Solar is set to account for almost half of all new US electricity generation capacity this year and next year, with three states leading the way. As US solar capacity is set to overtake wind for the first time, solar operators must do everything possible to protect assets from fire.
The benefits of solar farms are so dramatic that in just the last ten years, the average annual growth rate for the solar industry has been 33% year-over-year. With expansion numbers like that, it’s important to note that any new frontier brings challenges, such as inverter fires and how to mitigate fire risks.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will lead to the development of 550GW of new, utility-scale clean power by 2030 – with an enormous amount of wind and solar farms set to be deployed, steps must be taken to protect personnel and assets from fire risk, which is often underestimated and overlooked.
A fire at a solar farm can have devastating consequences for the surrounding environment. This is in addition to the obvious risks fires pose to human health. The damage can range from air pollution and water pollution and fatalities to bronchitis and the exacerbation of asthma and other lung diseases in the local population.
The solar industry is in the grip of a supply chain crisis, which means sourcing components for solar farms is increasingly difficult. Solar industry supply chain disruption means sourcing replacement components is extremely challenging – consequently, protecting existing assets from damage, including fire, is crucial.
Increasing commodity prices and freight costs mean new solar projects are becoming much more expensive – consequently, solar farm operators must do all they can to protect their existing assets. In addition, the construction of solar farms is becoming an increasingly expensive business.
Solar farm installation costs are typically between $0.89 to $1.01 per watt, meaning that a 10 megawatt (MW) solar farm would cost between $8.9 and $10 million dollars to build. But additional challenges are likely to increase up-front costs for projects, squeezing project profitability.
Despite the fact that wind turbine and photovoltaic fires can be catastrophic, the clean energy industry has been slow to address fire risk. This lack of foresight is particularly surprising when you consider both the prevalence and the financial cost of fire incidents in the clean energy industry. However, research suggests that the renewables industry is greatly underestimating the level of fire risk it faces.
As global warming rises, many people turn to solar farms to combat the issue. Because solar farms do not have any harmful discharges, they do not contaminate the land, water, or air around them. This combined with how sustainable they are gives them an edge over fossil fuel usage for power. As more solar farms are created, though, you might wonder how safe these structures are. In fact, you may ask, "can solar farms catch on fire?"
Though solar farm fires are rare, they are not impossible. Any high-power electrical equipment, including a solar power plant, presents a risk for fire. The good news is that solar farm fire protection has quickly evolved along with the solar industry. Let’s talk more about what happens in the worst-case scenario when a fire does break out at a solar farm.
Fire breaking out at photovoltaic (PV) farms has the potential to be costly: on project finances, on the environment, and on the perception of solar technology. The cost of repairing assets ravaged by fire is one thing but dealing with the fall out of enraged local residents or the consequences of scorched environments could be even more tricky.