Incidents like those have some government officials urging more research into the risks of having even bigger batteries in buildings. A unit can be as small as a school locker and as big as a standard 8-foot-by-20-foot shipping container.
“The installation of lithium-ion and other new energy storage technologies offer exciting opportunities, but also present significant safety concerns,” Spadafora said. “Installations at scale necessary to power buildings and building systems potentially present very serious fire and life-safety hazards.”
In San Francisco, the fire department says lithium-ion batteries in buildings with capacities larger than 20 kilowatt-hours must comply with city and California fire codes for stationary battery systems. Rules include placing the batteries in separate rooms with automatic sprinklers, ventilation and smoke detection systems.
New York has been more cautious in green-lighting installations, partly because America’s largest city is so densely urban. The fire department said it has taken time to develop its own guidelines to allow for researchers to conduct tests that would help determine the appropriate safety measures.
“A lot of municipalities are waiting to hear what New York is doing,” Rogers said.
Last month, the New York City fire and building departments, City University of New York, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and utility Con Edison published a guide for permitting and connecting outdoor lithium-ion systems.
“What we are trying to do is bring this to scale,” said Tria Case, director of sustainability at the City University of New York who is responsible for facilitating the development of the energy-storage guidelines. “There is a need to develop standards, so each project doesn’t have to be on a case-by-case analysis.”
New York City should have a guide for installing indoor storage systems in buildings by year end, Case said. That should help reduce deployment times and cut down on costs for systems.
So far, the effort to develop consistent regulations hasn’t created any bottlenecks in installations, according to Kelly Speakes-Backman, chief executive officer of the Energy Storage Association, Washington-based industry group that has been working with the city.
“Of course, safety is our first concern,” Speakes-Backman said during an interview at an industry conference in Boston last month. “We are participating in the working groups to help make sure these standards are safe and reasonable.”