On the 9th of July, a fire broke out at the Vodacom Building in Century City, which saw emergency services race to the venue to extinguish flames. While the investigation into the cause of the fire is still ongoing, a statement released by Vodacom on 4 August 2023 on the preliminary report findings confirms that the fire was indeed the result of an electrical fault and not caused by the solar installation.
Unfortunately, during this time that followed the fire, there has been speculation that the fire may have been caused by the solar panels installed on the building’s roof. These rumours have led to concerns among potential investors in solar energy, raising doubts about the quality of the solar panels and the quality of the installation work done at the Vodacom building. This has also had a knock on effect on the wider solar industry impacting its reputation negatively.
With more than 20 years’ experience in the global photovoltaic industry, Gregor Kuepper, Managing Director of SOLARWORLD Africa, is one of the most experienced individuals for grid-tied and off-grid applications within the Sub-Saharan African market. Given his credentials, and SOLARWORLD Africa approaching 40 years in operation, Kuepper addresses the concerns around the Vodacom fire:
Presumption of fire cause:
The early speculation concerning the fire that broke out that Sunday morning pointed to the solar panels on the roof. JP Smith, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for Safety and Security stated: “Upon arrival of the first crews, it was discovered that the solar panels on the roof had caused the rooftop to catch fire.”
Kuepper adds: “Several statements that were made about the safety of solar shows that premature conclusions do indeed damage the trust in solar as a safe, clean and proven technology. Jumping to conclusions without concrete evidence is also harmful to the reputation of the entire industry”.
A spokesperson at Vodacom says: “This speculation has unfairly cast a bad light on solar energy technology. 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.”
Concerns about solar energy safety:
Solar energy has proven to be a reliable and sustainable source of power for countless businesses and households. It is crucial to remember that solar panels undergo rigorous testing and adhere to safety standards to ensure their safe operation. Businesses such as Vodacom conduct regular maintenance and inspections.
Anthony Adriaans, National Projects Manager at Current Power Automation (CPA) states: “CPA, as the Operations & Maintenance team on site at Vodacom Century City is dedicated to maintaining the plant to the highest standards. The plant is regularly maintained and kept up to date with the relevant safety standard and best practice in the market. The solar modules and cabling are regularly checked and replaced in accordance with the maintenance programme put in place by Vodacom and CPA.”
Suppliers and product quality:
Vodacom is committed to the highest standards of safety and quality. The network provider only works with reputable and qualified suppliers who have demonstrated their expertise in the field. Any claims suggesting the use of unqualified suppliers and inferior products are unsubstantiated and cast unwarranted doubt on the business’s decision-making team.
Kuepper adds: “Disappointingly, we have also seen industry players opportunistically using this unfortunate incident to market themselves in bad taste. While competition is healthy, baseless claims against manufacturers, distributors and installers and attempts to position themselves as superior by capitalising on this incident are counterproductive and unprofessional. Now is the time for our industry to support one another to ensure this important renewable energy source is not tainted.”
The solar industry has made significant strides towards sustainability and has become a reliable source of clean energy. However, unfounded assumptions can deter potential investors from embracing solar energy solutions. It is essential to prioritise accuracy and factual information in such situations to preserve the reputation of the solar industry, speculation without evidence can cause undue harm to the solar industry’s reputation.
“At SOLARWORLD Africa, we are committed to solar energy as a safe and sustainable solution and urge the public and potential investors to engage with reputable when seeking information on solar solutions in general.” concludes Kuepper.