Zurich advises on solar panel fire and structural load risks

Schaumburg, Ill. — As businesses across the world increasingly are turning to green technology for lowering energy costs and reducing their own carbon footprints, Zurich is working to help risk managers understand the fire and unexpected structural load risks associated with photovoltaic (PV) solar panel systems and how they can protect themselves from those risks. Key information related to the risks and challenges and recommended solutions was recently released in a Zurich RiskTopics white paper on photovoltaic systems.

Photovoltaic systems are designed to supply usable electric power for a variety of purposes, using the sun as the power source. When installed on or integrated into existing building components, the systems have unique characteristics that can introduce a variety of potential challenges and risks.

“Solar PV system use has increased three-fold over the last three years, which means more and more businesses need to understand the risks associated with them in order to help protect their property and business operations,” said Mike Widdekind, Technical Director – Property for Zurich Services Corporation. “We have developed the Photovoltaic Systems RiskTopics white paper specifically to provide detailed information to help our customers make necessary decisions about hazards associated with PV operations.”

Fire-related risks are among the top challenges associated with PV systems. They have more fire ignition sources and present more opportunity for fires to occur beyond the reach of standard fire protection and fire detection systems. Also, when a building fire requires firefighting activities, firefighters typically turn off all sources of electric power to the building. However, when PV systems are involved, a complete shutdown of electric power may not be possible since the PV panels continue to generate current from either daytime sunlight or even night time fire service scene lighting.

Risk managers also need to be aware of unexpected structural loads not anticipated by codes and standards such as snow or ice loads that accumulate in shaded areas below panels. When PV panel systems are installed on low slope – or flat – roofs, snow accumulations on panels will melt which can refreeze and may develop into unexpected ice accumulation, and over time might event result in building collapse.

In addition, PV solar panel systems can be vulnerable to wind loads and susceptible to damage caused by wind borne debris. Zurich has been especially involved in the impact wind has on solar panels through its active participation as a member of  Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s (IBHS) Research Advisory Council. At Zurich’s recommendation, IBHS is currently testing the impacts of wind on solar panels and will apply the learnings from the study to help customers build more resilient communities around the world.

Zurich’s RiskTopics white paper identifies unresolved challenges as well as provides possible solutions to issues related to PV systems, and recommends that commercial building managers and risk managers try to avoid the installation or integration of photovoltaic systems onto or into buildings until the challenges and risks associated with this system are fully understood and addressed.

Download the white paper, RiskTopics - Photovoltaic Systems, at www.zurichna.com/internet/zna/sitecollectiondocuments/en/products/riskengineering/photovoltaic_systems_rt.pdf.


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