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NSW launches home battery guide, as race to “plug hole” threatens industry

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The scramble to set battery installation and safety standards for Australian homes and businesses continues, with New South Wales becoming the latest state to issue its own set of guidelines, ahead of what many believe will be a massive boom in uptake of behind-the-meter battery storage.

The Home Solar Battery Guide was released by the NSW government’s department of planning and environment this week, offering 64 pages of advice and guidance on designing a “home power station”; buying the right battery; and installing and maintaining it safely and smartly.

NSWbatteryguide

The guide, which was developed in collaboration with the Total Environment Centre, the Alternative Technology Association and Zumio, is part of the NSW government’s Renewable Energy Action Plan, which acknowledges that the state’s more than 350,000 solar households are now considering whether storage will work for them.

The NSW guide is also an attempt to compensate for the complete lack of any enforceable national standards for home battery installation in Australia – a situation that industry players say is both untenable, and potentially detrimental to the nascent market.

Apart from opening the door to inferior and potentially dangerous products, market participants argue that the extended absence of guidelines also threatens to lead to an over-correction in safety regulations, such as the ban on in-home or garage battery installations that been proposed by Standards Australia in June.

SA’s draft safety guideline 5139 puts lithium-ion batteries as a category 1 fire risk, effectively banning them from being installed inside homes and garages, but instead requiring construction of a detached, fire-proof “bunker” to house home energy storage systems.

The NSW guide, by comparison, has just one page on safety, offering “simple and logical tips” including that – in the absence of national safety standards for lithium-ion batteries – “householders should satisfy themselves … by asking sellers and installers about how their products and installation conform to the interim guidelines and any international standards.”

As RenewEconomy reported earlier this month, the Standards Australia safety proposals have been described as a massive case of over-reach, even by groups whose members form part of the standards advisory committee. Some have suggested that the standards process – which normally takes several years – has been rushed.

Others agree that standards must be put in place sooner, rather than later. But they say these should be based on international standards, particularly those used in Europe, which focus on the safety of the battery cells, before they are installed as part of a home storage unit.

Australia’s Clean Energy Council is one of those voices urging a sensible, and measured approach to installation rules, and is due to release its own battery guidelines at the end of this week, for which it is seeking feedback.

“They’re trying to plug a hole between now and when the Standards Australia guildeline become mandatory,” an industry source told RE, on the condition of anonymity.

“The CEC (guide) does allow batteries to be installed internally, and is recommending so far that (the SA rule) is revised, while the 62619 (international standard of battery cell safety) is made mandatory; which is what we all want,” the source said.

“A lot of the large manufacturers have already met those standards… Anyone who works in the EU market would be fine.”

The source added that imposing measures such as those recommended by Standards Australia was like “jumping to an endgame.”

“(It’s) like putting a fence at the bottom of a steep hill, instead of at the top,” he said.

“The industry needs to know that the new 5139 does not take into account the quality of the product. And it’s going to slow down the whole industry – at a time when it’s just taking off.

“Installers need to be active and voice their concerns and have a look at the new (CEC) draft and comment.

“The basics are that the whole industry should have products in place (that meet international standards). That should be the first thing we do, rather than limit installations. Because – as we have seen with the London apartment building fire recently – no matter how well a product is installed, if it doesn’t meet safety standards, then it is a going to be a hazard.”  

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  • wmh

    There is an alternative way to store energy rather than batteries and it is way cheaper.
    If you need home heating (60% of domestic energy use in NSW and SA), hot water can store 50 kWh in $2.28 worth of water.

    • Mark Roest

      Pretty good point, from a whole systems perspective. As people used to, and probably still do, say in the U.S. solar industry, efficiency first, then make up the difference with solar. Store heat inexpensively, and use PV for electricity for both building and vehicles.

    • MaxG

      We are doing this in the home I am building… 800l storage tank for hot water and hydronic heating. A temperature difference of 50 deg C will provide 46kW of energy. It will be fed by a German high temp coolant solar panels, and in colder periods augmented by solar PV.

