First domestic energy storage safety guide released

The Clean Energy Council, in collaboration with CSIRO, has today launched Australia’s first home energy storage safety guide and “the most comprehensive national study of storage safety to date”.

The consumer safety guide and the energy storage safety report were completed by CSIRO as part of the Clean Energy Council’s Future-Proofing in Australia’s Electricity Distribution Industry project, which is receiving funding support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

According to the CSIRO report, Australian consumers are “leading the world in installing solar panels”, which could cause the market for domestic and small commercial battery storage systems to take off.

CSIRO therefore created the safety guide – which includes information on the range of systems available and their maintenance, safe operation and disposal – as it is “critical that consumer safety issues are fully understood and the right standards and installation integrity frameworks are in place”.

It added that the corresponding report, which covers lead acid and lithium ion batteries, is “Australia’s first and most comprehensive assessment of stationary battery storage technologies and the safety risks they present”.

Lack of awareness identified

Notably, CSIRO’s Energy Storage Safety: Responsible installation, use and disposal of domestic and small commercial systems report found that there was widespread ignorance of energy storage systems.

For example, it found that one of the main problems with safety was a lack of consensus on the appropriate method to extinguish a lithium battery storage fire in the event of an incident.

Worryingly, it found that even emergency response teams, such as fire brigades, have “limited education” about the issues related to an energy storage technology in the event of an incident.

It therefore suggested that research is needed into the appropriate method for dealing with such an incident.

Other issues identified included the lack of knowledge on the variety of energy storage technologies and how to care for them in a safe manner in the domestic context, and a lack of sufficient accreditation and training to support and provide qualifications for designers and installers of energy storage systems.

CSIRO therefore made several recommendations to remedy these issues in the belief that, if they are addressed in a “timely fashion”, Australia will “not only be prepared for the predicted energy storage uptake but will potentially be a world-leading example of safety performance for distributed energy storage”.

Recommendations

The CSIRO’s top recommendations are:

  • Improve awareness of and access to information on the variety of battery energy storage technologies and their appropriate operation and care among consumers (general public), designers (engineers and electrical tradespeople) and installers (electrical tradespeople).
  • Research and identify the best methods for lithium-ion battery storage system recycling, and establish a lithium-ion battery recycling initiative.
  • Research and identify the best methods to safely (passively) extinguish domestic and small commercial scale lithium-ion battery storage fires.
  • Align Australian and international standards, and improve local regulatory and building codes relevant to energy storage systems.
  • Establish a set of best practices specific to the battery storage industry, including development and upkeep of an installation, maintenance and incident reporting database for energy storage systems in Australia.
  • Develop training and nationally recognised accreditation pathways for designers and installers specific to energy storage in domestic and small commercial scales.

Dr Sam Behrens, energy group leader at CSIRO, said the release of the report was “timely” as there is currently “a lot of momentum with domestic energy storage system safety among government, industry and research bodies”.

CEC chief executive Kane Thornton said that although the report identifies “a lack information on battery systems in general, as well as a need for standards to be updated for these new technologies”, CEC has already started work to address some of these issues in its Australian Energy Storage Roadmap, which was released at the beginning of the year.

He also welcomed the release of the safety guide, stating it is “full of useful information on how to manage safety concerns, information on different system types, maintenance and much more”.

“Australian households have been world leaders in the adoption of solar power systems, and many are expecting our enthusiasm for renewable energy will make us a major market for energy storage as well,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said: “As the energy storage revolution gains momentum, filling existing knowledge gaps will be critical for ensuring a safe and smooth transition.

“These new resources highlight key challenges for regulators, retailers and installers while seeking to increase consumer understanding of battery storage.

“This work is well-aligned with ARENA’s knowledge sharing mandate and joins a suite of ARENA-supported storage pilots and studies.”

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