Fire Safety of Building Integrated Photovoltaic System

Host Faculty: Engineering
General Subject Area: Fire Engineering
Project Level: PhD
View the Research Website
warehouse fire

Photovoltaic (PV) module nominally comprises silicon lattices encased between glass and/or plastic sheets mounted within a metal frame. When the silicon cells are exposed to light or solar radiation, the excitation results in forward bias mode for the PV module, producing electrical current. PV is one of the renewable alternatives for electricity generation which is becoming an attractive addition onto new or existing buildings to enhance sustainability and to reduce carbon emission from the built environment. In the last few years, global and local sustainability ambitions have shifted from ensuring sustainable development to achieving net zero emission, which will require the continuous growth in BIPV applications to achieve these objectives.

The common large-scale implementation of BIPV is over the roof of warehouse buildings where expansive flat roof area maximises the solar radiation received. Following the increased popularity of BIPV system over the years, the number of related fire incidents has notably increased, some causing significant property damage. The typical installation of PV module across the roof results in a semi-enclosed, confined space between the module and the roof. Fire spread within this space is enhanced by the channelling effect of hot gases and the deflected flame extension, which preheats and ignites the adjacent combustible roofing material. PV module and flat membrane roof contain multiple layers, some of which are combustibles. The understanding of thermal decomposition and burning behaviours of these complex composite fuels will improve the current knowledge on BIPV fires. A well-scoped PhD. research coupling multi-scale experimental and numerical study is a feasible basis to assess the large-scale BIPV fire spread over flat membrane roof system. The proposed research are as follows:

(1) Literature review to present the current progress of BIPV fire safety research.

(2) Multi-scale experimental investigation, including material-scale thermal analysis to determine the thermal decomposition behaviour of combustibles, bench-scale cone calorimetry and intermediate-scale single PV module fire experiments to establish the simplified burning behaviour and associated combustion properties, and large-scale experimental setup involving multiple PV modules to investigate different fire spread mechanisms and the feasibility of proposed mitigation strategies.

(3) Numerical fire spread modelling to predict the multi-scale burning behaviour, the extent of large-scale fire damage, the performance of mitigation strategies, and the sensitivity of simulated fire spread towards environmental factors.

(4) Recommend suitable fire spread mitigation strategies to ensure fire-safe BIPV.


Supervisor: Dennis Pau

Key qualifications and skills

Relevant Bachelor or Masters qualification in Fire Engineering

Experimental experience on oxygen depletion calorimetry and thermal analysis (optional)

Numerical experience with Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) or similar (optional)

Does the project come with funding

Students can apply for the UC Doctoral Scholarship as part of the admission process

Final date for receiving applications



confined space fires; building roof fires; fire safety; photovoltaic system; solar energy