An investigation has been launched into the fire risk posed by solar panels fitted to thousands of homes, schools and businesses across the UK.
The panels are being investigated by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), a government fire safety contractor which is also testing building cladding in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster in west London. The BRE’s initial findings into the risks of solar panels catching fire will be reported this week, the Sunday Times reports.
The investigation comes just days after 80 firefighters tackled a blaze at a new block of flats in Bow, east London, on 2 July, where the roof-mounted solar panels appear to have caught fire.
An internal investigation into another recent London tower block fire, in Thornton Heath in June, indicated the blaze was caused by “an overheated solar panel”, Orbit, the housing organisation which owns the block, said.
Despite there being some 920,000 solar panel installations across the UK, those fitted on fire-resistant roofs have no minimum fire safety standards to adhere to. Solar panel systems with a low fire rating and which are built into roofs must be at least 65 feet from a boundary wall.
Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association, said of the BRE investigation: “It is one of the safest technologies but we do need to ensure we have the highest safety standard.”
‘We have seen some shocking installations’
The Society of Fire Protection Engineers stated: “One of the many dangers to solar panels is how the panel and its mounting system impact the combustibility of the overall roof system. Some solar panels include a backing of highly combustible plastic.”
Although solar panel systems are generally safe, there is a danger of poorly fitted systems posing a risk to the inhabitants of the building below them. Jonathan Bates, managing director of a solar panel firm in Berkshire, called Photon Energy, said: “We have seen some fairly shocking installations. Like any industry that grows very quickly, you will inevitably get cowboys.”