Solar panel boom causes concerns for firefighters

FILE- (AP Photo/Matt York, file)

(WSPA) – In 2016, solar energy raked in $447 million in South Carolina, according to the Clean Energy Census.

In the Upstate more than 750 installations of solar panels have gone in, and business is booming.

Sunstore Solar has more than doubled business in the past year, even expanding to a new building. Growth in the residential sector is spreading in thanks to incentive programs for solar panels and word of the economic benefits. Owner Bruce Wood has reduced his monthly power bill to 8 dollars.

But as this boom continues, firefighters are seeing the concerns. The South Carolina Fire Academy has even added an online training course about solar panels. A class that the Boiling Springs Fire District has made mandatory for their firefighters.

Fire Marshal Tony Barnett is surveying local commercial businesses with solar panels, to make sure they’re prepared. Knowing the layout of the panels and where the power shut off switches are could mean seconds to these firefighters.

“It limits your ability to ventilate a roof vertically, because most of your roof structure is covered by the panels,” said Barnett. Although lightweight, the panels also add pressure during a fire with a compromised structure.

Barnett also worries about all of the power being shut off. While the shut off switches stops power from the building, the power will continue to process in the solar panels and the conduits, causing dangers to firefighters.

Regulations continue to adjust for solar panels, such as leaving enough room for firefighters to walk on the roof around them. As those regulations adjust, so will strategies for firefighters.

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