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Tesla Megapack on fire in ‘minor incident’ at battery storage site in Australia

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A fire has taken place at a 50MW/100MWh grid-scale battery storage project in Queensland, Australia, as it reached the final stages of its commissioning phase.

One of 40 Tesla Megapack battery energy storage system (BESS) units caught fire last night at Bouldercombe Battery Project in Rockhampton, around 640km from the state capital Brisbane, project owner and operator Genex Power said in a statement following various press reports.

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While the publicly traded company said in its announcement that the fire incident which began at around 7:45pm local time was “minor” and involved a “low intensity fire”, broadcaster ABC said police had urged nearby residents to “stay indoors and keep respiratory medication close by”.

The ABC report noted officers said hazardous smoke was spread across the local area – although this was not alluded to in the brief statement by Genex.

Genex did say however that Queensland Fire and Emergency Services advised that the fire be allowed to burn out under its supervision, without water being applied. “Let it burn” is one of the industry-accepted (and fire service-approved) strategies for coping with fires, particularly for those involving high energy density nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) lithium batteries.

Meanwhile the fire did remain contained to the single Megapack without propagating to other units and the BESS – Genex’s first – was disconnected from the grid. Genex energised the project in June as it entered commissioning, having reached financial close on it and begun construction in early 2022.

Genex said it would be working with Tesla and high-voltage solutions provider Consolidated Power Projects to determine the root cause of the fire.

The incident marks the latest unfortunate occurrence of fire at a large-scale battery storage facility this year with perhaps the most notable being the spate of three that happened in the space of a couple of months in spring and summer in New York, US.

Those prompted New York State governor Kathy Hochul to convene a working group across various state agencies to tackle concerns around BESS safety as New York looks to significantly ramp up its deployment of the technology.

Just over a week ago, a fire occurred at developer Terra-Gen’s Valley Center 140MW/560MWh BESS site in California, resulting in four-hour shelter in place and evacuation orders for residents nearby.

It is also thought to be the second fire to occur involving Tesla Megpacks, with the first, also in Australia, happening during pre-commissioning testing at the Victorian Big Battery, the country’s biggest lithium-ion battery project to date at 300MW/450MWh.

As with Genex’s Bouldercombe project the Victorian Big Battery fire did not propagate beyond the initially affected units.

However The Guardian newspaper reported today that the Bouldercombe incident has already instigated a political debate over the use of battery storage technology.

The Bouldercombe project is nearing the final stages of commissioning, due to be completed in October, Genex said.

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