TÜV undertakes research project examining PV and fire risk

Working in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, the research institute says the aim of the project is to optimize the safety of solar energy systems with regard to fire hazards.

“To date, there have only been isolated cases in which solar systems have caught fire. A preventive analysis now makes sense, however. This is because the number of systems on the roofs of homes is growing further. Added to that are service lives of 25 to 30 years and the increasing construction of large-scale systems with output currently in the range of 50 megawatts,” says Wilhelm Vaaßen, head of Regenerative Energies at TÜV Rheinland and coordinator of the research project.

Based on research and testing carried out, TÜV says its intention is to develop a catalogue of measures for preventing arcs in PV systems. It explains: “Extremely hot arcs can form through an unwanted voltage flashover, when there is insufficient distance or insulation between two electrodes. Since solar systems contain thousands of connections – of which several hundred are inside a module – there is a danger of arcs forming over the course of the long service life of a system.”

It goes on to say that a second important aspect of the research project, which is being conducted on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, applies to the rescue services. As such, the institute is seeking to present clear information and procedural guidelines to fire personnel, in addition to creating concrete safety concepts and developing appropriate technical equipment.

Although there have been relatively few incidents during fire fighting missions so far, Horst Thiem from the Munich Fire Department emphasizes: “Solar energy is an energy source of the future. We will be utilizing this clean form of energy for a very long time. For this reason, we can and must establish standards that ensure the highest degree of safety possible, even with a technical defect or fire.”

Other partners in the project include the Munich Fire Department (Branddirektion München), the International Solar Energy Society, German Section and Energiebau Solarsysteme.