Solar's Been Taking a Beating Lately

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

There have been some spectacular flameouts in the land of solar cells lately.

Actually, there was one today. Couldn't have made a bigger splash if it tried as it fried.


Yes, you read that right. In the middle of a big swim meet with thousands of school kids and parents gathered in Australia under the roof of the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Center, that solar panel-encrusted roof lit off.

All the "carnival" attendees and staff had to hotfoot it out of the building.

A massive blaze plunged a swimming carnival into chaos with hundreds of school children forced to evacuate a busy aquatic centre. 

The solar panels on the roof of the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre in Homebush, western Sydney, went up in flames at about 12.30pm on Monday. 

Children who were attending a swimming carnival inside the facility were forced to evacuate the building in their swimmers. 

Thick plumes of smoke were seen coming out of the building as emergency services rushed to the scene.

Half a dozen NSW Fire and Rescue crews fought the blaze and three ambulance crews were also called to the venue. 

Emergency crews got there and found the fire was literally in the solar array itself.

..."Six appliances and 24 Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) firefighters responded to the incident in Shane Gould Avenue at 12.15pm after reports of black smoke issuing from the building.

"Upon investigation, crews found a working fire in the solar panels on the roof of the sporting facility."

Fire crews used a ladder platform to attack the flames and were able to get the blaze under control within about 45 minutes.

FRNSW confirmed that more than 2,500 people had to be evacuated during the incident.

...Multiple witnesses phoned Sydney's 2GB to report the incident, with one caller named Peter claiming "all the solar panels are going up on the roof".


Thank goodness they got there that quickly and that the number of people at the venue could be evacuated efficiently and safely. I've only seen reports of one injury so far. Kudos to all involved.

It's going to be really interesting to see what sparked that fire. Was it was a one-off or something that's going to require a wider investigation?

It also got me wondering if this is more common that we think. We all know the hazards associated with EV batteries - I mean, how many times have we discussed that here? 

Now, I could see where rooftop panels could make fighting a housefire difficult. As if firefighting wasn't already hazardous enough, fire departments have had to develop new approaches for knocking down blazes specifically because of the popularity of rooftop solar panels.

Fire scientists have also been doing some really interesting research into what happens to smoke leaving the roof of a building when it hits the solar panels attached to that roof.

What they've discovered is not good news for the folks IN the home or building. Believe or not, the pitch of your roof will determine if you have a few extra minutes to get the hell out.

Scientists from Japan and Canada have assessed wind-driven smoke dispersion in rooftop PV fires in a wind tunnel setup, using 1:15 small-scale building models of a prototype home in Quebec.

The dispersion of fire smoke from rooftops with PV raises significant safety concerns regarding residents’ exposure,” the group said. “Therefore, it is essential to investigate the phenomenon of smoke dispersion generated by rooftop PV fires, particularly through rooftop openings such as skylights.”

...“In comparing the results for various rooftop angles, the 15-degree rooftop angle is considered hazardous, while the 45-degree and 60-degree rooftop angles offer the highest level of safety for fire prevention,” the researchers explained. “For the 60-degree rooftop, residents have approximately 12 minutes to evacuate, while for other rooftops (less than 45 degrees), residents have only about four minutes.


These are all good points to factor in if you're considering purchasing panels and probably something that would never have normally crossed your mind.

...“Rooftop PV fires carry a higher risk than regular roof fires due to the relatively higher HRR and smoke dispersion,” the scientists concluded. “This indicates that when designing and selecting PV systems, the HRR value of the PV should be considered in terms of fire safety concerns.”

Thsee calculations most definitely should be added to your home safety plan if you already have panels installed.

But solar panels spontaneously combusting was not on my radar at all.

As of last fall, there were starting to be concerns in the U.K. as the number of fires attributed to the panels themselves began to climb.

The number of fires involving solar panels has soared after a boom in their use driven by energy bill rises, The Independent can reveal.

Data obtained under freedom of information rules show that there were six times the number of fires involving solar panels last year compared with 10 years ago.

The rate has increased sharply with 66 fires already recorded up until July this year compared with 63 for the whole of 2019, prompting concern from safety experts who are worried about a lack of regulation on who can install them.

Many of the problem panels seem to be first-generation installations, which makes sense. New, untested technology and unvetted and/or inexperienced installers.

...However, new data from 45 of the UK’s 52 fire authorities, suggests that the first wave of solar panels installed under the government’s Feed in Tariff (FiT) subsidies introduced in 2010, are increasingly at risk of catching fire.

The UK’s solar capacity shot up from 2010 to 2016 by a factor of 120 but tapered off in 2019 when the scheme was scrapped. There was a more gradual increase (10.5 per cent) in solar capacity from 2019 to 2022 but during the same period, the number of fires involving solar panels spiked by almost 50 per cent.

