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Dr Zhiyuan Yang – Pioneering work in solar farm fire impact assessments for Sustainable Developments

Headshot of Dr. Zhiyuan Yang

Zhiyuan is our Air Quality Consultancy Lead and an integral part of our NALO (Noise, Air Quality, Lighting and Odour) Team. 

Leading with Science® in his field, Zhiyuan has played an instrumental role in developing air quality services to support our clients with Solar Farms.


Why are Solar Farm Fire Impact Assessments necessary in the development of solar energy projects?

By the end of January 2023, there were 1,360 operational solar farms covering roughly 100,000 acres across the UK. The total solar farm generating capacity sits at around 14.6 Gigawatts (GW) in the UK as of March 2023. The energy security objective is to increase this generating capacity fivefold to 70 GW by 2035 (March 2023).

Over the past few years, there have been several media reports linking solar farm fire incidents with the increases of solar farm generating capacities. Due to the expected fivefold increase, a surge in fire incident reports is to be expected in the years to come.

Solar farm fire impact assessment services must be developed to satisfy requirements by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). Any solar farm development application needs to consider environmental public health and control the emissions of the substances in the event of an accident or fire.


What factors are typically considered when conducting a Solar Farm Fire Impact Assessment?

Fire impact assessments are very complicated and complex evaluations that consist of combustion, radiation, turbulence, fluid dynamics and other physical and chemical processes. Factors considered in the assessment include:

  • Type of fires, for example, a solar panel fire, a battery energy storage system (BESS) fire or a substation fire.
  • What existing materials and substances could increase the chances of a fire.
  • Identification of people and environments at risk.
  • Identification of appropriate methods and air dispersion models to assess the different types of fire.
  • Prediction of air quality impacts on the surrounding environment.
  • Identification of the fire safety measures to keep people and environment safe.

What potential risks can a Solar Farm Fire Impact Assessment identify?

A solar farm fire impact assessment can identify several potential risks including:

  • The risk of the short-term effects of pollutants on surrounding residential receptors.
  • The risk of whether the pollutant levels breech the relevant UK air quality objectives for the prevention of human health.
  • The risk to humans associated with the UK Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI).
  • The risk to humans associated with Smoke exposure levels.
  • The risk to humans associated with Acute Exposure Guideline Levels (AEGLs).

What role do Solar Farm Fire Impact Assessments play in obtaining regulatory approvals for solar energy projects?

Solar farm fire impact assessment play an important role in meeting the UK government agency’s requirements and in assistance of obtaining regulatory approval. Effective communication and collaboration with UK government agencies helps to ensure that solar farm project application will be successful.

There is however currently no policy, legislation, or guidance which provides clarity on the methodology for undertaking a Solar Farm Fire Risk Assessment.

The UKHSA, however, who is responsible for protecting humans from the impact of health threats such as solar farm fire, is providing the support and recommendations in the scopes and approaches of the fire assessment.


In what ways do Solar Farm Fire Impact Assessments support the long-term sustainability and viability of solar energy investments?

Tetra Tech’s Solar Farm Fire Impact Assessment service has been developed using scientific research and technical innovation to meet the growing solar energy market requirement. The assessment assists in the identifications of potential fire risks and an appropriate solar farm fire action plan to help protect the health of the public and site workers.

The completion of the fire impact assessment provides the regulators and public, confidence in support of long-term sustainability and viability of solar energy investments.

Reference: HM Government, Powering Up Britain – Energy Security Plan (March 2023)

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