A 7,000 panel solar array on top of a Dietz & Watson refrigerated distribution center in South New Jersey may have led to the destruction of the facility after a fire last Sunday. NBC Philadelphia reports that firefighters were held back from actively fighting the fire due to fears of electrocution.
The 300,000-sq-foot distribution center in Delanco, NJ served as temporary storage for the deli meats and cheese supplier. Firefighters were allowed to only spray water and foam from a distance.
The National Fire Protection Association says that electrocution is a growing hazard for firefighters battling fires at buildings with solar panels, and NBC reports that as long as there is a source of light, the panels will continue to produce energy and they can’t be stopped from a single source, unlike other sources of electricity for which a master breaker can be used.
Throwing a tarp over the solar modules to block out the light may work but only if the firefighters can get close enough to cover them. Another issue with solar panels on a roof is that firefighters can’t make ventilation holes to put the fire out. So firefighters are forced to fight it defensively, rather than actively attacking it and getting inside to tackle the source of the fire.
As solar energy becomes more widespread, NBC reports that builders, developers and code officials will have to consult fire departments to make sure that their buildings are designed to allow firefighters better access.
Solar panel installations have begun reaching record highs. The US installed 723 MW of solar in Q1 2013, which accounted for over 48 percent of all new electric capacity installed in the US in Q1, according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) report US Solar Market Insight: 1st Quarter 2013.