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Firm highlights risks, challenges associated with solar expansion

A generic image of solar panels

PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES Aon stresses the need for the careful management of solar solutions

10th May 2024

By: Lumkile Nkomfe

Creamer Media Reporter

     

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With a surge in the adoption of residential and commercial solar power generation, global professional services firm Aon South Africa highlights that the expansion of the solar industry comes with considerable risks and challenges.

Aon asserts that any solar installation poses a potential fire risk and emphasises the importance of ensuring that there is sufficient spacing from any combustible storage and roof underlay material, which must be confirmed as non-combustible. The firm adds that cabling should also be fire-resistant and located away from critical components where possible. The location of an installation is also crucial to allow fire brigades quick and safe access to the panels, ensuring that hydrant water pressure can reach the panels, especially when mounted on structures such as a roof.

The firm stresses the need to always have suitable fire extinguishers on site as a first line of defence coupled with the implementation of a strict no-smoking policy across the board. This is especially important where lithium-ion battery storage is installed – Aqueous Vermiculite Dispersion is an extinguishing agent for use on lithium-ion battery fires which cannot rely on cooling alone, but also need to contain and encapsulate the battery to limit the reaction, contain the gases and prevent access to external oxygen, ensuring that the risk of the fire spreading is reduced.

“Fire hazards are a considerable threat to solar power generation and battery energy storage,” says Aon South Africa senior risk consultant Andy Mizen. “Environmental conditions, ranging from hail and wind to flooding, can wreak havoc on the infrastructure while the allure of photovoltaic (PV) panels to thieves, coupled with rising manufacturing costs, contributes to the upswing in insurance expenses. The complexities intensify when solar installations are located on rooftops, owing to the concentration of electrical sources of ignition such as roof insulation and cabling, making timely intervention, maintenance and emergency responses crucial,” Mizen explains.

Other considerable challenges that solar plants are faced with include the associated construction and maintenance risks. Regarding construction, Mizen says that PV panels must be installed by a qualified engineer according to a recognised standard and according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Further, the panels must be mounted on a non-combustible base such as concrete, with the framing designed to reduce the risk of wind, hail or lightning damage. Mizen asserts that the best option is a secure steel structure, which also allows for the possibility of including a tilting mechanism in the design, not only to track the movement of the sun for optimal production, but also to counteract the potential for hail risk.

The firm highlights the need for good housekeeping of solar solutions. This includes cleaning dust from the panels, controlling surrounding vegetation to reduce wildfire risk, ensuring that storm water channels are cleared of debris and vegetation, conducting yearly thermography surveys for fault finding purposes, complying with the manufacturer’s recommendations and following their instructions meticulously, and ensuring that all construction and maintenance work is subject to strict permit conditions, including working at height, electrical lockout tagout, and hot work.

“The establishment and operation of solar plants are undeniably transformative for our energy landscape, yet they are not without their formidable challenges. By implementing comprehensive risk mitigation measures that address these challenges, stakeholders can enhance the resilience of solar farms as well as safeguard their long-term sustainability,” Mizen concludes.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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