The Dark Side of Solar Panels

The epitome of clean energy, solar power is a thriving sector across the country. This renewable resource is increasingly affordable with small-scale rooftop system prices dropping almost 30 percent from 2010 to 2013 and large-scale system costs dropping even more. In sunny locations, a five-kilowatt home rooftop photovoltaic (PV) system produces enough yearly kilowatt hours to meet the electricity demands of an average U.S. household. Solar panels are made up of smaller PV cells that convert sunshine into electricity by allowing light particles to bump electrons free from atoms, which generates an electric current from one side of the cell to the other. However, the technology is not without risks.

Solar power uses panels to collect sunlight and convert it into electricity. Hazards associated with this technology include:

  • Defectively made products
  • Improper installation
  • Increased risk of fire and fire damage.

The majority of the world’s solar panel manufacturing capacity is located in China. Under pressure to cut costs and accelerate production, many manufacturers have had to sacrifice quality – leading to defective, unsafe products. One U.S. audit company discovered defect rates ranging from 5.5 percent to 22 percent during inspections of 50 Chinese factories over a recent 18-month period. Quality problems are not limited to Chinese products. By way of example, American-made solar panels installed on one warehouse roof were just two years into their expected 25-year life span when their protective coatings began to disintegrate and other defects produced two fires. A commonly malfunctioning component that can result in fire is the inverter, which is where the electricity from the solar panels is converted to power the building.

Fires are also caused by electrical wiring issues. There are few installation and maintenance standards of roof-top mounted PV systems. In the absence of clear electrical codes, inexperienced installation crews may use non-commercial-grade equipment or fail to properly connect safety devices intended to detect shorts, which increases the risk of a fire as well as an entire electrified roof. Solar panels that were improperly configured can make roof fires worse or harder to put out by trapping heat in the gap between them and the roofing material. Damage or structural problems can occur if the PV system is heavier than the roof is designed to withstand. Improperly secured panels can blow off in high winds, causing property and personal damage.

According to one report, firefighters believe that rooftop solar panels cause roofs to collapse faster during fires and even stop some firefighting techniques from being used, such as cutting a hole in the roof to vertically ventilate a fire. The extra risk of electrocution also presents a challenge because the panels are constantly generating electricity. Before installing a PV system, help yourself by having a professional determine whether your roof can hold the weight or whether it should be mounted elsewhere. While there’s not much you can do to prevent a fire caused by solar panels, be ready for one by having working smoke detectors and an escape plan. Business owners in particular should have the system inspected by an independent expert annually and after extreme weather.

If you have any questions about this topic, or if you believe that an improperly designed, manufactured, or installed solar panel system may be responsible for your injury or that of a loved one, talk to the personal injury attorneys at Stabinski Law As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, we have helped many people sort out their legal rights, responsibilities, and remedies for over 45 years. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, we encourage you to contact us today by calling 305-643-3100 or filling out a free case evaluation form.

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