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Listen Up: Let's Talk Rooftop Solar Safety with Fire Captain Matt Paiss

Fires in homes are generally caused by kitchen mishaps, heating system fires or electrical malfunctions. When it comes to fire safety, the solar industry's track record is excellent — with only a few documented cases in which the solar system actually caused a fire (generally due to improper wiring or equipment malfunctions).

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Unfortunately, when home fires do occur, rooftop solar panels can become an impediment to a firefighter's ability to safely and quickly put out the fire. Firefighters must turn off the power to the rooftop system so that the panels are no longer energized; this is not always possible with high-voltage DC systems. In many cases, firefighters vent the roof so that smoke can escape and they can pour water on the source of the fire. With solar panels covering the roof, firefighter's ability to vent the roof over the fire is limited.

Improving fire safety as it relates to rooftop solar systems is being approached from two directions. First, new solar panel, racking and inverter standards are going into effect that will make solar equipment even safer. Second, new fire and building codes are being implemented that improve firefighter access to rooftops with solar. Unfortunately, these new standards are complicated and make equipment more expensive; and new firefighter access requirements significantly reduce available roof space for solar panels. It's an issue that requires a compromise among firefighter safety, property damage and clean energy generation.

My guest on this week's show is Matt Paiss, San Jose Fire Captain and Line Training Officer. Matt provides safety training for firefighters, particularly as it relates to rooftop solar power systems. He's also very involved in the development of new UL standards and local fire safety codes. So please tune into this weeks Energy Show on Renewable Energy World for a firefighter's perspective on the challenges and benefits of rooftop solar power systems.

Find more episodes of The Energy Show here.

About The Energy Show

As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don't have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs — very affordably.

The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20-minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we'll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices. 

About Your Host

Barry Cinnamon is a long-time advocate of renewable energy and is a widely recognized solar power expert. In 2001 he founded Akeena Solar — which grew to become the largest national residential solar installer by the middle of the last decade with over 10,000 rooftop customers coast to coast. He partnered with Westinghouse to create Westinghouse Solar in 2010, and sold the company in 2012.

His pioneering work on reducing costs of rooftop solar power systems include Andalay, the first solar panel with integrated racking, grounding and wiring; the first UL listed AC solar panel; and the first fully “plug and play” AC solar panel. His current efforts are focused on reducing the soft costs for solar power systems, which cause system prices in the U.S. to be double those of Germany.

Although Barry may be known for his outspoken work in the solar industry, he has hands-on experience with a wide range of energy saving technologies.  He's been doing residential energy audits since the punch card days, developed one of the first ground-source heat pumps in the early ‘80s, and always abides by the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Lead image: Green microphone via Shutterstock

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