Conservative parliamentarian Dame Maria Miller raised questions in the UK parliament about the safety of lithium-ion batteries in battery energy storage systems (BESS).
She has long called for such installations to be classed as “hazardous”, which would mean the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and fire services would have to be consulted when planning applications are considered.
She said in a parliamentary debate on Tuesday: “We need to increase power storage, but the potential fire risks associated with lithium-ion battery storage facilities are now becoming widely acknowledged.” A BESS site in her Basingstoke constituency is between a hospital and chalk stream.
There are some 350 planning applications for BESS installations in the UK, she said, adding she did not want to stop them but rather ensure they are located in the right place.
Renewable energy company RES announced on 28 June it gained planning permission to build a 49.9 MW/99.8 MWh lithium-ion BESS in Ayrshire, Scotland. RES claims to be the world’s largest independent renewable energy company active in onshore and offshore wind, solar, green hydrogen, energy storage and transmission and distribution.
Rebecca Meek, RES’ Head of Energy Storage in the UK and Ireland, said the Holmston Farm project has been sited directly adjacent to the existing infrastructure of the Ayr substation, where the project will connect.
In its pre-planning consultation, RES said fire suppression systems were fitted to each battery container, but gave no system details. Likewise with no detail, it stated the battery technology must pass an industry test standard which ensures there is no likelihood of explosion. It said any fire would be contained in a single rack, but without explanation.
“There was a very limited response from stakeholders and the local community,” it stated in its consultation report. “The main concerns raised from the consultation were in relation to the visual impact of the proposed development.” Stakeholders who did not engage included local elected councillors, a nearby school and garden centre.
Lithium-ion battery expert Prof. Paul Christensen of Newcastle University said if he had been asked to review the consultation he would have “ripped it to shreds”. “What’s the fire suppression? It’s critical,” he said. “It purely requires the fire service to be involved at design stage to understand the risks and hazards.”
He has reviewed countless lithium-ion battery fires, some of which have caused death and/or injury. Speaking about BESS generally, he said: “The problem is there’s a feeling, which I can’t agree with, that all these deaths and injuries are collateral damage, but are acceptable because the alternative is uncontrolled global warming.”
He said you cannot ignore the 60 or so BESS that have exploded. Most lithium-ion BESS are designed to have a 40-year lifetime. “Every one of them can expect to have a least one major incident in its lifetime,” he said. “Every single one.”
A report this week from the Faraday Institution, Improving the Safety of Lithium-ion Battery Cells, stated the rates of catastrophic cell failure and associated battery fires involving lithium-ion cells remain extremely low. Some estimates suggest that only one in 40 million cells suffers such a failure, it said. But with an increasing range of use cases for lithium-ion batteries, the potential for problems is increasing, it said. That makes “a pressing need” to improve lithium-ion safety still further.
It notes there is a huge volume of legislation in place globally to minimise electric vehicle battery safety risks. But legislative and testing for battery safety in other areas, including stationary storage, is “in its infancy”. International legislation and testing protocols are needed, it added.
Photo credit: RES