While new solar technology is emerging daily, the two most common types of solar panels on the market right now are silicone and thin-film panels.
  • The expansion of solar power use is making its way into the vehicle market; solar-powered cars and even solar-powered fire trucks have been designed and created.

However, while solar power has many benefits, solar panels have increased the potential risks for firefighters. Rooftop solar panels add weight to the roof, and if a fire damages any of the support structures underneath, the weight of the panels can make a roof collapse more likely, making interior firefighting more hazardous. In addition, solar energy systems use batteries to store energy, often lithium batteries, and these can explode when heated, adding another element of danger in case of a fire. The most significant risk to firefighters posed by solar panels, however, is electrocution. One of the simplest ways to help reduce these potential threats to firefighter safety is to use ground-based solar panels instead of roof-mounted ones, as this does not add weight to your roof and keeps this power-generating apparatus grounded.

  • If a fire breaks out at a building with a solar energy system, turning off the PV system is an important first step. This would be the same as calling the local electric company to turn off the power, which also should still be done.
  • In 2014, rapid shutdown systems became a requirement for new solar installations. These systems allow emergency responders to shut off all parts of a PV system with one button, reducing the risk of electrocution. However, even when an RSS is in place, the solar power system does not stop generating electricity. It is still an electrocution risk by itself, even when the power can no longer stream through the system into the building.
  • Code requirements are updated as PV systems continue to improve in an effort to make the systems safer. It's important to always consult the latest building codes before installing a solar power system.
  • The risk of a PV system to a firefighter can be exacerbated by the type of home construction, as newer construction and materials can burn at a much more rapid pace.
  • Roof-mounted solar panels can also keep firefighters from venting the roof, which is frequently necessary to help the firefighters to put out the fire.
  • Solar shingles are a new alternative that may be a better choice from a fire safety standpoint, as the panels are smaller and do not add as much bulk to the roof; however, not all buildings can use this particular type of solar panel.
  • When calling 911 because of a fire, it's important to tell the operator that a PV system is present so the firefighters can form a responsive attack plan.