Solar-related fire causes evacuation at Sainsbury’s in Longbridge

Sainsbury’s in Longbridge, Birmingham was evacuated on Saturday 15 November after a fire broke out on the supermarket’s roof.

Speaking to Solar Power Portal, a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said that the fire originated from a “small electrical fault on a cable connection” in the store’s solar PV array.

According to the Birmingham Mail, more than 500 customers and 100 staff were asked to leave the store while firefighters tackled the small fire with dry powder and CO2. According to Sainsbury’s, the store was closed for a couple of hours and returned to normal service as soon as it was safe for customers and colleagues to do so.

Commenting on the risk of solar PV and fires, Ray Noble stressed the rarity of solar-related fires, stating: “The chance of a fire occurring with a PV system is extremely rare. A solar module itself cannot burn and it is only in the electrical wiring circuit where any risk can occur. The circuit consists of a junction box, cabling, connectors, inverter and isolator. Using good quality products, correctly installed is the key to avoiding any risk of fire.”

Chris Roberts, solar specialist for the Solar Trade Association added: “At present there is no reason to believe that solar installations – on supermarkets or other buildings - present any greater fire risk than any other electrical equipment.”

“But it is important that such systems are correctly designed, competently installed and regularly maintained by companies certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) .”

“The Solar Trade Association is working closely with the BRE National Solar Centre and MCS to ensure best practice standards for all rooftop installations. Together we review all available evidence when it becomes available to develop those standards.”

Asked if the fault had any further implications for Sainsbury’s other solar installations, the Sainsbury’s spokesperson reiterated that the fault was with one particular connection and that “safety is a top priority across the board”.