Safety experts say there was a “gold rush” to install solar panels when the FiT was introduced and that many of these installations may have not since been tested.


British authorities recommend familiarizing yourself with every facet of the process and using registered installers, among a boatload of other safety tips.

Good grief.

Here in the States, until today, I was unaware that someone you'd think would be on top of the issue far more than a housewife listening to the solar salesman at her door had had significant problems with rooftop solar panel fires.

Excuse me, say who again?

Amazon has made installing solar panels on rooftops a key part of its ESG strategy, but a series of events last year show how challenging greening up major facilities can be.

Between April 2020 and June 2021, solar panels on Amazon fulfillment center roofs caught fire or experienced electrical explosions at least six times. As a result, the company took all U.S. solar rooftops offline last year while it investigated the mishaps.

According to a CNBC report, Amazon hired a consultant to audit its rooftop solar systems in the U.S., Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East, and Africa. The study discovered several problems at various sites including mismatched module-to-module connectors, improper installation of connectors, poor wire management, and evidence of water intrusion in the inverters, CNBC reported.

Each fire reportedly cost the company an average of $2.7 million, which included third-party audits of rooftop solar systems, checks on how much electricity they were generating, and repairs for broken or faulty parts.

Last summer, one of the largest - if not the largest - pharmaceutical distribution centers in the country in Robbinsville, NJ had its rooftop array go up in flames.

Fortunately, again, no one was hurt, and the massive McKesson Corp. warehouse wasn't badly damaged.

Once I started digging, I ran into a any number of reports of both commercial and home rooftop solar panel fires. There's no shortage of examples.

The head of one solar company was calling for more industry regulation by February of this year. For something that could possibly destroy your home, your family, or take out a 350,000ft warehouse, it's astonishing to me it's so underregulated. I know the fly-by-night operators are a huge industry problem, but the safety side of it is inexcusable.


...Solar panel fires can be caused by improper installation or maintenance, arc faults and faulty wiring or from extreme weather events, such as hail or lightning, or as suspected in the case in Bristol – birds.

In the USA, one of the biggest issues has been arc faults. Higher voltages can be prone to arcing. It arises as there is DC power on the roof which, if there is leakage on a cable or connector, defaults to earth as it’s a constant current. However, improvements in the latest technology manufactured into the newest panels and micro inverters being produced, detect the heat output prior to attaining an arc. The current output is converted to a safer level that considerably reduces these risks.

It’s important to be up to date with these latest improvements in technologies as well as recent safety recommendations and regulations. New solar panels are also more resilient, offering an even greater reduction in fire risks. Understanding these products and their installation comes from experience of working in an evolving sector with experts who can recommend the most appropriate panels and systems for installation.

It’s vital to use reputable and registered PV installers and checks need to be carried out regularly.

And just because they're finally installed on the house, don't forget about them.

...Following installation, PV panels can so easily be neglected and left to deteriorate. With those systems come risks. We now need to raise this issue among those who may have installed their systems more than 10 years ago.

Ten years ago? People who were sold a bill of goods that their panels were golden for 25 years aren't going to want to hear that - especially when they're still paying the loan off.

But, then again, it's such a favored industry right now that regulation would strangle the progress the climate cult and NetZero devotees demand. Whatever disastrous drawbacks to implementation, Joe Biden won't be coming to make it right, even though he and his minions are the ones who've made all this possible. Forced the issue in so many cases.


So, what happens now that the boom times are drying up? Solar can't survive without government largesse, and - especially if Trump pulls off a win - what becomes of all the Green dreams and those aging panels on rooftops when the subsidies go bust?

President Joe Biden’s signature climate law unleashed a $16 billion flood of promised investments in solar manufacturing, as companies unveiled plans for factories across the US and raised hopes of eroding China’s green tech dominance.

But less than two years later, manufacturers have quietly shelved or slowed plans for at least four of those plants. High borrowing costs and record-low panel prices — the result of cheap imports pouring into the market — have made some projects uneconomical. The decisions underscore the limits of US government subsidies when it comes to wresting control of established clean energy supply chains from China.

...While Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act was seen as the first-ever US industrial policy for solar, it’s turned out to be a lopsided one, focusing some subsidies on panel-making at the final assembly stage of the supply chain instead of the start of it, where key components such as ingots and wafers are made. Companies can win advanced manufacturing tax credits to help pay for those upstream fabrication facilities, but under current Treasury Department guidance they don’t benefit from a separate subsidy meant to encourage domestic content in renewable power projects.

Solar manufacturers are lobbying the Biden administration to revise its initial guidance for claiming that domestic content tax incentive so it better encourages renewable power developers to use panels made with US-produced wafers and other subcomponents. Changes could come as soon as this week, according to people familiar with the matter.

This is a much more complicated and potentially dangerous subject than it seemed at first, isn't it?


It's amazing how everything Green touches turns brown in no time at all.

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