      • Phil

        That’s impressive Max. Would love to see some feedback and detail on how well that works

      • Phil

        One of my neighbours who is on grid with solar uses one of these. Works very well for them at very low upfront cost http://solarimmersion.co.uk/

  • John P

    Across rural Australia there are thousands of families who have been living off grid, on batteries for many years – more than 50 years in some cases. So there are plenty of case studies on how to install batteries and maintain them safely. And there are many installers who have set up safe and reliable installations in these regions so there are plenty of experienced people who can write the rules on how to do it. There are no great secrets involved.

    • Phil

      Yep , i have that , All of the services such as water pumps ( cant freeze),off grid power (batts held within 15-25 degree range) are in a decommissioned Refrigerated container for thermal stability and safety. Cheaper than Insurance

    • solarguy

      No argument from me John.

  • Brunel

    Get rid of Standards Australia.

    The Powerwall is UL certified.

    The products that are legal in Europe should be legalised in AUS.

  • solarguy

    Oh look, test the bloody things and if they fail they can’t be sold here it’s that bloody simple. Pump em with to much energy voltage and current and if the BMS isn’t up to it, don’t allow the product in. Simple!

  • Joe

    Don Harwin, what a treasure he is these last few weeks. His Home Solar Battery Guide on top of his recent speech about RE must be giving his fellow COALition colleagues grey hair. I’ve had a read of Donnie’s Guide, its very good, and I’d say that there will be a lot of new converts to RE after reading The Guide. Now we wait for ‘The Coalers’ to bring out their own Guide…. “100% CLEEEEN Coal, Now & Forever”

  • Barry Manor

    John P, with all due respect, the vast majority of off-grid Australians you mention (myself included) currently use lead acid or other non-lithium chemistry batteries for energy storage. The specific challenge with defining workable home battery storage standards is to prevent catastrophic house fires from lithium battery self-ignition. Lithium batteries can do this under certain conditions if over- or under-charged. They have far higher energy density than lead acid and most other incumbent battery chemistries, for which self-ignition has rarely been a significant issue.

    Because of this unfortunate characteristic, lithium batteries require specialised battery management systems that automatically avoid conditions favourable for self-ignition. This requirement should be the focus of any emerging standard.

    Lithium batteries are expected to undergo a substantial reduction in cost over the next couple of years and are highly likely to find widespread application in energy storage systems, particularly given the scale of lithium battery manufacturing infrastructure currently under development.

  • Does this “home battery guide” suggest the size of battery needed for wind turbines? This does. – Wind, storage and back-up system designer
    http://scottish.scienceontheweb.net/Wind%20power%20storage%20back-up%20calculator.htm
    Peak demand, wind and back-up power / energy storage capacity calculator
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/19ab4e3e61f010b6f2f21a43e6d769d9480cda614acec5c772ed490fae2672ae.jpg

    For the specification and design of renewable energy electricity generation systems which successfully smooth intermittent wind generation to serve customer demand, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year.

    Adopting the recommendation derived from scientific computer modelling that the energy storage capacity be about 5 hours times the wind power capacity, the tables offer rows of previously successful modelled system configurations – row A, a configuration with no back-up power and rows B to F offering alternative ratios of wind power to back-up power. Columns consist of adjustable power and energy values in proportion to fixed multiplier factors.

    Scottish Scientist
    Independent Scientific Adviser for Scotland
    https://scottishscientist.wordpress.com/

    * Wind, storage and back-up system designer
    * Double Tidal Lagoon Baseload Scheme
    * Off-Shore Electricity from Wind, Solar and Hydrogen Power
    * World’s biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme, for Scotland?
    * Modelling of wind and pumped-storage power
    * Scotland Electricity Generation – my plan for 2020
    * South America – GREAT for Renewable Energy

    • I ought to mention that I am a little sceptical that batteries offer a cost-effective full-power 24/7/52 on demand power for energy storage for solar or wind generation.
      Reduced power battery power operation is possible of course but I think for full power that pumped-storage hydro is the cost-effective technology, where that’s possible.

  • Nick Chovski

    If SA is so concerned about a Solar battery in my garage , what about my “Tesla”parked in my garage , or do i have to build a Bunker for the Electric car .What a load of bbbulbattery.
    Nick .

    • Hettie

      Although I am not able to even think about owning an EV, the same thought occurred to me when first the extraordinary proposed standard for battery installation was mooted.
      I have seldom heard of anything more batshit stupid.