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

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.
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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