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Government Report of Solar Panel Fires Resulting in Fatalities

charred body

Recently, media outlets from Japan to Norway have raised questions around fire safety and solar panels. Even when fires occur for reasons unrelated to solar panels, these modules can in fact play a role in both the intensity and speed of a spreading blaze.

A 2018 UK government report, which investigated 80 solar panel fires, found that 58 instances were caused by the photovoltaic system itself. The study notes that some of these fires took place in buildings, while others occurred on solar farms.

These incidents resulted in over a dozen injuries and three fatalities.

The report concluded that 38 instances escalated to ‘serious fires’ however only 22 of these were directly caused by the solar panels.

Furthermore, the majority of these fires originated in DC isolators with “the most likely cause of fire as electrical arcing”. Electrical arcing is the electrical breakdown of a gas that produces a prolonged electrical discharge leading to combustion. Effectively, the fire will start by a live wire sending electricity into the air. The temperature of an arc flash can reach several thousands of degrees Celsius.

All mechanical equipment deteriorates over time, which means there is an increased fire risk in older panels.



Digital solutions, both in private smart homes or in industrial scale properties also raise some questions. For example, cyber risks include several barriers that must be protected to ensure that these systems are functioning in a reliable and secure way. When extinguishing systems are dependent on sensor technology, the connection between these systems are key components of the smart home or office.


There is a risk that these can be hacked or malfunction due to software errors.


In May 2019, the Research Institute of Sweden (RISE) released the results of two studies relating to fire safety challenges with solar cells and photovoltaic technology.

Some of the most important findings were on the ignition, spread and fighting of fires.

These included for example the age and condition of installed solar panels and the possibilities of malfunctioning as a cause of fire.

The studies­ include recommendations to minimise the use of combustible materials beneath solar panels to stop the spread of a fire.

Also, firefighters need to be equipped with the correct training when battling a fire that involves photovoltaic systems.

The report also found that there must be ­adequate distance between the solar ­panels, in order to have access to fight a fire and the obvious issue is with using water to extinguish electrically charged panels.