Businesses around the U.S. are jumping on the solar bandwagon — and for good reason. Changing technology has made solar panels (also called photovoltaic, or PV, systems) more efficient than ever before, allowing companies to save money and save the environment at the same time. Today, electricity from corporate solar panels provides enough energy to power power 402,000 U.S. homes and offset 2.4 million metric tons of CO2 annually, with corporate installations stretching across 40 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.
Even with these benefits, there are challenges to overcome. For example, standards that guide the installation and maintenance of roof-mounted solar panel arrays can vary and adherence by contractors can be inconsistent.
If your business plans to invest in roof-mounted solar panels, it’s important to know the potential risks. Here are the five most common risks of roof-mounted solar panels:
- Roof overloading
Your company’s empty roof seems to be the perfect spot for solar panels, but can it handle the extra weight? Each roof is designed to handle a certain “dead load” — a specific amount of extra weight. To reduce the risk of roof collapse or degradation, check that your roof is capable of accommodating the extra weight of solar panels and associated equipment.
- Blind spots
A “blind spot” is created when a ground fault or short circuit provides a new way for electrical current to travel down to the earth — for instance, if newly exposed wires touch a metal roof. Some traditional fuse-based ground-fault detector interrupters cannot detect or de-energize this type of ground fault. As a result, the current continues to flow, which poses shock and fire hazards. Fortunately, newer PV systems can include technology that enables companies to perform remote monitoring so potential issues like these can be quickly identified and resolved.
Beyond wind or storms, severe weather conditions such as ice, snow, and hail should also be taken into account.
- Wind damage
Are you in a windy or stormy location? With their added surface area, solar panels greatly increase a building’s exposure to wind damage, as the space below the panels can add extra pressure to the roof. Strong winds (speeds of 70 miles or more per hour) can also cause PV systems to shift or detach completely, which can lead to injuries or property damage. Finally, during a significant wind event, a poorly installed or aged roof could lift, come in contact with the PV system, tear, and result in water damage. Consult with your insurance broker and carrier to understand your exposure if you are located in a windy region. In addition, inspect your PV system anytime it is exposed to winds of 70 miles or more per hour.
- Other severe weather
Beyond wind or storms, severe weather conditions such as ice, snow, and hail should also be taken into account. Snow adds extra weight to the roof beyond the weight of the panels alone, and hail and ice can damage solar panels’ protective coatings and expose electrical wiring. This type of damage can result in panel failure and electrical hazards. Fortunately, panels are now available with extra protection to mitigate hail risks; investigate all your options before you install.
Like any source of electricity, PV systems also bring fire risks. For roof-mounted PV systems, fires can spread quickly due to rapid heat buildup in the open spaces under the panels. Installing solar panels can also alter a roof’s resistance rating, so discuss what measures you can take, such as conducting proper maintenance and installing the latest detection technology (discussed in No. 2), to mitigate risk.
Now that you understand the potential risks associated with roof-mounted solar panels, you’re better prepared to leverage this new technology for your business. To get started, check out our PV installation checklist.
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