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Warnings of energy storage market chaos, as industry unites against home battery ban

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One Step Off The Grid

The potentially industry crippling home battery installation safety guideline proposed by Standards Australia has again been slammed by the industry, as fundamentally flawed and – if passed – certain to throw the energy storage industry into chaos, both in Australia and overseas.

In a newsletter to members on Tuesday, Australia’s Energy Storage Council said that the current Draft Battery Standard ASNZ5139 – which effectively bans the installation of lithium-ion battery storage systems inside homes and garages on the basis that they are a fire risk – needed to be completely re-written.

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“The draft Standard is not evidence-based and has enormous implications for the Australian and global battery storage industry,” the ESC said.

“The Energy Storage Council will oppose the adoption of the Draft Standard. The Energy Storage Council will vote against the Draft Standard and will urge other committee members to do the same.”

The call to arms comes at the close of a nine-week consultation period, during which time the draft standard was open for public submissions by Standards Australia, attracting more than 2,900 public submissions.

The submissions will now be “considered in detail”, and “resolved” by the technical committee, with any “substantive changes” released for further consultation. Once all comments are resolved, the SA technical committee will hold a vote to decide whether the document is published, or not.

As we first reported here, the draft standard, which requires battery systems to be located outside of homes and garages, in purpose-built “kiosks” or “bunkers,” was first aired in February this year, but was thought to have been hosed down after a major industry-side backlash.

It resurfaced in June, however, as part of the draft voluntary standard for On-Site Battery Systems, when it was released by Standards Australia for nine weeks of public consultation.

In a June 13 media release, SA said that the draft standard – which it noted had “not been without controversy” – currently included provisions to minimise the risk of self-sustaining fires.

“In considering the fire hazards associated with some of these systems, the draft contains provisions that exclude certain battery systems from being installed inside domestic homes,” it said.

“They may be installed externally and adjoining to domestic homes provided certain fire related safety measures are met.

“These provisions have been included to try to safeguard against hazards during potential failure modes of a storage system, in the absence of available product standards.”

Not surprisingly – even despite the fact that the use of all of SA standards is voluntary – the response has been enormous, with 2917 submissions recorded at the close of the consultation period on Tuesday this week.

These are not published by SA, so it is impossible to know how many were for, or against the standard. But according to the Energy Storage Council – which has led the bid to dump ASNZ5139, and provided a template for members to do the same – not too many of those submissions are likely to have been supportive. Particularly considering the growing number of international battery storage companies putting down roots in Australia for what should be a booming residential market.

In emailed comments to One Step Off The Grid, the ESC said that while it thought the draft standards needed “a total re-work”, it had also commented on “the most egregious issue of Fire Hazard classification.”

And in a release to members, it outlined its concerns in detail:

“The draft is based on an old Lead Acid standard that is simply not fit for purpose,” it says, adding that it takes a “lowest common denominator approach” to battery technology, putting unreasonable restrictions on all systems, regardless of their chemistry and manufacture.

The release also notes that the fire safety issues and the consequential framing of the Draft have not been supported by evidence of actual risks, mirroring criticisms from leading international battery installers, like Germany’s Sonnen, who have rolled out tens of thousands of home batteries across Europe without incident.

“In Europe, we have 30,000 installations and some of those have been around since 2010, and not one fire has happened, no one has been injured,” said Chris Parratt, who heads up the Australian operations of global battery giant Sonnen, in comments in February.

“There is a standard being released in Germany that allows for lithium-ion batteries to be installed in homes. So why Australia appears to be going the opposite way, I don’t know,” Parratt said.

In an extract the battery maker’s own submission to the SA draft standard, Sonnen argued that the assumption that all lithium-based battery’s posed a fire risk would penalise even those “non-hazardous forms of lithium based modules,” including the lithium-iron phosphate that Sonnen uses.

“Hazards for specific technologies need to be set out through appropriate certification rather than general statements,” the company said. “The adoption of (the European standard) will identify hazardous and non-hazardous lithium-based products.”

The ESC also notes that the Draft standard “blurs, conflates and confuses a range of technologies,” which it says would make certainty impossible for consumers, manufacturers, resellers and installers.

“The Draft assumes that ‘any Standard is better than none’,” the ESC said in a recent newsletter. “80 battery storage manufacturers met in Germany this week and the draft Australian standards were the number one issue on the agenda.

“The global battery storage industry is watching and is alarmed by the proposed Australian approach,” it said.

“If this Draft were adopted then the energy storage industry in Australia and globally would be thrown into chaos.”

This article was originally published on RenewEconomy’s sister site, One Step Off The Grid, which focuses on customer experience with distributed generation. To sign up to One Step’s free weekly newsletter, please click here.  

