Lithium-Ion Questions

Battery storage enters its boom-or-bust phase

A recent fire at an APS (Arizona Pubic Service) battery storage facility in Surprise, Arizona was unfortunately not the first such incident for the company. Eight firefighters were injured in the April 19 incident, which made national news, but the extreme dryness and heat of the state and region has been a chief concern for the state’s largest utility since the battery storage sector’s origins. Back in 2012, a 1.5-MW system near Flagstaff, Arizona also caught fire. The utility said it took several key design lessons from the 2012 fire, including improving air ventilation between cabinets, incorporating a 24/7 monitoring system and the ability to send remote alarms.


APS (Arizona Public Service) released its first official statement a week after the McMicken incident. According to the incident report, smoke was first sighted around 5 P.M., followed swiftly by Hazardous Material units and first responders from both Surprise and the neighboring town of Peoria.
“For reasons still unknown, the system subsequently experienced a catastrophic failure, and firefighters who responded to the call were transported to area hospitals. An investigation with APS, first-responder representatives, manufacturers and third-party engineering and safety experts is underway to determine the cause of the incident,” APS then stated.
Nine people were hospitalized, with eight having an extended stay. Reports over the past two weeks have been encouraging on the firefighters’ improved health status. “We greatly appreciate the hard work and bravery of the first responders who were involved,” APS said. “Our hearts go out to the firefighters injured in the line of duty. Their health, safety and recovery are our top priorities.
An investigation with APS, first-responder representatives and third-party engineering and safety experts is underway. “What we know at this point is that we had an equipment failure. A thorough investigation will help us determine what exactly failed and why.”
“Importantly, until the investigation is completed, we cannot speculate about the root cause of the incident—whether it was the battery unit itself or another grid component. What we do know is that energy storage, including batteries, is vital to a clean-energy future. This technology is solving important challenges and creating new opportunities for clean energy like solar. The investigation will help us learn all we can from what happened so that we can apply those lessons to how we move ahead. It is too early to know when we will complete the investigation, but we will act quickly to apply the safety lessons learned from this incident. “
  • Location: Surprise, Arizona, near the APS McMicken substation (28 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix)
  • Technology: Lithium-ion battery
  • Capacity: 2 megawatts/2 megawatt-hours
  • System integrator: Fluence
  • In-service date: March 2017
  • Primary functions: Integrating solar energy resources in an area with high rooftop solar penetration, and grid services including voltage regulation and power quality.

“During the five years between the Elden Battery incident and our next battery system coming online in 2017, battery technology made significant advancements in design and safety standards. The technical lessons learned from that 2012 incident were helpful to that, which shows the importance of fully investigating the cause of the McMicken equipment failure in order to help the industry learn and continue advancing solutions and improvements,” Quezada said.

Safety is a concern and a high priority among industry stakeholders. The Energy Storage Association earlier this month launched an initiative to make safety a priority when manufacturing and operating energy storage systems. A total of 30 companies, including GE Energy Storage, Duke Energy and NEC, formerly known as Nippon Electric Company, have signed the energy storage corporate responsibility pledge.

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