Safety in storage: Defining best practice in an evolving asset class

Written By: The Field Team
Posted 17 Mar 2023
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At Field, the projects we work on are grid-scale power plants. That means we need to manage and mitigate potential health and safety risks at every stage - whether that’s during development, construction or live asset operations. So, as a necessity, health and safety has always been at the centre of everything we do.

But what does that look like in practice? To kick off, we hired an experienced HSE manager as early as possible. Looking to them as a guide, we’ve carefully developed our health and safety policy and procedures. Field employees get extensive training to ensure they can carry out their roles safely. Of course, we supply them with all the necessary PPE equipment, and carry out regular safety audits and inspections of all workplaces, feeding improvement proposals back to the team for implementation.

When it comes to tendering, we conduct extensive exercises to ensure suppliers adhere to key health and safety criteria. We receive regular KPI information from our contractors which enable us to benchmark our HSE performance to that of similar organisations within the industry.

When determining the batteries we use, we purposefully opted for lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries given their market leading safety standards compared to nickel-manganese-cobalt options, which are used in many electric vehicles.

But in our view we should be going beyond meeting these regulatory obligations, to ensure we actively prevent outlier events. Equally important is readying ourselves to manage the fallout should an event happen - and more can definitely be done in that regard by operators and regulators. In the UK market, the current legislation is not fully finalised, which is why we are using NFPA 855 and UL9540A standards as best practice. The fact is, the current regulation isn’t developed enough within the UK to meet the health and safety standards we want to commit to at our sites. Because this is less about adequately managing the risk, and more about leading with best practice.

At Field, we believe better regulation should exist, and soon. But in the meantime, rather than waiting for frameworks to be imposed on us, we as an industry can drive what they should look like. More specifically, we can create our own HSE policies that go beyond what is legally required - to best protect our workers and facilities.

So we’re acting now. Here’s what that looks like so far.

Adapting ideas from abroad

America is slightly ahead of the UK when it comes to battery storage. Because of this, their regulation around fire safety is further developed too. So, we’re borrowing from their approach for our UK sites, adopting NFPA 855 and UL9540A standards as a model for approaching fire management ourselves.

This involves subjecting ourselves to stringent testing criteria, which provide a systematic evaluation across our systems, at cell, module, unit and installation level. Tests include evaluating fire deflagration hazards as well as thermal runaway and propagation - some of the biggest risks on battery storage sites.

Looking specifically at the NFPA 855 standard, it provides the minimum requirements for fire prevention, fire protection, design, construction, installation, commissioning, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of stationary, mobile, and portable ESS.

As is always the case with new technology and legislation, the guidance is constantly evolving, but we're monitoring the changes and making sure they’re incorporated into our business at all times.

Collaborating with our peers

There’s no black and white answer to how best to approach health and safety within battery storage. The needs of each site can be materially different. This means that sharing knowledge with our peers is absolutely essential.

Every battery storage business is committed to keeping all workers who come into contact with their sites safe, and ensuring the development of net zero infrastructure continues at pace - so what better way to protect those aims than problem-solving collectively?

Field is part of the Energy Storage Network and BESS Owners forum. Together, we’re defining what best practice looks like and ensuring we all stay ahead of the curve as technology and software changes.

We’re under no illusion that this will allow us to solve every HSE challenge overnight, but by ensuring we’re plugged into the right groups, we’ll make sure we’re a part of conversations as they happen - ready to lead, adopt and build on new thinking as it emerges.

Working with local stakeholders

There is a lot of misinformation about battery storage fire safety. Not only can this be concerning to members of the public living near battery sites, but it holds back progress towards the transition to net zero. The more people we can inform and build understanding with, the more progress we as an industry can make.

So we are developing an education initiative, engaging with local schools and businesses to improve their understanding around battery storage. This is still in its early stages, but the idea is we’ll organise talks and meetings with the local community, clearly explaining the purpose that batteries serve - for energy security and decarbonisation - and demystifying the associated risks and how they can be combatted through robust fire safety protocols.

Collaborating with local fire departments on a local level is also absolutely essential. Take the example of our sites in Oldham and Auchterawe - Greater Manchester fire departments will have very different resources, response times and other working parameters to those in a remote part of Scotland. So, we speak to these teams on a site-by-site basis to understand what’s needed and implement their recommendations as early as possible.

Committing to fire safety now

Battery storage companies need to be as proactive as they can in driving forward industry best practice for HSE. Despite popular perceptions, the risks we’re dealing with here are low. But in a context where levels of public scrutiny and misinformation are high, waiting for legislation to catch up with industry growth just won’t cut it. We may only be talking about outlier events, but we still need to ensure we are protecting our assets, workers, local communities and the environment.

This is something we’re deeply committed to at Field. Because building safety into our businesses now will enable the industry - and its climate-essential mission - to accelerate without roadblocks.