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  • john

    I would assume that the standard is written for no battery management system in place.
    So perhaps for the Do It Self handyman this standard would be correct as they would not have a battery management system in place.
    As to the actual systems in the market they do have this kind of management system in place both to ensure not too much drainage and on the other hand not too much charging both of which may cause thermal run away problems.
    Perhaps what is need is a standard that meets the guidelines for charging and discharge this is not rocket science.
    I would imagine such a standard is in place why rewrite the standard?
    I would not say curtailment of storage but the finger is pointing that way.

    • nakedChimp

      Even DIY’ers going for those sizes (5kWh+, 48V+) will include a battery management system, otherwise they will kill their cells pretty soon and the ones who do do this know that.
      Numb-nuts won’t be stopped by any standard anyway.

    • Mike Westerman

      No – standards are meant to be written to firstly prevent the danger then to mitigate the effects of it. So a standard should not be written to allow for bad engineering – that’s for the courts and the insurers to sort out. A battery standard that assumes Lion batteries will not have a BMS is mere encouragement for unsafe practices.

  • Chris Fraser

    Take care with any assertion that Australian Standards are merely voluntary. If your State Government adopts an AS as written, then all accredited persons are required to follow it within the State. In this case, it would be builders, CEC-accredited persons, electricians, etc, etc

  • George Darroch

    If Standards Australia wants to do something to save the lives of Australians, they might put standards on… candles. These insidious wax-based chemical storage devices have caused thousands of house fires and killed many.

  • bedlam bay

    Did Tony Abbott appoint some of his climate denying patsies into Standards Aust?

  • The Standard Doesn’t apply to FZSoNick Batteries – Sodium Nickel Chloride “Molten Salt” technology: safe, high-performance, environmentally sustainable, cost effective energy storage, long life 20+years, no degradation.
    Non toxic
    Non flammable
    Non Explosive

  • Joe

    Only in Australia could this be possible. Just DUMB.

    • MaxG

      Well said… I unfortunately also came to this conclusion a while ago. Unfortunately, because I am Australian and love this country, but the people… gosh…

      • Joe

        It’s going to be one doozy of a ‘Bunker’ to house Elon & Jay’s big battery.

  • Rob G

    I’d like to know if any vested interests (like coal) have interfered with the AS. This seems extraordinary behaviour that just begs the question. “Who is really pulling the strings?”

    • Miles Harding

      I was just thinking this myself.
      It’s hard to believe that the drafting committee could be as incompetent as they appear without some covert agenda operating.

    • MaxG

      I have no doubts; as no sane person would come up with nonsense.
      The is a lot of this sort of thing going on, where legislative changes are pushed through without much notice from anyone… Except this one certainly got caught out; but will the protest succeed.
      In any case, I selfishly say: I am glad I got this sorted a couple of years ago.

  • Mike Westerman

    The draft standard does seem to be a break from normal AS in not starting with an assumption of removing or minimising a risk as the step before applying restrictive and expensive mitigation measures. For example, the standard relating to LPG storage (AS1596) makes the first point regarding the installation that “the worst possible event, a tank rupture, cannot be allowed to occur” and proceeds with a standard that attempts that aim: exposure to radiation, to ignition sources, avoiding accumulation of escaped gas, physical damage to cylinders etc. The analogous provisions for batteries then should be that “the worst possible event, thermal runaway, cannot be allowed to occur” and the standard would then focus on BMS and heat dissipation, internal insulation integrity etc. The standard as drafted has veered well off this established path!

  • Robert Westinghouse

    Not based on fact or safety, but based on allowing Big Energy to make massive profits from normal Australians. Australian Standards will be the laughing stock of the world…The government must man-up, to the made the BIGGEST mistake in selling the energy market. Now WE are paying for their mistake…. We must tell the idiots we are mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore!!!

  • Phil

    China will buy 51% of Australia and all of of these standards and “gamed” markets will be irrelevant.

    • Greg Hudson

      What do you mean ‘will buy’ ? 😉

      • Phil

        Own or Control 51% of Australia’s Assets. This leads to influence, control , political control , legal control. It’s a good thing and inevitable. Unless Australia adopts the Singapore Tripartite model it will forever be dysfunctional and a takeover certainty for China

  • Craig

    After generations of blood, sweat & intelligent decision making Australia became known world wide as “The Lucky Country”
    Now we collectively face becoming the “Unlucky Safe Country”

    • Tom

      “Intelligent decisions”? No – otherwise it wouldn’t have been luck – it would have been good management.

      The whole sentence is “Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.”

  • Roger Brown

    Don’t go putting that mobile bomb ( Vehicle) in the garage either , or the mower , whipper sniper , etc etc before emptying the fuel out of the tank ! Fire proof Garages ?

    • Carl Raymond S

      Presumably the drafters of this rule keep their mobile and laptop well away from their home.

      • MP

        They must leave their “bomb” phones in a fire box outside their houses.

