Solar panels not to blame for fire, says Vodacom

 ·4 Aug 2023

Mobile operator Vodacom has rubbished speculation that a recent fire that broke out at its headquarters was a result of a fault with its solar panels.

MyBroadband, reported on the incident in early July, where Vodacom’s Cape Town headquarters in Century City caught fire and several images and videos emerged online showing the company’s solar panels burning up.

At the time Vodacom and Jermaine Carelse, City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue spokesperson, said that the exact source of the fire was yet to be confirmed.

In the latest update on the incident, Vodacom said that investigations were still ongoing and that a final report was being compiled – however, it confirmed that the solar panels were not the cause of the fire.

“Whilst we are busy finalising the investigation, we felt it prudent to place on record that the preliminary report by the forensic team has ruled out solar technology being the cause of the fire and that it was an electrical fault instead. Once the report is finalised, we will issue an updated statement in due course,” it said.

Vodacom said that it was “regrettable” that the early speculation concerning the fire pointed to the solar panels on the roof being the primary cause of the blaze, as the speculation “has “unfairly cast a bad light on solar energy technology”.

However, just a few days before the Vodacom Fire, the City of Cape Town said that there had been an increase in the number of emergencies caused by backup power solutions.

Some of the incidents that the city flagged included:

  • The batteries on an inverter in a store situated in a mall ignited, resulting in the mall having to close its doors while the incident was attended to.
  • Solar panels on the roof of a factory caused the wires to arc, resulting in a fire. Firefighters had to wait for technicians to isolate the panels first before they could extinguish the fire.
  • A firefighter was called on to extinguish a fire at a neighbouring property, after a battery bank overheated due to insufficient ventilation.
  • A fire on a truck transporting a load of lithium-ion batteries. Firefighters managed to prevent the fire from spreading to the trailer, avoiding a major hazard.
  • Four persons were overcome by fumes from a generator in Parow. One passed away.

Therefore, despite Vodacom not finding the solar panels at fault, warnings around solar installations, inverters, and other backup power solutions remain.

The City of Cape Town has warned residents to take the necessary precautions and be prepared to deal with any incidents.

  • Should a backup power solution catch on fire, residents should first isolate the power before phoning emergency services.

  • Residents should invest in a dry chemical powder fire extinguisher, as it is easy to clean after extinguishing a fire. A CO2 extinguisher will add water to the system, which will cause other electrical problems.

  • For other backups, like generators, ventilation is also crucial because of the risk of noxious gasses from the use of petrol and diesel. Not only this, but devices carry the risk of overheating and catching fire.

Read: Beware dodgy rooftop solar in South Africa – what to look out for

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter