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Australian regulators warned they could cripple battery storage industry

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The Clean Energy Council has upped the campaign against “heavy-handed regulation” by state and federal authorities, warning that the Australian home energy storage industry could be crippled even before it gets going.

The issue was first raised by RenewEconomy last month when we revealed that Standards Australia was about to unveil proposals that would effectively ban some lithium-ion technologies from being installed inside homes and garages.

tesla powerwall 2

But the risk of a ban has widened since Queensland regulators released standards that targeted not just lithium-ion, but all battery storage technologies, recommending they be installed only in a separate fire-proof enclosure.

The industry has reacted with horror. Zen Energy has branded the proposals as “ridiculous”, independent analyst David Leitch has called them “bullsh**”) and major local and international manufacturers have vowed to fight them.

Many have questioned why battery storage devices should be banned, when laptops, electric vehicles and liquid fuels are not.

Two of the main industry bodies, the CEC and the Australian Energy Council, are also campaigning against them, having each rolled out their own guidelines in the past six months.

CEC chief executive Kane Thornton on Friday said the proposals would throw up unnecessary barriers and red tape around an industry which is poised to make a big contribution to energy security across the country.

“Requiring home energy storage units to be installed in a contained unit on the outside of a house is unnecessarily restrictive, as long as they meet strong international standards and are installed by an accredited installer to clear guidelines,” he said in a statement.

“Obviously a clear, robust framework towards regulating home batteries is essential, but an over-zealous approach to regulation will simply put this technology out of reach of many households.

“This is an exciting technology and we should be doing everything we can to encourage more widespread use rather than putting on the brakes before it properly gets going.”

Thornton later told RenewEconomy that he hopes “common sense will prevail”, but the CEC wanted to make sure that no other state made unnecessary pre-emptive strikes against the technology.

“We just don’t want regulators to jump at shadows and over-reach,” he said.

He pointed to a CSIRO a year ago, which recommended that batteries be properly installed, and away from living areas, but did not go so far as to recommend a separate enclosure.  

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  • solarguy

    Most of these Lithium batteries are IP 65 rated, allowing them to be installed on wall outside if needed anyway. The few like Enphase are only IP20, so must be installed under cover, but no problem.
    I get the feeling that sinister motives from the utility control freaks wanting to protect their interests, have a hand in this bullshit!

    • Andy Saunders

      IP is Ingress Protection (incoming water/dust), so not too relevant to fire issues (except if they are subject to rain or flooding).

      • solarguy

        Well yes it is relevant, in relation to the fact these people are banging on about fire safety, if the battery is mounted on an external wall, it is less likely to cause as much damage or any at all. Any toxic gas is already vented to the atmosphere also.

    • Ben Davies

      Not sinister at all. Maybe Standards Australia committees are old boys clubs full of old Engineers Australia boys formerly employed by utilities looking after their interests.
      I tried to get on one of those committees once. Fat chance. The only question was “Have you served on a previous standards committee”.
      Having said that I live in an old wooden house and would not dream of having batteries in the house. Nor the garage either.

      • solarguy

        I would say experience in the relevant field relating to the particular standard would be a criteria. “Sinister” as what 3rd party could be influencing the committee’s decision, if any.
        The BMS of these batteries is there to control over and under charging, both of which can cause thermal runaway. So it isn’t likely any of them would catch fire. A committee would best serve the public by ensuring tests are performed by the manufacturer to prove the safety of their batteries before being allowed on to our market.

      • daw

        Std Aust c’tees are there for safety and minimum quality standards so that people are protected against shonks (and there are plenty of them) including this new renewable energy paradigm. Your claim that they are an old boys club looking after utilities interests is a nonsense. Sounds like youthful inexperience who thinks he knows it all to me. Years, even decades of experience is necessary to try and make standards as sound as possible.
        Insisting on having batteries outside living quarters sounds sensible to me. Has anyone done substantial testing for fire rating in domestic dwellings to see what happens when a house is well alight? I don’t think so!
        Who wants a battery box in a house anyway ?They don’t look all that attractive on a wall to me. Most meter boxes are external isn’t that where batteries would/ should be – to connect to circuitry.
        You are right in your last paragraph Ben.

  • wmh

    The energy stored in one Powerwall is 14kWh. This is the same energy as stored in 1.5L of petrol (9.25 kWh/L).

