Household battery storage is a game changer – but is it safe?

Amid all the hype about the booming residential battery storage market, remarkably little has been said about the safety of putting what amounts to a mini-power plant in your home.
As ZEN Energy founder and boss Richard Turner told One Step last month, installing a residential battery storage system is no small thing – indeed, we have heard it described, on numerous occasions by various energy industry insiders, as the most dangerous item you will ever put in your house.
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“We’ve got a bit of a challenge in educating people about energy storage,” Turner said, referring not only to the way batteries work as part of a residential energy system, but also to “all these people bobbing up saying they’re energy storage experts.
“It takes years to understand lithium-ion batteries. It’s a very very slow process. … People need to be mindful that, with solar and storage, you’re putting a full power plant in your home.”
Turns out, the Clean Energy Council has also noticed this knowledge gap and, with the launch this week of Australia’s first home energy storage safety guide in collaboration with CSIRO, is doing something about it.
Backed by ARENA, the consumer safety guide and the energy storage safety report were completed by CSIRO as part of the Clean Energy Council’s Future-Proofing in Australia’s Electricity Distribution Industry (FPDI) project.
CSIRO Energy Group Leader Dr Sam Behrens said it identifies a number of safety challenges and knowledge gaps to overcome in the next few years, as energy storage technologies are rolled out across Australian domestic and small commercial markets.
“We’re seeing a lot of momentum with domestic energy storage system safety among government, industry and research bodies, so this is a timely point to release our findings,” he said.
CEC chief, Kane Thornton, said the lead-out time provided the industry with a rare opportunity to work on standards and regulations to ensure the integrity of energy storage technology before it had been widely adopted.Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 11.47.58 am
“The CSIRO Energy Storage Safety report takes an in-depth look at the different kinds of batteries, best practice safety and installation requirements, safe operation, disposal and recycling of energy storage products and systems,” he said.
“(It) identified a lack of information on battery systems in general, as well as a need for standards to be updated for these new technologies, Australian battery disposal and recycling initiatives, and  better education for emergency services.
For ZEN Energy’s Turner, this general lack of understanding of how batteries work, and how their power output and storage capacity is rated, is another key knowledge gap to address.
“You need to be pricing energy storage systems not only by the kWh, but also by its capabilities,” Turner told One Step.
“It’s very important to understand the amount of power that a battery can put out. What we’re finding is majority of imported systems can only put out 2kW of power, and that only just covers the air-con.
“People need to be very very aware, not only how many kWh their storage system is, but how much power the battery system can put out.”
But the good news, says Thornton, is that the CEC has already started work on addressing many of the recommendations in the CSIRO report through its Australian Energy Storage Roadmap, we released at the beginning of the year.
Here are the CSIRO’s top recommendations:
– Improve awareness of and access to information on the variety of battery energy storage technologies and their appropriate operation and care among consumers (general public), designers (engineers and electrical tradespeople) and installers (electrical tradespeople).
– Research and identify the best methods for lithium-ion battery storage system recycling, and establish a lithium-ion battery recycling initiative.
– Research and identify the best methods to safely (passively) extinguish domestic and small commercial-scale lithium-ion battery storage fires.
– Align Australian and international standards, and improve local regulatory and building codes relevant to energy storage systems.
– Establish a set of best practices specific to the battery storage industry, including development and
upkeep of an installation, maintenance and incident reporting database for energy storage systems in
Australia.
– Develop training and nationally recognised accreditation pathways for designers and installers specific to energy storage in domestic and small commercial scales.
Energy Storage Safety: Common consumer questions and the report Energy Storage Safety: Responsible installation, use and disposal of domestic and small commercial systems are available on the FPDI website.
The Clean Energy Council released the Australian Energy Storage Roadmap at the beginning of 2015, to provide a framework for the development of the emerging sector.

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