- Multiple fires that broke out at battery energy storage facilities in New York last year did not lead to any reported injuries, or release harmful levels of toxins, an analysis conducted by an inter-agency fire safety working group organized by Gov. Kathy Hochul, D, concluded in late December.
- The group is assessing battery system projects across the state, as well as fire codes, and intends to release draft recommendations to ensure building and fire codes are up to par in the first quarter of 2024.
- The American Clean Power Association commended the Hochul administration’s “thoughtful and proactive approach in their thorough investigation of how New York can best promote safety at electric grid infrastructure facilities,” spokesperson Phil Sgro said in an email. “As national safety standards have developed and continually improved, the instances of energy storage fires have become increasingly rare. If they do happen, incidents are properly managed, and any impacts are contained within the facility’s secure site,” Sgro added.
Hochul announced the creation of the fire safety working group, tasked with overseeing energy storage systems in the state in August. The move came after multiple fires at battery storage facilities, including four battery storage trailers that caught fire at a Convergent Energy solar farm.
The group includes representatives from the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, Office of Fire Prevention and Control, and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, among others. Over the past several months, it has been working with project developers, equipment manufacturers and other stakeholders to gather data about the fires.
Initial findings from the group indicate no reported injuries or harmful levels of toxins attributable to the fires. Now, it is focused on inspecting all battery systems above 300 kW that are operating in the state, a process that is expected to finish in the second quarter of 2024. Based on these inspections, the group will update evaluation checklists and best practices to be used before energizing these battery systems, and during emergency response measures.
The group is also working with national laboratories and others on assessing existing fire codes, with proposed changes expected early this year.
The measurements and data obtained from these incidents are a positive finding and consistent with air and ground monitoring done at other post-incident monitoring, Matthew Paiss, technical advisor at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said in an email.
"The take-away can be that electrical devices can fail, and when they do, it is the safety certifications and testing that should offer protections to limit the incident," Paiss added.
The state should incorporate best practices and requirements outlined in the National Fire Protection Association’s safety standard for energy storage — called NFPA 855 — which provides mandatory requirements for the design, installation, commissioning, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of energy storage facilities, ACP’s Sgro said.
“Uniformity in adopting this standard across states and jurisdictions will ensure that clear evidence-based rules guide future development and operation of energy storage facilities,” he added.
More broadly, Sgro said the energy storage industry’s leadership on safety is resulting in safety incidents becoming increasingly rare, even as it brings storage projects online at an exponential rate.
“The energy storage industry uses a suite of well-established codes and standards to ensure safety at facilities. Beyond seeking to meet and exceed safety best practices, the energy storage companies engage in extensive collaboration with fire departments and first responders to ensure that, if a rare safety incident does occur, a plan is in place to safely manage and resolve any incident,” he said.
In terms of how the industry can deploy lithium-ion batteries while also keeping in mind safety concerns, designing energy storage systems to the best practices as opposed to the minimum local requirements is one way to ensure the safest system possible, Paiss said.
"Another is to consider appropriate siting with adequate separation that, should a failure occur, it remains within the unit of origin," he added.