Solar panels save energy, but what about fire safety?: Editorial

Posted on May 13, 2014

For a second time in recent months, roof-mounted solar-energy panels have played a role in the severity of a big industrial building fire in South Jersey.

The ResinTech building in Berlin Township was rocked Thursday by a three-alarm fire and possible explosions. While the panels are not believed to have caused the incident, firefighters said that the installation atop the factory’s warehouse section remained electrified throughout efforts to fight the flames. The situation poses an electrocution risk when high-pressure water is trained on the roof, and may have contributed to the roof’s collapse.

“The solar panels, even though they’re on the roof, when they receive any light at all, they still generate power,” West Berlin Fire Department Public Information Officer William Duxes told

Just last September, the sprawling 300,000-square-foot Dietz & Watson deli meats warehouse in Delanco, Burlington County, also succumbed to a huge fire that fully destroyed the facility. The company still hasn’t committed to rebuilding at the site.

Again, in that fire, 7,000 solar panels that were installed on the roof in 2010 were cited by firefighters for causing access problems. Officials said this fire was sandwiched between indoor roof trusses and the solar panels outside.

While neither fire caused massive injury, last week’s blaze again raises questions about how safe it is to cover large expanses of flat-roof buildings with energy-collecting panels.

The National Fire Protection Association now runs webinars on precautions to fight fires in “green” buildings. Various bills have been introduced in our Legislature to put emblems on non-residential structures to warn firefighters when a photovoltaic system is present.

Warning labels will aid our first responders, but there also may be a need to revise some “best practices.” Is it best to leave big sections of a flat roof free of panels? Can the systems be angled more, as they often are in home use? Can the composition of panels be improved so the materials are less susceptible to high heat?

New Jersey is thought to be second only to California in the use of solar systems. It’s a positive development to cut manufacturing costs and rely less on fossil fuels. Safety, though, has to come first.

saveenergy – Bing News