NFPA, Research Foundation, host workshop in New York to pave path forward on energy storage system safety

Blog Post created by jesseroman Employee on Nov 20, 2015

Casey ESS

About 60 leading professionals from across a wide range of sectors gathered in New York City yesterday to participate in one of the most comprehensive and high-level discussions to date on energy storage system (ESS) safety.

New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro kicked-off the proceedings by thanking attendees for coming together to tackle an issue that is a growing safety concern for the city. New York now has received more than 100 applications to install energy storage systems in various structures across the city, but large knowledge gaps in safety still remain.

The systems, ranging in size from a small laundry hamper storing just a few kilowatts, to an entire building with capacity of more than a megawatt, are being installed for various uses inside residential and industrial buildings, on rooftops, and outdoors.

The workshop, sponsored by NFPA, the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), and ConEdison, and hosted by the Fire Department of New York, brought together fire service leaders, utility representatives, system manufacturers, government officials, insurers, codes and standards developers, and many others, to try and narrow the knowledge gap.

“The greatest challenge is that codes and standards often lag behind technological development,” said David Conover, a presenter from the U.S. Department of Energy, in framing the problem. “For some new ESS and new applications of ESS, the specific criteria used to define safety may not exist.”

A report from the proceedings will be developed to help New York and other cities across the country better evaluate ESS applications to ensure that the installation and use of these systems is done as safely as possible. The report will also inform code and standard development, and could inform development of new ESS products.

“We’re being proactive, we’re not waiting for the disasters to happen,” said Casey Grant (above at podium), the FPRF executive director. “When a new technology comes along it only takes one event to give an entire industry a big black eye and then you have a huge hill to climb. We want to see this technology succeed. It’s to all of our benefit.”

The clear potential benefits of using large batteries to store energy for use later have led to an increase in demand for ESS systems for both residential and industrial use. The systems allow customers to save money by using stored energy during peak demand when energy prices are high, and pull electricity off the grid and store it in the battery when prices are cheap. The batteries can also work with solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewables, making those technologies more efficient and less prone to swings in supply. ESS also helps with stability across the electric grid, allowing utilities to meet demand during peak times and ensure reliability.

Panel 2

A panel of experts that included the fire service, manufactures, government officials, energy utilities, and others, answered questions at the NFPA sponsored energy storage workshop in New York City yesterday

While the case for energy storage is obvious, what’s less clear is what happens when something goes wrong. How do batteries of various chemistries and technologies react in a fire? How do firefighters make sure batteries are fully extinguished? How do firefighters handle a damaged battery that is still charged with power? What are the risks to first responders and the public from exposure to toxic fumes, electricity, and other hazards if a fire or other incident were to occur?

"In order to address an issue like this we need a very diverse group of people coming at it from every angle,” Grant told attendees yesterday morning, in explaining what they were there to accomplish. “We are keenly focused on generating proceedings from this event, so we have something to build on for this issue.”

The proceedings from the workshop will be available on the Research Foundation’s website sometime next year.

FDNY Deputy Fire Chief Nicholas Del Re concluded the workshop by thanking the attendees and reiterating how important the event will be to New York City officials going forward, as well as the fire service at large.

“Once this issue gets addressed by FDNY and NFPA, I’m sure the rest of the fire service is going to stand up and pay attention,” he said.