A large fire which broke out on Hove Town Hall is believed to have been caused by an electrical fault in the solar installation on the building’s roof.

East Sussex Fire Service was called to Hove Town Hall at 12:50pm following calls and managed to bring the fire under control shortly thereafter. No one is believed to have been hurt in the blaze.

A statement from Brighton and Hove City Council reads: “A fire has been extinguished at Hove Town Hall. East Sussex Fire Service was called to Hove Town Hall shortly before 1pm today when smoke was seen on the roof of the building.

“Hove Town Hall is currently being renovated and only a few staff and building contractors were inside at the time. Everyone was immediately evacuated and no one has been harmed.”

The Council adds that the solar PV installation is believed to be the culprit behind the blaze: “The source of the fire is believed to be an electrical fault with a solar panel on the roof. An investigation is underway. Those staff based at Hove Town Hall have now re-entered the building following clearance from the Fire Service at 1.30pm today.”

The Council has confirmed that it will now check all solar panels across all of its council buildings following the incident.

Solar PV fires remain rare incidents in the UK, especially when viewed in the wider context of fires caused by faulty electrical components. Speaking to Solar Business Focus UK, Andy O’Leary, business development manager at Sibert Solar stated that there is “zero” risk of fire associated with PV “if the correct installation methods and materials are used”.

Commenting on reports that the fire was solar-related, Chris Roberts, the Solar Trade Association’s technical specialist, said: “We understand that the fire on Hove Town Hall today is believed to have been caused by a fault in the solar PV installation. We pay tribute to staff and emergency services who acted quickly to evacuate everyone in the building and put out the blaze.

“However it is important to remember that at present there is no reason to believe that solar installations, when properly installed, present any greater fire risk than any other electrical equipment.

“It is vital that solar PV systems are correctly designed, competently installed and regularly maintained by companies certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). The Solar Trade Association continues to work closely with the BRE National Solar Centre and MCS to ensure best practice standards for all rooftop installations, and hope to soon launch a 10 Commitments best practice document for commercial solar rooftops in particular. Together we review all available evidence when it becomes available to develop those standards.”

James Court, head of external affairs at UK Solar added: “The safety record of solar panels when properly installed and maintained is excellent and thankfully, incidents such as this are extremely rare. We will wait for the final report to find the exact causes of this incident and look to what lessons can be learned by the industry. We praise the work of the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, who ensured the fire was safely put out and under control under these unique and challenging circumstances.”

Reza Shaybani, chairman of the BPVA also defended solar's reliability and safety, stating: “Fire caused by solar panels is extremely rare as all high quality panels are tested during manufacturing process. Solar PV is now a mature industry and experts around the world are working on increasing efficiency and safety of the products. Solar is a reliable technology, but like any electrical system they need to be installed by certified professionals who know what they are doing. There is no reason to believe at present that the fire risks associated with PVs are any greater than those with other electrical equipment. Any fire reported to date are caused by poor installations or poor component. The solar panel itself has rarely been the cause of fire. Building fires known to BPVA where the PV systems have been the cause of the fire have generally resulted from poor installation, or the use of wrongly specified, incorrect or faulty equipment. For example, there have been reports of AC isolator switches being used mistakenly in DC circuits, resulting in a build up of heat in the switch enclosure and leading to a fire. The BPVA has been working with various fire departments in the UK providing knowledge and expertise on how to deal with fire in case a building has PV installed. These are cases when the building is on fire and the fire fighters need to know what to do in case of fire on such buildings.”

Read more about the risk of solar PV and fires here.