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Safety practices of the BESS industry, Part 2: Battery analytics


ESN Premium’s look at safety practices in the battery storage space continues with an example of how battery analytics helped a developer respond to community concerns.

Safety continues to be a number one priority for the battery storage industry but considering media reports around community opposition to new-build projects, that message is perhaps not filtering down to the public.

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As we have seen in numerous territories in the US and UK in particular, battery energy storage system (BESS) is sometimes perceived by local communities as a potential fire and even explosion hazard.

In this series, we will look at some of the things that companies in the industries are doing to mitigate fire and explosion risk.

In the previous instalment, we focused on BESS product design and spoke with Helena Li, executive president at Trina Solar, about the safety features built in to the design of Elementa 2, the newest BESS solution from the vertically integrated solar PV company’s Trina Storage subsidiary.

This time out, we speak with Kai-Philipp Kairies, CEO of ACCURE, a cloud-based battery analytics solution provider.

Although our discussion took place earlier this year at the Energy Storage Summit EU in February, and some of you will have already read our feature interview from that conversation, publication of the following previously unpublished excerpts is timely.

Just this week, another town planning board in the US state of New York, Oyster Bay on Long Island, declared a six-month moratorium on BESS development. This has been the case for a few other local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) in New York, while the state wrestles with the aftermath of fires that took place last year at battery storage sites.

Thankfully, no casualties were reported from those fires, and an interagency working group convened by the state’s governor, Kathy Hochul, to investigate and ensure no future incidents can happen, found no lasting damage to human health. However, it’s fair to say reputational damage was done.

At the same time, New York has struggled, like other urban centres worldwide, with the much more serious problem of cheap, poorly made micromobility devices such as e-scooters and e-bikes presenting a serious fire hazard. Again, the protections, regulations, and technologies in and around BESS assets are several steps above what is included in micromobility battery systems, but in terms of public perception, the impact is still harmful to the reputation of batteries in general.

Kairies gives us one example of what he says are many, where his company’s analytics solution was able to step in and solve a potential safety problem and at the same time give reassurances to the local community.

Battery analytics has been explored from several angles on this site, including a series of deep dive webinars with providers TWAICE and PowerUp.

ACCURE’s Kai-Philipp Kairies and a team from rival/frenemy company TWAICE were even persuaded to publish back-to-back articles in Volume 35 of our quarterly journal, PV Tech Power, published last summer.

Dr Stephan Rohr, Sebastian Becker and Dr Matthias Simolka from TWAICE covered the role of analytics in de-risking BESS deployment, while ACCURE’s Kairies took a technical deep dive into analytics and their role in commissioning.

Safety fears of Texas community allayed

ACCURE was contracted to help at the commissioning phase of a large-scale solar-plus-storage project by National Grid Renewables, the US-based clean energy developer arm of National Grid, operator of the UK’s electricity network.  

The project, a 275MWac solar facility with 125MWh BESS in Texas, was delayed on commissioning, and Kai-Philipp Kairies says the support ACCURE was able to provide brought the timeline of the delay down from the two or three months the developer was expecting to face, to a couple of weeks.

“They were very positively surprised by how much we could help,” Kairies says, with National Grid Renewables then contracting the analytics provider to continuously monitor its entire fleet of BESS assets.

Analytics during the commissioning phase can be used to troubleshoot and fault-find things like cell imbalances, improperly installed modules, battery management system (BMS) failures, and others that, Kairies claims, without the software can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Then there’s what analytics can do on safety. ACCURE claims to have prevented dozens of potential fires for its clients. However, prevented fires don’t tend to make news headlines.

There are dozens of examples of members of local communities around the world being opposed to battery storage systems in their areas. Some of these are around concerns such as visual impact, or industrialisation of greenfield sites, or even—in a growing number of cases—noise from asset operation.

Yet by far, the most common reason cited, at least as far as the pages of anecdotal evidence gathered by this writer to date, is around safety, namely fire safety and explosion risk.

Of course, battery storage asset owners and investors have a vested interest in not seeing their asset go up in flames, but as our interview a while back with battery fire safety expert and former firefighter Paul Rogers at Energy Safety Response Group showed, BESS integrators very often underestimate the depth of feeling among the public and AHJs on this subject.

Real-world data is best proof of safety

One of the reasons National Grid Renewables worked with ACCURE is to be able to show communities the work that it does to ensure safety of its solar PV and energy storage sites, Kai-Philipp Kairies says.

“In the US, there’s been too many battery fires. Let’s just face it, there’s some battery systems that had fires two times in a year,” Kairies says.

Some among the Texas community near the solar-plus-storage site in question had even started a petition: “not even a moratorium [on new development] but to tear it [the project] down,” Kairies says.

“Obviously, that’s problematic. I think we need to take the concerns very seriously, and as an industry, it’s our job to deliver safe systems. So National Grid Renewables said, ‘Hey, we want to do everything we can. So we’re using ACCURE’s Safety Manager to prevent such events’.”

National Grid Renewables “actively promotes” those safety features to the community, Kairies, says, which “seems to resonate well” with the public.

“We can show here that we’ve got his track record of finding stuff before it happens. It’s rare, but if it happens, we’ll find it, and that really just shows the communities that they’re being heard.”

Resources for ESN Premium subscribers:

Using battery analytics to support BESS commissioning: A technical deep dive

Published in PV Tech Power Volume 35

Cloud-based analytics for de-risking BESS deployment and operation

Published in PV Tech Power Volume 35

VIDEO: De-risk and protect your battery assets with digital commissioning and in-life analytics

Sponsored webinar with TWAICE

VIDEO: The economic benefits of cloud-based battery analytics for battery storage assets

Sponsored webinar with PowerUp

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