  • Carl Raymond S

    I see a huge risk. The Arctic is shrinking at rate that will see no Summer ice in our lifetime. If that happens and we lose the arctic albedo (white snow heat reflection), there’s a risk of warming that we cannot stop. Mankind’s best chance is a rapid cleantech revolution. Standing in the way of that is like blocking the fire exits.

    • Tom

      Even worse – what if we do manage to cool the Earth back down? For example, if the Chinese decide that the heat is bad for their food production and starting to flood Shanghai and nearby cities, so they shoot a few rockets into the stratosphere that burn silver iodide or something like that to reflect the solar radiation and cool the Earth back down? (It can be done, relatively cheaply). What happens then?

      What happens then is that the Himalayan and Tibetan glaciers which are currently receding will begin advancing. And that’s when all hell breaks loose.

      If the Himalayan glaciers advance, then where does the water come from? It is stored in the glaciers instead of feeding the rivers. So what happens to the rivers? Less water.

      Given that 50% of the Earth’s population is dependant on Asian glaciers for 50% of their water, and given that most Asian food production depends on irrigation, this will cause massive global food insecurity (ie, starvation).

      Food insecurity is a really good way to start a war.

      • Carl Raymond S

        You are one forward thinker. Congratulations. Two steps ahead of most. I am going to assume that if we have the technology to go zero emissions and to cool the planet, then we have the ability to melt ice and recycle water. Holding the seas back and acidified oceans that put the food chain at risk are ahead on the threat list.

  • Grpfast

    My past experiences with Standards Australia is if they have no previous standard. They will respond best with assistance from industry experts that they respect to assist in writing a new standard.

    • GregS

      You are correct, in fact many laws and standards are written this way.

    • MaxG

      Yep, like the building code… which when compared to Europe equates to what they had in the 60s. Look at the passive house standard being mandatory from 2020 in Europe; AU does not know what a passive house is. LOL

  • Robin_Harrison

    There are no depths the fossil fools will not stoop to, they are desperate.
    I saw a video from Tesla of a really impressive fire test of a power pack. I don’t know if they’ve done similar with a power wall but if they have it would be good if Elon brought it with him next time he’s in town. More people listen to him.
    If anybody has his ear we could use his help.

    • Interested 1

      Elon, I keep hearing that name, like he some sort of superhuman being rather than a mere mortal, fallible like everyone else.

      That said Manufacturers are very welcome and commonly represented on Standards Committees.

      US standards are lower than Australian or European in many areas, and in Energy Safety, we lead the world and I believe I am in good position to know this from long professional experience here and overseas, including USA and Germany.

      I dare say the Committee would have taken a Tesla or any other manufacturers video and test report into consideration, provided it was submitted in a timely way.

      Garages are not well controlled, or managed spaces. Cars contain stored energy as fuel or battery charge (chemical energy). The fuel tanks on cars are well protected from incidental damage and hazard from vapours and fugitive emissions dissipated by ventilation.

      Mechanical damage and internal fault are quite plausible scenarios for batteries, which separation goes a long way, like it or not, towards mitigation.

      • Robin_Harrison

        It may have escaped your attention but Elon Musk is a rather accomplished young man and quite newsworthy. Therefore he gets attention, despite our mainstream media being largely owned by the same people behind this nonsense regulation particularly designed to retard the move to renewable energy. Friends of yours perhaps?
        It may also have escaped your attention that people store fuel for their mowers etc along with all manner of unregulated inflammable stuff in their garages. Considerably more dangerous than lithium batteries which have no vapours or fugitive emissions and zero domestic storage fires so far globally.
        You don’t seem to have learned much during your long professional experience here and overseas.
        BTW if you think regulatory authorities can’t be compromised by vested interests then you really haven’t been paying attention.

        • Interested 1

          http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/safety_concerns_with_li_ion

          Robyn, I don’t think we are likely to reach agreement by this forum, but people have had 100/years to get used to handling petrol, solvent based paints etc but yes some serious fires do occur, despite that.

          Perhaps the standards committee might make a further recommendation to enforce the application of fire standards in relation to flammable materials more generally. But Standards Committees do not have means to go around enforcing standards. Insurance companies may disallow claims if claimant has introduced additional risk unreasonably.

          The above link takes you to a resource i was introduced to by a helpful and responsible battery supplier.

          Proven in use Criteria are applicable when a product has been used without or with acceptably low rate of issues but usually over a longer time than Tesla Powerwall products or similar have been in market. What is NOT acceptable is extrapolation of.safety performance from one manufacturer to another or from one model to a subsequently developed model. When technology evolves rapidly, caution is reasonable. Smart guy, brilliant salesperson, sometimes a dangerous combination.

