Nine-fold. That’s how great the increase was in residential battery energy storage system (ESS) installations from Q1 2017 to Q1 2018, according to PV Magazine. Homeowners are not the only ones going gaga over green technology. State officials and business leaders are also embracing the battery energy storage and solar systems that are revolutionizing our nation’s electrical infrastructure. All this innovation, however, can bring new hazards that emergency responders need to be well-versed on.
To address potential fire and life safety issues that may occur with solar and ESS technology in both housing and commercial settings, NFPA has updated and expanded its Energy Storage and Solar Safety Training for the fire service, with funding from FEMA. In 2015, FEMA funded NFPA’s initial efforts to develop first-of-its-kind ESS classroom training program for the fire service, and recently provided a second round of funding to update and expand the content with solar safety information and the latest in storage research findings.
The instructor-led course explores terminology, basic electrical theory, types of PV installations, battery chemistries (lead acid, lithium-ion, sodium sulfur, and flow batteries), as well as common applications they will be found in. Detailed guidance on handling failure modes and potential hazards associated with these technologies are covered, including pre-incident planning, systems shutdown, battery thermal runaway and re-ignition, ventilation, and other emergency response procedures. Fire service training officers are encouraged to participate in the training, then host classes locally to address the knowledge gaps surrounding alternative energy technology for first responders, AHJs and others in their area.
“We are increasingly seeing more high power battery energy storage systems comprised of hundreds or even thousands of smaller battery cells in our communities. These units connect together to create a much larger power supply capability, and are cropping up in large outdoor shipping containers, inside commercial buildings, at multi-family dwellings, and in residential homes,” NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley said recently. “Our first responders and enforcers need to know about hazards including electrical shock, batteries exploding or reigniting, HAZMAT issues, and flammable toxic off-gassing so that they can keep themselves and others from harm.”
NFPA has been addressing the topics of ESS and solar safety for years via relevant educational sessions, research and content. NFPA 855, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems, is slated to be released in 2020 and will help create more stringent ESS requirements nationally. The proposed standard will work alongside the new NEC Article 706. There were nearly 600 public inputs submitted on NFPA 855 last fall and more than 800 public comments were received during a recent comment phase, underscoring the strong interest in energy capture, distribution and storage.
For more information on the enhanced ESS and solar classroom training, contact NFPA. FEMA funds have also been earmarked to update NFPA’s self-paced online training with interactive 3D modeling, videos and quick reference materials by the beginning of 2019.