Safety first

In its regular column this month, the MCS takes a look at solar PV installations fire safety

Over the past 12 – 18 months, the issues surrounding fire safety and solar PV installations has become a more prevalent topic of discussion for both the fire and rescue service industry and those in the renewable technology field. There are several reasons for this, with the main driving force being the increased number of solar PV installations since the launch of the Feed-In Tariff Scheme back in April 2010.

MCS and Kent Fire and Rescue Service recently undertook an awareness day with fire and rescue services from across the UK, to draw out and discuss some of the key issues experienced by fire crews when they are required to tackle fires, or other incidents, on buildings where solar PV panels have been fitted. The result of this awareness day is that this is a complex issue, as Fire and Rescue Service are often dealing with dynamic situations and must consider a number of factors which may impact of their method of response. It was felt that there is a strong need to develop national guidance with inputs from both industries, which could be used by both fire and rescue services crews and MCS installation companies. There has been a lack of scientific testing of the different scenarios involving PV panels and fire, which has meant that the methods or guidance for tackling incidents have not been fully documented amongst the relevant regulatory bodies in the UK.

It should be noted, however, that there is also a continuing, wider debate in the international standards arena. Discussions around updates to standards, and the process for developing new standards focussing on fire and renewable technologies is taking place. Whilst there are international standards available to some degree, and some testing has been completed in other countries such as Germany and the USA, questions have been raised as to whether it would be applicable to transfer this learning into the UK industry. Particularly in the case of incident response methods, German and US fire crews use different equipment which UK Fire and Rescue Services may not have access to.

MCS and the Fire and Rescue Services are currently working closely to begin to gather as much information on the safety issues associated with solar PV installation. This information gathering exercise and further knowledge sharing amongst the relevant bodies and stakeholders, in both arenas, will hopefully lead to the development of more comprehensive national guidance.