UNDERSTANDING THE HAZARDS OF SOLAR ARRAY INSTALLATIONS
Declining costs and increased efficiency makes solar power more and more appealing to industry, but solar arrays, specifically photovoltaic (PV) installations, can create numerous new fire safety risks. Jens Steemann Kristensen, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, hopes to shed some light on the issue with his presentation at the SFPE Europe Conference on Fire Safety Engineering, 5-6 February 2018, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
“The fire-related hazards of PV installations is still not well understood, but the presentation will make it possible for all stakeholders to realize some of the fire-related challenges associated with the installation of a PV system,” he says.
Kristensen is presenting “Propagation of Fire Underneath PV Arrays on Flat Roof Constructions” at SFPE Europe, a bi-annual conference designed specifically for fire safety engineers, fire protection engineers, fire engineers, research, architects, contractors, suppliers, facilities managers, developers, and allied professionals in the field. He says the findings represent information that has just recently been published as well as some that is still under peer review.
“The current findings deal with the deflection of flames and re-radiation of heat, which can facilitate the spread of fire if an initiating fire occurs underneath a PV array. The findings emphasize the importance of understanding the whole system consisting of roof construction, mounting system and PV panels, instead of the individual elements,” he says.
Kristensen is a first-year PhD student at the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering in the School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, where he is researching the fire-related risk of photovoltaic installations in the built environment. He holds a master of science degree in civil engineering from the Technical University of Denmark, and he studied a semester at the University of Ghent, in Belgium, as part of that degree.
“The fast development of the PV market resulted in a knowledge gap related to the fire-related hazards of PV installations, such as large electric DC installations acting as a possible source of ignition, changed fire dynamics due to the introduction of inclined PV panels, and limited requirements to the nearby materials,” he says. “The decreasing energy prices makes the technology relevant to more and more industries, which is why architects, designers, and engineers should understand the interaction between the PV installation and the roof construction.”
Kristensen says he was drawn to the study of PV installation in 2015 and has been dedicated to it since. The project developed from a small individual university course, to a master’s thesis that included laboratory-scale experiments and larger, outdoor experiments on roof sections with PV panels mounted on top. Today, it is a PhD project.
“Through the whole process, the project has been supported by IKEA Services AB who have made it possible to make full-scale experiments,” he says. “The combination of full-time research, parametric studies, and full-scale experiments have made it possible for me to specialize within a small field, which only becomes more and more relevant with time.”
Kristensen says the project and its current findings important because they represent a new area of fire safety engineering. “The PV market is constantly developing, and not all fire-related problems are currently identified and solved. Solar energy might be the future, but we need to understand the hazards, which is why the project is important for me,” he notes.
Photo Credit: UL FRSI