Making the decision to install solar panels at your business is one possible way for your company to save money. It also tells your community, business associates, and clients/customers that you’re committed to protecting our planet by using renewable energy.
But as with everything, it’s not a simple decision. There are actually risks involved and things to consider before you decide to install those panels. Here are a few:
Fire: Believe it or not, there is a lack of clear electrical codes governing solar equipment and the use of residential grade equipment in commercial applications. Poor installation obviously increases the risk.
A major area of concern in solar installations is called the “blind spot.” That is a ground fault to the grounded current-carrying conductor that occurs undetected. This then causes a second ground fault in the panel array, which the ground fault detector/interrupter can’t de-energize. The potential result: fire and serious electrical shock.
Solar panels can also make a roof fire worse. There’s a gap between the panels and the roof that traps heat and allows a fire to spread quickly. So the configuration and spacing of the panels is absolutely critical because roofing material heat levels can vary depending on the size of the gap.
Building integrity: Depending on how many panels you install, a solar panel system can add significant weight to the roof. If your building/roof isn’t designed to handle that, you can have major structural degradation over time. And being in the Northeast, you know the weight of a major snowstorm can make this even worse.
Wind also needs to be considered. Aside from the fact that the panels increase the roof’s surface area, increasing the building’s exposure to wind damage, in windy conditions, the space below the panels can cause pressurization that can damage the roof.
Injury: Hopefully you’ll never have firefighters on your roof. But you certainly will have maintenance personnel there on a scheduled basis. So there are risks to keep in mind: an elevated risk of slips and falls, and an increased risk of shock. Under certain circumstances, there is actually a risk that the entire roof can become electrified which would prevent access altogether.
TO REDUCE RISKS
Make sure you hire an established, qualified, and highly experienced firm to specify and install your system. Check references (including what your local fire department may know about the company.)
Discuss your plans for any rooftop solar panel installation with your local fire department. Once the system is installed, you should familiarize your local fire department with your operation and how the system is installed.
Work with independent experts / structural engineers who have the credentials/experience to evaluate and ensure that your roof can structurally hold the system. Obviously, if you discover that your roof/building isn’t capable of safely supporting the solar panel system, find a location other than the roof to install it.
Before installation confirm that the placement of the panels leaves plenty of clear exits and pathways for maintenance personnel and firefighters.
Also, have the system inspected by an independent expert once it’s installed. Since early failure of components like electrical wiring is a leading cause of fires, the expert should pay special attention to wire management.
Have qualified contractors inspect your system and provide any necessary preventive maintenance at least annually, and after any major weather event like a hurricane or major snowstorm.