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Are you afraid of Christmas trees? Interesting facts about the safety of photovoltaic systems

PV Basics

2021-03-11
When discussing solar energy, the safety of pholtovoltaic systems is an issue that always comes up. It is often said that PV systems would increase the fire risk for the home, and that the fire brigade would not fight fires involving photovoltaic systems. We have checked this out for you, and can reveal whether there is any truth in these rumours. We also explain why you should be more afraid of Christmas than a photovoltaic fire!

With photovoltaics, the fire risk is minimal

Let’s start with what is most important: photovoltaic systems present an extremely low fire risk. This was the conclusion reached by a large-scale study conducted in 2015 in Germany by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems and the German testing body TÜV Rheinland.

During the 13-year period under investigation, only around 400 of all the documented damage reports for photovoltaic systems in Germany mentioned fire damage. As there were 1.3 million systems installed in total, this low number is extremely reassuring – but things will get even better, as our solar safety expert and voluntary firefighter Bernhard Kossak confirmed:

“Photovoltaics is a safe technology and is getting ever safer. The owners of PV systems are attaching increasing importance to high-quality components, so there are fewer and fewer accidental fires with photovoltaic systems.”

 

Bernhard Kossak, firefighter & safety expert

 

This is also confirmed by a UK study conducted in 2017, where the figure for fire damage in photovoltaic systems was merely 0.007%. The significance of these figures is made slightly clearer by a simple comparison:

Contrast the annual average of 33 cases of fire damage to photovoltaic systems during the period covered by the German study mentioned above with around 11,000 annual fire service call-outs due to burning Christmas trees or Advent wreaths.

Key points at a glance

  • Only 0.007% of all photovoltaic systems suffer fire damage
  • High-quality devices and well-trained specialist staff additionally minimise the risk
  • The majority of all photovoltaic fires are caused by avoidable installation errors
  • Cut-off devices at the solar module level are not recommended, as they actually increase the fire risk

It is very easy to keep maximising solar safety

The fire risk posed by photovoltaic systems is minute. To keep the risk to a minimum, it is important to know the most frequent causes of photovoltaic fires.

Most of the fire damage is caused by installation errors on the DC side, that is, in the solar module area. The exposed position of the plug connections needed there makes them susceptible to moisture and other weather conditions. If they are damaged or incorrectly attached, these connections can trigger an arc that can lead to a fire.

Our solar safety expert therefore has the following tips for all those investing in a photovoltaic system:

  • Ask the installer for a system concept with as few plug connections as possible
  • Insist on high-quality devices when you buy

This will reduce the fire risk to a minimum.

 

However, you should refrain from adding cut-off devices at the solar module level. These additional boxes can triple the number of plug connections required, thereby increasing the fire risk.

Well-trained installers make sure that photovoltaic systems are safe

It is also important to choose your installation company very carefully: the detailed training given to Fronius System Partners also covers fire safety. You will be in safe hands if you opt for a business with Fronius certification. Find your nearest Fronius System Partner here.

   

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Professional training – also essential for the fire service

Finally, we come to a rumour that stubbornly persists in our society: fire brigades will not fight fires in photovoltaic systems. As you have probably already guessed, there is as little truth in this as in the other myths regarding the fire risk of photovoltaics.

But as with installers, it is important that the fire brigade undergoes proper training. This is the foundation for safely handling photovoltaics, and is why Fronius works together with the Upper Austrian Fire Brigade Association to produce training documentation that explains the correct course of action on a call-out for a fire involving a photovoltaic system.

Another tip from Bernhard Kossak is to have a good layout plan of the PV system in the meter box. This tells the firefighters where live leads are located, so that they can maintain a safe distance. A photovoltaic fire will then pose no additional risk to the fire brigade.

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