Recently in South Jersey, a fire decimated a deli cold storage facility as firefighters were held back from attacking the blaze from the roof. The fear that personal injury would be sustained spurned from the 7000 solar panels that had lined the rooftop and were producing electricity. As the building was destroyed by the fire, it leads one to wonder if this is just the fuel that solar skeptics need to enforce a more strict development of using solar panels on rooftops. However, this could also become a method in which developers could patent an automatic shutoff at the panel to prevent such injuries.
The Power of Light
When you place a small solar panel in your hands, you don’t realize the potential for injury that the device has because a few volts and less than .001 amps wouldn’t penetrate your skin. However, that same panel could be a part of a system that can lead to a lethal dose of electrocution if not respected. This is the cause for concern that prevented Ron Holt, the Delanco Fire Chief, from allowing his firefighters to do what they do best.
Innovative Design Welcome
The technology is there, if we want to improve upon the development of such. How difficult would it be to attach a “circuit breaker” of sorts built right into the panel to cut the power flow? Unlike traditional electrical systems, many solar arrays feed directly into the inverter before being distributed throughout a location from the break box. Since there was no way to shut off power produced from the panels along the roof directly, it became off limits to the firefighters – water is a superconductor of electricity which could charge forward injuring anyone within contact.
Shut it Down
Such a design for a circuit breaker built into panels would need to have a means to trip the cut-off switch. For large panels, it’s common to have several hundred watts of power fueling the structure. Would a shut off switch be practical to assemble per panel, or would this increase the cost even further to damage solar power’s reputation? As the situation within South Jersey is still relatively fresh, it’s only a matter of time before “nay-sayers” speak out against rooftop solar panels.
At the Panel
The reason why this circuit breaker needs to be attached to the panel itself is because of the amount of power that each one can deliver. If the shutoff point was inside the facility, the panels would still be producing power along the lines from the switch back to the panel itself. As panels are tied in to each other, a single weak point in the cabling could complete the circuit sending a great deal of electricity along the water.
Other Instances of Fire
New Jersey isn’t the only state experiencing complications when dealing with solar arrays. In Pennsylvania, the Owen J. Roberts High School experienced $50,000 in damages from a fire recently as well. Although the cause is still under investigation, it originated at the solar panels the school has installed above the cafeteria. While this could be just coincidence, it will only add to the argument of the dangers of harnessing the Sun’s light.
Will it Burn?
While there is a growing fear within communities about solar panels causing fires, it is still a rare occurrence. Some facilities generate a great amount of energy annually and have never experienced a problem of any kind. The Jersey fire wasn’t caused by the solar panels, but they did hinder the extinguishing of the blaze. Improper installation of electrical devices could cause wire shorts to create a fire, but you take the same risk when running a new power line from the breaker to a new socket.
There is no doubt that someone is working on a patent for an automatic shutoff valve that is cost efficient to make. The question is how much more will a panel cost in order to benefit from this feature? The answer depends on how detailed the shutoff switch is designed. It needs to be something that can be turned off remotely for shimmying on a roof during a fire may not be the most ideal situation. If a way to prevent personal injury during a fire cannot be feasibly obtained, panels could begin to see a great deal of negative flack by communities harming future advancements.
This post is contributed by Linda Bailey from housekeeping.org. She is a Texas-based writer who loves to write on the topics of housekeeping, green living, home décor, and more.