ESA: Investigation of Arizona fire will help inform industry’s future

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AES’ Advancion energy storage systems. AES company Fluence has “dispatched a team of its top safety and technical leaders who are on site” in Surprise, Arizona. Image: AES Corporation.

A serious incident at an energy storage project that hospitalised four firefighters in Arizona is currently under investigation, with “investigative outcomes” from the utility in question, APS, set to inform the industry’s path forward. received a statement from the US national Energy Storage Association in response to the fire, which APS tweeted originally had arisen from “equipment failure”, although it is not yet clear what equipment was responsible and how. One firefighter is thought to have suffered particularly serious injuries, with one medical professional quoted by local press as describing ‘complex injuries’ combining chemical burns, trauma and thermal burns.

“Our first and foremost concern is for the health and safety of the first responders. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them and their families. We are comforted to know that APS is working with local officials to ensure safe conditions and to thoroughly investigate the cause of this incident,” the ESA statement reads.

“As the national association leading the conversation and advocacy efforts surrounding energy storage battery safety, investigative outcomes from APS will inform our path forward as we continue to develop health and safety policies and standards.”

Safety should be top of agenda – and will be

The Energy Storage Association, literally one day before the fire happened, sent out communications launching a best practices initiative involving 30 key industry stakeholder companies – with an emphasis on health and fire safety,

Earlier this year, following reports of several large battery fires in South Korea, analyst Julian Jansen at IHS Markit said that health and safety – and fire safety in particular – will be a key focus for the industry in the near term.

“One of my key predictions for 2019 is that across more developed energy storage markets, we will see accelerated development of safety standards and fire regulations,” Jansen said.

Similarly, at the beginning of the year, analyst Alex Eller with Navigant Research told that the industry “needs to enhance safety features and prove to regulators that battery ESS projects can be safely located in urban/populated areas”. Fires at ESS installations last year, with several in South Korea, “highlight the remaining challenges with safely operating these projects,” Eller said.

There are various initiatives going ahead to develop fire safety standards in the US and other territories, which will follow closely. National standards are expected to be issued in the US this summer. From an industry perspective, Alex Eller pointed out that ESS deployment has been held back in key markets such as New York, which has some of the most stringent fire safety regulations in the world due to these concerns.

That said, the human cost is the first priority of all concerned with the Arizona fire. Technology provider Fluence released its own statement on the fire at two 2MWh battery systems located at McMicken substation, both Advancion lithium-ion battery systems from Fluence’s parent company AES.

“Fluence has dispatched a team of its top safety and technical leaders who are on site. Our top priority is the health and safety of the first responders, and thoughts are with them and their families. The Fluence team is working closely with Arizona Public Service and local officials, and offering any assistance needed to ensure safe conditions and to thoroughly investigate the cause of this incident,” the company said.

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