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Zurich white paper focuses on solar panel fire, structural risks


Risk managers need be aware of the variety of risks and challenges presented by the installation of photovoltaic solar panel systems on commercial buildings, Zurich North America said on Monday.

“Solar PV system use has increased three-fold over the last three years, which means more and more businesses need to understand the risks associated with them in order to help protect their property and business operations,” Mike Widdekind, Technical Director – Property for Zurich Services Corp., said in a statement. “We have developed the Photovoltaic Systems RiskTopics white paper specifically to provide detailed information to help our customers make necessary decisions about hazards associated with PV operations.”

According to the white paper, “RiskTopics: Photovoltaic Systems”, one of the primary risks associated with the installations is increased chance of fire.

“Most buildings possess some degree of electrical systems on their exterior surfaces that could fail and become a source of fire ignition,” the white paper states. “However, the installation or integration of a photovoltaic system onto or into buildings can significantly increase the number of potential ignition points, where conditions such as physical damage, thermal stress, or corrosion may lead to an electrical fault with ensuing fire.”

Moreover, fires on the roof are often outside the range of fire suppression systems and also present challenges to fire departments, which may opt to keep firefighters off the roof of a building with photovoltaics due to the risk of electrocution.

“As the fire service is guided to assume photovoltaic systems installed on or integrated into a building cannot be fully de-energized, it is reasonable and realistic for the fire service to take measures to avoid exposing their personnel to uncertain electrical hazards,” the white paper states.

Another source risk the white paper identifies is the structural loads a photovoltaic system can place on a building’s roof as snow that accumulates on solar panels melts. “The concern is that refreezing snow melt may develop into unexpected ice accumulations,” the whitepaper states. “The heavier ice accumulations may remain on the shaded roof for an extended period, allowing more time for the collection of an additional snow load that exceeds the structural design allowance, resulting in building collapse.”