  • jm

    isn’t the whole point to try and make renewables unstable and uneconomic, so that the government can save us with more coal mines and more coal powered energy?

    • Calamity_Jean

      Of COURSE it is!

  • davidb98

    political, coal, gas industry lobbies
    and maybe regulators have shares or have been given/promised shares in coal, gas
    what a dirty world we live in where people are willing to destroy the world for their own greedy benefits

  • Steve

    So every store selling batteries will need a new structure? Bunning Mitre 10, Woolies, Coles – the list is endless

    • daw

      None of those stores are living quarters Steve. Batteries for sale aren’t connected to anything including a charger. They aren’t supplying any load either.Nor is the list endless.

      • Alex

        I have two laptop computers, batteries for camera traps, lawnmowers and cameras constantly recharging in my house. Are you suggesting that I need to build a fireproof shed to put all this stuff in while continuing to cook on my gas stove inside? Have you any evidence that Lithium battery storage is actually any more unsafe than laptop batteries when the warranty for these systems is 10 years, and a SINGLE fire event would be catastrophically bad publicity for the battery company?

  • Chris Fraser

    Under the building code (BCA), some fire separation is dealt with using additional fibre cement sheeting under the wall cladding. If a battery is intended to go on an outside wall, maybe a conservative person would wish to add the sheet and shield the house ?

    • solarguy

      Sounds sensible to me.

  • Brunel

    There should not be a ban on luxury showers and toilets either.

    It is hypocritical to argue against a proposed ban on home batteries while cheering on the fact that luxury showers and toilets are banned.

  • Ian Mclaughlin

    Don’t worry the COALition is completely opposed to “Red Tape” that controls business activity so it will not happen! Yeah Right! LOL.

  • Mark Roest

    Hello Giles,
    A couple of things. One good approach is to publicly take the bully pulpit and talk about how to do evidence-based decision making correctly — you are assuming the sale, so to speak, to the audience, and if you make that connection, and the industry contributes to the process of really delving into what is and is not safe, but does it in a public, promoted way, with enough depth to intrigue the intelligent and enough clarity that almost no one is left behind, you can actually commandeer the public’s attention. Of course you have to have already figured out how to deflect the inevitable attacks. If you find risks, then openly design something that makes sense, and all agree to it. Level the playing field. And embarrass the regulators into surrender to the point of accepting evidence-based results and least-cost effective solutions.

    If the result is too expensive for the industry, you will have established an evidence-based result that you can make the regulators accept when a thoroughly safe battery (no fires, no sulfuric acid, no toxins generally) that is less expensive and has greater capacity and cycle life than lithium-ion is commercialized. That way you can heighten the contradictions to the point where you overwhelm any regulators who attempt to continue to protect the fossil fuel interests by including it in safety rules that are designed for actual, evidence-based hazards, so that everyone agrees with Leitch. You make their position untenable, and take away their social license to stop a safe battery that can get the job of decarbonizing done.

    • daw

      Right you are Mark and I add that if renewables and Batteries are the way of the future then they should be able to stand on their own merits without subsidies ( taking money of taxpayers and giving to others). Greedy Entrepeneurs.

      • Steve159

        what money is being take from taxpayers?

        If you’re referring to the RET, the RET does NOT take once cent from taxpayers. Zero. Nil. Nada. Ziltch.

        The RET simply transfers wealth (money) from polluters to clean-energy suppliers.

        No taxpayer money involved, at all. And if you’re thinking of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, they run at a profit, so are returning money to the taxpayers.

        On the other hand, as was calculated by the IMF, fossil fuels receive taxpayer subsidies a little over $1,700 per person per year (for every Australian).

        Standard LNP – say the exact opposite of the truth. I think it’s called “doublespeak”.

        • daw

          ”On the other hand, as was calculated by the IMF’- creative accountants at best
          So how come the CEFC is receiving $2B / year over 5years ($10b in total)Every individual who installs a rooftop solar system receives RECs which are usually claimed by the suppliers/installers of the system.
          AGL received $166.7m for the 102 MW Nyngan Solar farm and $64.9m for the 53MW Broken Hill Farm.
          While the installers/owners/operators of the 56MW Moree farm receive $106.7m from ARENA and $46m from CEFC. So where does the Govt get it’s money from? The Taxpayer of course. They have sold off all the income earning entities that the people of the Commonweath used to own so now their source of income is from the many different taxes.

