A couple of months ago, NGK Insulators reported that one of its sodium sulfur (NaS) battery installations caught fire. The battery system itself is owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and it is installed at the Tsukuba Plant of Mitsubishi Materials Corporation.
Although NGK Insulators commercialized its NaS battery in 2001, the company is still dealing with safety issues. In many ways, NGK Insulators is at a disadvantage. Because of the success of the company’s NaS battery, there are now over 155 installations of NaS batteries globally with at least 140 systems installed in the TEPCO service area alone. In addition, many of these systems have been behind the meter installations for businesses looking to improve energy cost management and ensure power quality. These installations are in one of the most populous cities in the world (estimates vary, but Tokyo is typically in the top 20 of population dense cities).
In sum, this means that the company has approximately 140 sites, 200 MW, and ten years’ worth of battery installations in the most populous city in Japan. Relative to the number of installations and megawatt hours of energy delivered over the past decade, it is of little surprise that there has been an incident involving the company’s batteries. A fire at a remote substation or wind farm is one thing, however, most installed NaS batteries are behind the meter installations, which puts people’s safety at risk.
NGK Insulators is taking this fire seriously and has suspended manufacturing and installations until the company is satisfied the cause has been identified and resolved. Consequently, the firm has also revised its earnings through the end of its fiscal year, in this case March 31, 2012. The more important observation is that safety for grid-scale energy storage is an important technical issue for developers to address, and in many cases, it is an issue that may not come to light until systems are already installed and running for a good period of time.
So far, NGK Insulators has done everything it can to ensure the safety of its product, which is the best strategy for the company, the product, and the industry. In time, we may see other examples of these types of failures with grid-scale battery storage. As such, safety, manufacturing quality, and perhaps even safety of inputs will begin to differentiate vendors more and more.
Tags: Advanced Batteries, Energy Storage, Smart Energy Practice, Utility Innovations
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