May 25, 2024


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Trend technology also carries risks –

Trend technology also carries risks –

Every year, around 9,000 building fires are detected across Switzerland, according to statistics from the cantonal building insurers association VKF. Every quarter of a fire is caused by electricity, so the question inevitably arises as to whether the boom in photovoltaic systems could have an impact on this. There are no specific Swiss statistics on fires in buildings equipped with solar energy systems, although there is a cross-border study in which the Bern University of Applied Sciences, as well as German institutes, also worked. This shows that the fire risk of photovoltaics is low – despite the significant increase in solar energy systems in the past five years.

Expanding specialized knowledge

“Even in Appenzellerland, spontaneous combustion of a photovoltaic system rarely happens,” says Walter Hasenfratz, head of intervention at insurance company AR and inspector of the AR/AI fire department. Most of the time the roof or attic burns for other reasons, and the PV system is a liability for the fire department when putting out a fire and is another danger area for emergency services. That is why this year's training course for commanders and trainers focused on firefighting in combination with photovoltaic systems. This matter was dealt with by 45 participants from various fire departments in Appenzell at the Patchley Training Center in Teufen, under the supervision of two solar energy experts.

From theory to ceiling

“In principle, fire risks can be significantly reduced with a high-quality system and proper installation,” emphasizes Marcel Speck, photovoltaic team leader at a well-known electrical company in the Appenzell region. However, there are some risks that firefighters should be aware of: for example, electrical shock, which can cause serious burns and internal injuries due to high voltages. Or bend. It occurs when the circuit is broken and a high electric field intensity is created. Speck used examples to illustrate how an entire electrical circuit works and how system components in buildings are typically structured. Then we moved to the practical part, i.e. inside the buildings and on the roof. While Marcel Speck was teaching classes in the school building in Niedertofen, Michael Bischoff, an electrical installer and firefighter himself, was standing on the roof of the Wabi factory building in Teufen. The electrical control system was carefully checked, the rooftop units were dismantled and firefighting scenarios were implemented so that correct and rapid action could be taken in the event of an emergency.

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Precautions on the part of the owner

To ensure that the fire brigade's emergency services are not obstructed or endangered during their work, various measures are useful in advance. Ideally, fire departments have documentation showing where the live components in the PV system are installed. Warning labels on the system components also facilitate the work of firefighters in emergency situations. “It would only be helpful if the local fire department was told to build a new facility so they can be prepared in the event of a fire,” Bischoff adds. But as is often the case, there is certain information missing here or there, and emergency services are called to respond accordingly. “Our fire departments are well-trained to handle solar energy systems, but it is still important to constantly navigate new technologies and practice firefighting,” Hasenfratz says.