          • Mike Shackleton

            The CEFC expects a return on that money. It’s an investment not a handout. But owning a bank is good, yet providing finance and getting a return on that finance is bad? You’re just a walking contradiction.

          • Steve159

            What part of “they run at a profit” do you not understand?

            As for RECs please do your homework – the certificates are the exchange medium between polluters and clean-energy suppliers (installers, et al). Nothing to do with taxpayers, at all.

            As for ARENA, their investment in renewable energy will undoubtedly begin to offset the yearly $600 million in the Hunter Valley, and the $800 million in the Latrobe valley that according to medical professionals is the cost to the public health system (for coal pollution).

            By jingo laddie that’s an excellent return on investment.

      • Mike Shackleton

        There are no government incentives for battery storage in Australia. If you want one, you can buy one and have it installed. You’ll get some incentives for installing rooftop solar, but not the battery itself.

        • daw

          Depends if the batteries are part of the solar PV installation and they (solar installations) are subsidised. I agree with your statement if you want one you should pay for it and not bludge on someone else. When they can be profitable and competitive in their own right is time enough for them to replace conventional generation.

  • Steve159

    Let’s apply evidence-based research, and minimise the risk of house-hold fires.
    According to various authorities (easily found with a net search), e.g. South Australian Country Fire Service, leading causes of house fires are cooking equipment, home heating appliances, and electric blankets.

    Right then, everyone will be required, by law, to cook in a suitably insulated out-house.
    And sleep in one, as well.

    Idiots.

    Someone ought to enlighten these fools that the Samsung Note 7 fires were due to poor design. By all means ensure the standards for battery enclosures are rigorous, but if they’re genuinely concerned about safety, let’s see those out-houses being mandated.

    • daw

      Despite best efforts to have buildings made fire resistant, fires still happen.
      Your suggestions about cooking and outhouses are a nonsense in this day and age but if you are inferring that batteries should be allowed in houses is a contradiction. They would only add an unnecessary complication.

      • Alex

        I think Steve has a fair point- given the number of explosive aerosols kept under kitchen cupboards, the fact that most people already have Lithium batteries recharging on their bedside tables, and there are millions of houses with gas stoves and heaters already- singling out lithium batteries for power storage as requiring a separate building seems like a deliberate sabotage of the industry to me, especially as there has not been ONE house fire attributed to such an installation in Oz. I don’t see the comparison to cooking in an outside building as nonsense at all.

      • Steve159

        Once again (I’m typing this slowly so you can keep up).

        “According to various authorities (easily found with a net search), e.g. South Australian Country Fire Service, leading causes of house fires are cooking equipment, home heating appliances, and electric blankets.”

        That being the case, a cooking out-house, as a safety precaution is, based on the evidence, a necessary mandate, if batteries are deemed a risk (note that “batteries” are not one of the main causes of house fires).

        Your reply would gain better traction had you an ounce (gram) of consistency in your views.

        • daw

          You silly goose. Type at what ever speed you like. no one knows what you are typing or at what speed because nothing happens until you ‘post it’.

          • Steve159

            You’re can’t be serious – I was taking the piss, as we say in Australia.

            But by all means attack me personally, let’s not bother with common sense, or a modicum of consistency of argument.

            Astute readers will conclude that insofar as you’ve played the man (“You silly goose”), you’ve conceded the argument, and accepted that your original post was irrational.

            btw, in regards to your “but if you are inferring” – let me fix that for you, “but if you are implying”.

  • Stephen Gloor

    Thats what they have been told to do. Too much investment in coal and fracking to risk by people dropping off the grid.

  • This is a mix of public servants & self serving politicians (A) keeping themselves employed by sticking their nose into everything and (B) Using regulations as a road block for any technology that disadvantages monopolies of energy companies.

    I think the majority of people are getting tired of government regulations and are at the point where we want to tear down 70% of the bloated bureaucracy, excessive police state surveillance and revenue raising priorities, and put the boot into corrupt politicians that rent out “Pay to Play” access to the public purse to their corporate sponsors.

  • Roger Brown

    Simple , just buy a Redflow Battery. Being a non- Lithium battery , using a Bromide- zinc water based product in the tanks ( fire retardant ) and no fumes !