          • Robin_Harrison

            Thanks for the link and yes, I knew that.
            **Perhaps the standards committee might make a further recommendation to enforce the application of fire standards in relation to flammable materials more generally.**
            Highly unlikely as this is rather more about obstructing the uptake of renewables. Of course we can’t extrapolate safety performance from one maker to another. However, placing the onus on manufacturers with hefty penalties for dropping the ball makes far better sense.
            I repeat, this path is about the fossil fools obstructing the uptake of renewables since there are safety solutions available that don’t.

      • MaxG

        I cannot recall any standard Australia has to be proud of… where is the appropriate vehicle emission standard, where is the 230V we should on based on the standard from 15 years ago… why is the safest motorcycle helmet (BMW) not compliant in AU? … in fact, why does Australia do their own, and not simply adopt European standards? I know, we are special (idiots).

  • Interested 1

    https://georgejetson.org/2017/07/11/a-few-thoughts-on-asnzs-5139/

    The above blog post provides a balanced discussion of the issues. Similar arguments apply to the wearing of helmets. Hysterical objections to that are also common. In a socialised medicine situation we all benefit from risk reduction. One of the simplest ways to mitigate many risks is separation of the hazard from the people or structures we would like to protect.

    Energy Safe Victoria is a body with a world-leading expertise in the issues surrounding safe uses of energy in industry, commerce and residences.

    The house that a battery owner is happy to see burn may ignite the house next door, whose occupants could suffer injury or death if ALARP principle not followed.

    • Interested 1

      These organisations contributed to the DRAFT Standard ASNZS 5139

      Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council Australian Energy Council
      Australian Energy Market Operator
      Australian Industry Group
      Australian PV Institute
      Australian Solar Council
      Clean Energy Council
      Clean Energy Regulator
      Construction, Environment and Workplace Protection, ACT Government Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association
      CSIRO
      Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (VIC) Electrical Compliance Testing Association
      Electrical Regulatory Authorities Council
      Electrical Safety Organisation (New Zealand)
      Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority of New Zealand
      Electricity Engineers Association (New Zealand)
      Energy Networks Australia
      Engineers Australia
      Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
      Institute of Electrical Inspectors
      Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand
      Master Electricians Australia
      National Electrical and Communications Association
      New Zealand Electrical Institute
      NSW Fair Trading
      Office of the Technical Regulator (SA)
      Solar Energy Industries Association Inc
      Sustainable Electricity Association New Zealand
      Sustainable Energy Association
      The University of New South Wales
      Wellington Electrical Association Inc.
      Worksafe New Zealand

      Membership of these committees is open to anyone, but I don’t see any great concentration of people on this one likely to take a particular viewpoint for other than fundamental common-good reasons.

      In my experience >35 years in Engineering around inherently hazardous commodities like flammable materials and energy production! transport and utilisation, good standards, developed by experts who largely donate their time, reduce costs and increase safety at the same time. Knee jerk “she’ll be right” responses are the cause of many expensive and deadly incidents.

      Not following even a DRAFT standard is fraught in this litigious age, and I think people should be more cautious and respectful in their comments on an anonymous public forum like this.

      • Mike Westerman

        As I have posted before, if you want to be taken seriously, post with your own name on these bloggs. If you want to ensure standards are broadly acceptable, download the draft and send in your comments to the relevant committee or member thereof.

      • MaxG

        Well, what about LiFePO4, which does not pose a fire risk (like most Li-ion chemistries) … at least the standard should differentiate the chemistries involved, rather than a blanket approach…

      • Phil

        Well with that level of expertise it MUST be right

        I have LEAD ACID FORKLIFT WET CELLS for my 100% off grid system and they are in a separate , thermally controlled , bunded , vented , fireproof enclosure.

        Why take any risk using EXPERTS when you can do it properly DIY ! .

    • Mike Westerman

      I don’t think George Jetson’s summary is particularly balanced: he states that he sees this as an argument between RE hippies and RE salesmen, ignoring the large number of interested engineers, including those like myself who are actually part of the centralised storage part of the industry, who find the draft inconsistent with good risk management, unnecessarily onerous and likely to bring SA into disrepute rather than improve safety.

  • The best way of making Australians safe is to destroy our life support system with fossil fuels? f..k the the “safety” people to death (that’s the ultimate safe state!) – bribed, incompetent, care nothing about anything but creating jobs for themselves and their relevant “industries” – the bleeding idiots want to stop urgently needed constructive change to help our life support system stay more intact than not – just to stop maybe ten houses burning down in a hundred years? Who runs the “safety” agencies – the insurance, gas and coal industries?

  • Chris

    Just curious, if there was a housefire as so, and say a Powerwall was installed in someones garage, what would happen? as the power wall would eventually catch on fire with the rest of the house?

    • Divergent

      Best thing is to buy a diesel generator like SA has done. 380Mw of generation. But you wouldn’t need one that big for home use.