March 11, 2020
Web Feature

Energy Storage Safety and Reliability Forum Convenes at PNNL

In rapidly growing industry, safety standards and best practices must play catch-up

ESSSRF Keynote Session

Peoria Fire-Medical Department Chief Bobby Ruiz, keynote speaker at the Energy Storage System Safety and Reliability Forum at PNNL, recounts the April 2019 explosion at an energy storage installation in Arizona that injured several firefighters.

Photo by Andrea Starr

It was nearly a year ago when firefighters from the Peoria Fire-Medical Department in Arizona responded to a call about a brushfire northwest of Phoenix. When they arrived on scene, they didn’t find a brushfire, but a 2-megawatt lithium-ion battery installation with white smoke wafting from its vents and doors.

Uncertain about how to best address the situation, the firefighters monitored the heat and emissions at the site; called in experts from Arizona Public Service, the utility that owned and operated the installation; and plotted a strategy to ventilate the site to reduce the dangers of explosion or conflagration. About three hours later, and with no apparent warning, an explosion ripped through the installation, seriously injuring several firefighters and first responders. The incident remains under investigation.

“This was a real eye opener for the industry,” said Peoria Fire-Medical Chief Bobby Ruiz, who delivered a keynote address recounting the April 2019 “McMicken Event” to attendees of the Energy Storage Systems Safety and Reliability Forum (ESSSRF), which took place at PNNL’s Discovery Hall on March 4 and 5. Ruiz told the audience at PNNL that firefighters weren’t sure what they were dealing with when they arrived and didn’t have a “playbook” for this situation. Ruiz said the event underscored the need for effective safety standards and operational best practices for the energy storage industry.

PNNL Forum Brings Together Diverse Group of Energy Storage Stakeholders

The ESSSRF at PNNL brought together more than 120 energy storage experts from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the national laboratories, utilities, industry, and academia to assess the state of energy storage safety and reliability, and advance industry standards to support those outcomes. The forum attracted experts who spoke on topics including safety and reliability research and development (R&D), manufacturing innovations, technical and reliability standards activities, and utility industry perspective.

Marc Chupka, vice president for research and programs at the U.S. Energy Storage Association, told forum attendees that global demand for energy storage batteries will grow 14-fold between 2018 and 2030, according to figures from the Global Battery Alliance and World Economic Forum. Other industry forecasts are even more bullish. Against this backdrop, the development and adoption of standards and operational best practices to support the safety and reliability of emerging energy storage technologies becomes critical to the market.

An ‘Energy Storage Cluster’ in the Pacific Northwest

In his closing remarks at the forum, Imre Gyuk, who leads energy storage research for the DOE’s Office of Electricity (OE), said the “information density of the event was phenomenal” and that there is an “energy storage cluster” developing in the Pacific Northwest. That cluster includes PNNL, which was recently selected by DOE-OE as the site for a new grid energy storage R&D facility, along with energy storage companies, academic research institutions, and visionary utilities that want to deploy the technology to address grid resilience challenges.

“People are talking to each other and creating a climate in which energy storage can grow and thrive,” said Gyuk. “It’s clear that the community is up to the challenge of addressing energy safety and reliability.”

Matt Paiss, technical advisor for battery materials and systems at PNNL who, along with PNNL’s Charlie Vartanian, chaired the annual forum, said it’s critical to expand the community that’s focusing on energy storage safety and reliability.

“This was a great gathering and we were successful in level-setting these industry stakeholders on the state of standards for safety and reliability,” said Paiss. “But there’s much more work to be done to realize broadly supported safety and reliability standards that will guide the entire development life cycle from R&D to deployment and operations.”

How can energy storage industry stakeholders get involved? A great first step, Paiss said, is to sign up for the Energy Storage Safety Collaborative’s regular reports and updates. Interested parties can sign up for those updates by clicking here.