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Growing fears about energy storage-related fires and explosions are threatening to derail the US’ plans for the transition to renewable energy – now is the time for the storage sector to step up its efforts to address fire risk.

A number of battery storage projects in the US and Canada have been postponed due to growing concerns among local communities about fire risk.

In April this year, residents in Maryland’s Prince George’s County opposed plans for a lithium-ion battery storage system near their homes because they said it posed fire and explosion risks. Worried members of the local community had been pushing back against the proposal for around two years. [1] One of the main complaints from residents was that the utility company that submitted the plans – as well as county officials – had failed to address their “safety concerns in case of an accidental fire or a similar emergency situation”. Specifically, the utility company was accused of failing to effectively communicate with the community about what the company had done “in terms of hazard mitigation analysis”. [2]


‘Lack of concern for public safety’

Meanwhile, in the New York borough of Staten Island, plans for 120MWh of battery storage were withdrawn in January this year after the local community expressed concerns about fire and exposure to toxic chemicals. Nearby residents were vocal in their opposition to the plans because they believed the project developers “lacked concern for public safety”. [3] Other worries expressed by the local community included fears that the battery storage units were “not yet time-tested for fire safety and toxic emissions”.  Elsewhere, councilors in Prince Edward County in Ontario opposed plans for a 250MW energy storage project earlier this year due to worries about fire and explosions. In this instance, community concerns centered on “fire and explosion risk, toxicity implications in the event of fire, environmental damage and contamination to wildlife and waterways, groundwater and wells, as well as the vast amount of water required in the event of a fire”. [4]


Battery storage plans in jeopardy

Such opposition is jeopardizing US utilities’ plans to triple battery storage capacity in the country by 2025, a development that would make intermittent renewable energy sources – such as wind and solar – much more dependable. Last year, developers and power plant owners reported plans to increase utility-scale battery storage from 7.8GW in October 2022 to 30GW by the end of 2025. [5] More than three-quarters of the planned additions will be in Texas and California, which are home to more wind and solar capacity, respectively, than any other state. [6]

Storage forms a vital component of the White House’s approach to reaching its target of 80% clean power by 2030. The Department of Energy’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research has said that long-duration storage will be a key element of the carbon-free power grid of the future. [7]


Storage industry must quickly address fire risk concerns

However, if the US is to be successful in making progress towards its clean energy goals, it is vital that the energy storage industry does more to alleviate local communities’ concerns about fire risk. To this end, it is vital that energy storage project owners and operators conduct fire risk assessments and introduce measures to mitigate fire risks.

With the rate of energy storage deployment in the US increasingly significantly, at a cost running to billions of dollars, storage manufacturers, developers and owners need to act quickly and ensure all the necessary precautions are taken to protect energy storage assets from fire risk. A vital component of any effective battery storage fire protection strategy is a fire suppression system. 

Energy storage developers and owners are advised to consult with fire suppression experts to gain an understanding of the extent of the fire risks they face and what steps they can take to protect their energy storage assets.

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