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January 19, 2024

Benefits and risks of rooftop solar panels for commercial properties

As solar rooftops become an increasingly common addition to commercial properties, businesses need to be aware of the pros and cons of this technology. While they can provide significant financial, environmental, and reputational benefits, they can also present various risks, such as fire and structural hazards. They can also be susceptible to damage from several sources.

This article examines the benefits and risks of rooftop solar panels for commercial properties and offers strategies for businesses to mitigate those exposures.

The benefits of rooftop solar panels for commercial properties

Solar panels installed on commercial rooftops offer numerous benefits, including:

  • Cost savings and tax incentives—Solar panels can reduce monthly electricity expenses while costing relatively little to maintain. Additionally, businesses that install solar panels often qualify for tax breaks.
  • Reduced carbon emissions and other environmental benefits—Solar panels can generate power without using fossil fuels. This can reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.
  • Improved reputation—By using solar energy, a business can show its commitment to sustainability, which can improve its reputation within the local community and among current and potential clients and employees.
  • Insulation from power outages—If a business receives electricity from solar panels, it can avoid outside power supplier interruptions or outages.
  • Increased property value—Commercial properties with solar panels may be sought after due to the cost savings and green energy systems offer. This added value can help offset installation costs.

The risks of rooftop solar panels for commercial properties

Although solar panels offer several benefits to businesses, there are risks to consider, including:

  • Fire hazards—Faulty installation, improper grounding, electrical malfunction, overheated components, or arcing can all create fire hazards. Additionally, solar panel fires can produce toxic fumes and by-products.
  • Susceptibility to weather-related damage—Since rooftop panels are exposed to the elements, they are vulnerable to weather-related damage from strong winds, hail, or heavy snow.
  • Structural implications—Solar panels can add weight to the top of a building, which can add stress to the roof, making it vulnerable to sagging, leaks, or—in extreme cases—collapse.
  • Fall risks—The risk of rooftop falls may increase with solar panels as walking spacing is decreased and tie-off points may become obscured.
  • Theft, vandalism, and animal damage—Solar panels can be an attractive target for thieves and vandals, and they can be susceptible to animal damage.

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Mitigating the risks associated with rooftop solar panels for commercial properties

As businesses weigh the pros and cons of rooftop solar panels, they should consider the measures they can take to mitigate risks associated with them, including:

  • Choosing quality materials—By selecting high-grade panels and materials, businesses can reduce the risks of fires and malfunctions. It is also essential to consider the combustibility of the materials to reduce the chances of fire and their toxicity, which may be of particular concern when the panels reach their end of life or if they catch fire.
  • Evaluating the rooftop—Before installing solar panels, a professional should evaluate the structure and condition of the rooftop to ensure it can handle the weight of solar panels. The rooftop and insulation materials should also be examined to determine if they present additional fire risks.
  • Hiring certified installers—Having the solar panels installed by certified contractors is crucial for lessening risk. These professionals can help ensure the systems are installed following the manufacturer’s instructions and any applicable codes or regulations.
  • Conducting inspections and maintenance—Using certified technicians to perform regular inspections and maintenance can help businesses identify and remediate issues before they evolve into more significant problems.
  • Taking weather protection measures—Removing overhanging trees or installing guards on the solar panels can help reduce the chances of weather-related damage. Additionally, selecting solar panels that are rated to withstand the severe weather or seismic risks common to the area is advisable.
  • Taking fall protection measures—Solar panels should be installed with fall protection measures in mind. For example, there should be space available to navigate around them, contractors and technicians should be made aware of the panels’ layout, and tie-off points should remain accessible.
  • Utilizing fire prevention and suppression systems—Along with considering the combustibility of the materials and ensuring the system is properly installed and maintained, other fire prevention methods should be considered, such as arc fault detection devices. Fire detection and suppression systems should be in place, there should be sufficient roof access available for firefighters, and a fire risk assessment should be conducted after installation. Informing local fire services of the solar panels and having an emergency action plan to respond to fires and the toxic fumes they produce are also essential.
  • Implementing security measures—Security systems (e.g., locks and alarms) can help deter theft and vandalism.
  • Considering the installation of animal guards—Animal or critter guards can help protect the panels from wildlife. These devices should be installed per the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Insurance considerations—Businesses should work with a licensed insurance professional to review their insurance coverage and ensure their policies cover solar panels and their associated risks.

Conclusion

Solar panels offer an array of benefits, but businesses also need to be aware of their related risks and how to mitigate them. For more risk management information, contact us today.

This Commercial Property Insights is intended as general information. The information contained in this article is not exhaustive nor should it be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or a licensed insurance professional for tailored guidance. © 2023 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.

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