Fire sparks concerns over lack of standards on battery storage

It is hailed as the continuation of an energy revolution
that will shift the onus on power supply from large
centralised generators to the home and business. The
CSIRO and leading utilities such as Engie predict half of all
generation will come from local distributed sources, and
battery storage will play a key role.
Australia is seen to be at the cutting edge of this
revolution. Even the Coalition government appears to be
on board. But the stark fact is that there are no official
standards setting the rules and guidelines for new battery
storage chemistries such as lithium ion in Australia, and
there may not be for another three to five years.
This is raising concerns among installers and industry leaders about the potential fall-out if real damage is done,
particularly if consumers aim for the “cheap” end of the market, as many did with rooftop solar.
The images above first appeared on the social media website Whirlpool, where there are a range of theories as to
what may have happened. The fire appears to have been contained and there are no reports of any injuries.
This incident occurred with a system produced by Growatt, a manufacturer considered to be at the “premium” end
of the Chinese market. It has sent out a team from
China to investigate the incident. RenewEconomy
sought to contact the team but was not successful.

These photos were taken from an installation in
Victoria. It is not known what caused the “explosion”,
although it is assumed to be a case of “thermal
runaway.” It is not known whether it is an installation
fault or a problem with the system, or some third
party factors.
The hope is that this a one-off. The fear is that the
lack of standards means it may not be. The nature of
battery storage systems and the energy and the
chemicals that they embody potentially make them
the most dangerous electronic item to be put in a
home, as AGL’s head of new energy Marc England
pointed out last year.
John Grimes, the CEO of the Energy Storage Council,
says there are Australian standards in place for lead
acid battery storage technologies (although these are
20 years old and need to be updated) but there are
no standards for new chemistries such as lithium-ion.
The ESC is about to release a package of “best
practice” guidelines for battery storage products,
installations and maintenance that it hopes will act as
an interim standard for battery storage developers
and installers, and as a guide to consumers.
It is also about to produce a “white list” of products to ensure that hybrid systems are inherently safe. This is being
done with the help of international standards consultants DNV, via their energy storage testing laboratory in the US.
“The fact that there is no standard means there is the opportunity for shysters and carpet baggers to go out and put
something in the market place,” Grimes said. “That is something that frightens us – we want and need good
outcomes for consumers and the public right from day one.
“We don’t want to scare the public and say that there is a huge risk. Wree do want to make su that people make an
informed decision. The number of systems out there is small – but it will grow exponentially.
“We need to ensure the safety of installers, customers and their families, and first responders in the event of an
emergency, including fire.”
The Clean Energy Council says it, too, is working on developing battery product standards and introducing training
for installers.
“We are excited by the possibilities presented by battery storage technology are exciting, but the protection of
consumers needs to remain the industry’s highest priority,” a spokesman said in an emailed statement.
“We have talked to a range of policymakers about this issue to highlight the need for regulation that will keep lowquality products out of the country and make sure that those installing battery technology are highly skilled
Mark Hickey, an installer with NSW-based Light Touch Solar & Electrical, agrees that the lack of standards and
controls over the actions of a few is a major concern.
While there were approval processes for solar panels – just recently updated to make them an ongoing and
“random” search rather than a once off – and for inverters, there were none for battery storage. And there were no
restrictions on the people who could install battery storage devices.
“Some people are out to make a quick buck and it’s more common than I’d like to think,” Hickey says. “Some of
these smaller players will damage the industry for the rest of us who are trying to do good work.”
Hickey says this could prompt an overreaction from the government and incumbent utilities, with unjustified and
costly restrictions put on the industry. “I’m very excited about battery storage, but I do have concerns about a few
minority installers and the damage they can do the industry.”
Indeed, the overwhelming message from the solar and battery storage industry is that – like most industries – you
get what you pay for. The fear is that Australian households – having gravitated, particularly in the early years, to the
“cheap” end of the solar market – may do the same with battery storage.
Jeff Wehl, from Ecoelectric, an installer of rooftop solar and hybrid battery storage systems in Queensland, is one of
those who says he fears many Australian consumers will fall into the same trap as they did with rooftop solar, buying
cheaper and lower quality products in a bid to save money.
He said expectations of cheap batteries had been inflated by the promises of Tesla in delivering devices at around
$A4,000 (after exchange rates). But this did not include inverters, other technology and installation. That led to
expectations of low costs and a search for cheaper products.
Wehl recounts one recent product demonstration for installers by another battery storage brand that finished badly
when the device “made a loud bang” as the capacitor blew.
“There were about 10 contractors in the room and we all had the same thought – we are not buying this for at least
another 12 months. It seems that everyone is racing their products to the market, but some are not ready.”
Glen Morris, the chief technical expert on the ESC, is working with Standards Australia on developing a new standard
– AS/NZS5139 – for new battery storage chemistries.
But he says it is a long process, particularly given that many of the people working on developing new standards
work on a “voluntary capacity.”
He is in favour of a system adopted in Germany, known as KIT, which gives a weighting system on battery storage
products. Any product below a given weighting cannot be installed.
“Anyone can sell a battery storage system in Australia,” Morris says. At the moment, the onus falls on the
manufacturer providing safety guidance on they technology. He recommends consumers ask for a safety data sheet
(SDS), but he says that few manufacturers provide them.
“I wouldn’t be putting chemistries inside a building until I knew it was inherently safe,” he says.