Arizona firefighters’ injuries keep safety top of storage agenda

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The utility scale project(s) in question have been installed to help integrate locally-generated rooftop solar such as at this Walmart in nearby Buckeye, Arizona. Image: Walmart Corporate.

A fire at a large-scale battery energy storage project late last week left four firefighters injured in Arizona, with two reported to be seriously injured, in an incident now under investigation.

On Friday 19 April, firefighters were called to a fire at utility Arizona Public Service’s (APS) energy storage facility in Surprise, West Valley, Arizona. The fire had been reported at around 6pm. The utility tweeted shortly afterwards, at 12:06am the following morning, that there had been an equipment failure at the facility. APS said the incident is under investigation.

While initial reports stated eight firefighters had been injured responding to the fire, it was later clarified that four had been examined for potential chemical inhalation injuries but were discharged.

The local fire and medical service of Peoria, where some of the firefighters came from, named the firefighters with brief details of their status late at night on the following day, 21 April:

Captain Hunter Clare: Severely injured-Stable

Engineer Justin Lopez: Most Severely injured-stable

Firefighter Matt Cottini: Injured-Stable

Firefighter Jake Ciulla: Injured-stable-discharged

One local report followed up today on the mens’ progress. According to a doctor quoted by press, some of the men’s injuries are “complex” in nature given that they are in some cases a combination of chemical burns, trauma and thermal injuries.

Industry committed to safety and best practices

The incident occurred at two twinned energy storage systems of 2MW / 2MWh at McMicken substation. The systems were deployed in 2017 to “learn how to better integrate the growing amount of intermittent renewable energy resources into the system, especially private (rooftop) solar”, according to APS. reported that AES’ Advancion energy storage systems were being deployed as part of APS’ ongoing ‘Solar Partner Program’, which evaluates the possibilities for integrating a high penetration of PV on the grid.

By coincidence, a day prior to the explosion, received a communication from the US Energy Storage Association stating that several big companies in the energy and technology world have joined a new taskforce on safety and best practices for manufacturing and operating energy storage systems.

ESA said that a total of 30 companies including LG Chem Power, Panasonic, GE Energy Storage and Duke Energy have all signed up along with a host of other names. The pledge signed emphasised the companies’ “commitment to the well-being and safety of consumers”.

ESA said that the aim is “to develop best practices for potential operational hazard prevention, end-of-life recycling and responsible supply-chain practices,” with the initiative launched at the association’s annual conference in the US last week. Regarding the incident in Arizona on Friday, has reached out for comment to the ESA and to technology provider Fluence – which has taken over operation of parent company AES’ legacy energy storage projects including those at McMicken.

In recent communications, various analysts have told this site that they expect fire safety and safety, in general, to be consistently discussed by industry this year with a view to ensuring best practices, as the energy storage market and in particular the market for lithium-ion batteries continues to grow. 

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