New National Electrical Code Could Relieve Solar Panel Exposure Concerns

September 04, 2014| By Charlie Kingdollar | Property | English

Region: North America

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released a new national electrical code (NEC 2014), which is available for states to adopt - but is not mandatory. If adopted, the new building codes would address some of the concerns regarding rooftop solar systems that Gen Re Claims’ John Harmonay discusses in his August 26 blog post. The update includes provisions, which:

1. Require a rapid shutdown function, meaning the solar system must be able to be de-energized (reduced to 30 V within 10 seconds) in order to limit the risk of shock hazard to responders.

In several incidents firefighters have refused to go onto a roof fitted with a solar array out of fear of being shocked. Under such circumstances the fire is not vented and what would have been a partial loss could become a total loss. 

2. Include changes in inverters and other equipment related to solar to detect electrical arcing that can cause fires.

The question is when will all or most states adopt NEC 2014. As you can see from the map, not all states adopt new codes at the same rate. Nine states are still using the 2008 NEC even though the code was updated in 2011. In an additional seven states, certain municipalities within the state have adopted a code, but not the entire state (i.e., Phoenix is still using the 2008 NEC while Tucson is using the 2005 code). Some of the municipalities in Texas and Nevada have yet to implement the 2008 code. As with codes in general, the changes typically apply to  buildings as they are constructed, upgraded or rebuilt, or to solar systems added after the adoption date. When any electrical work is done on a building, existing components must be brought up to the new code. 


Source: The National Electrical Manufacturers Association

Implementation gaps and questions regarding the new code include:

1. Grandfathering that may be involved with planned, approved, or in-progress projects.

2. Degree of local application and enforcement. 

3. Lifespan of existing "outdated" solar panels.

Many questions arise after a loss, as local authorities are working with a variety of building codes and safety concerns. Our Property Claims team has worked with clients on some of these difficult issues. There can be a lot of variation and unpredictability at the local enforcement level, with or without a claim. It may, therefore, still be many years before the exposure concerns regarding rooftop solar systems are addressed on a uniform national basis.


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