Keeping Emergency Responders Safe When Rooftop Solar Panels Are Present

With the announcement by L’Oreal USA that the company will cover its Kentucky facility’s roof with 5,000 solar panels, some staff at the Energy and Environment Cabinet looked into how best to respond to an emergency such as a fire when the roof is covered with electricity generating equipment.

 At last count, of Kentucky’s estimated 800 distributed renewable energy systems about 98 percent are solar photovoltaic (PV), with many installed on rooftops.

 A multitude of housing and building codes and manufacturing standards ensure that rooftop solar is designed to be safe when installed. However, with the growing number of installations, the likelihood of an emergency (not associated with the solar PV system) occurring at one of these buildings with solar PV is increasing.

 An emergency responder may not immediately know that a solar PV system is installed so homeowners or facility staff should notify responders of the solar PV system when the responder arrives on site. The greatest hazard faced by responders at a site that has a solar PV system is electrical shock so homeowners and emergency responders should always treat the solar PV system as being electrically charged at all times. A building survey that would help identify the components of the solar PV system and determine if any have been damaged is also helpful.

The U.S. Department of Energy funded the development of a Rooftop Solar PV & Firefighter Safety fact sheet that details the different methods for mitigating responder risks during an emergency.

The San Jose Fire Department in California also has produced a video that explains how to recognize and safely operate around solar PV systems.

 In addition, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a global independent safety science company with more than a century of expertise innovating safety solutions, has designed an online awareness course to address specific concerns from the fire service community. Specifically, the course provides enhanced understanding of hazards to emergency responders posed by solar PV systems during suppression, ventilation, and overhaul.

Before an emergency occurs, it is in everyone’s best interest to be more aware and educated on the hazards posed by solar PV systems during an emergency event. Safety of our citizens and emergency responders is a primary goal of the Cabinet. Learning how to mitigate these hazards ensures everyone remains safe during an emergency.

 For more information, contact Kenya Stump at the Energy and Environment Cabinet at