APS battery energy storage facility explosion injures four firefighters; industry investigates

Last Friday evening in Surprise, Arizona, a storage facility owned by Arizona Public Service (APS) exploded, injuring four firefighters. Reporter for azfamily.com, Maria Hechanova, visited the scene yesterday (video) and reported that the explosion had happened while four hazmat firefighters from Peoria were working to extinguish a battery fire at the facility.

“When the four Hazmat crew members of the Peoria Fire Department tried to make entry to the substation, an explosion occurred that sent debris scattering across the area,” the outlet reported.

The fire department released the names of the injured in a Tweet:

The system

The storage system in Surprise was installed in late 2016 as part of an agreement between APS and AES Energy Storage for two 2-MW AES Advancion battery arrays in Surprise and Buckeye. They were AES’ first installation in Arizona and APS was among the first to own an Advancion battery storage array. AES and Siemens in 2017 combined to become Fluence.

APS tweeted on Friday night that it was investigating the incident, which it reported as equipment failure.

Lily Quezada, APS spokesperson said that the utility is conducting an investigation with representatives from APS, Fluence and multiple first responder agencies, including fire and police.

“We can’t speculate on what went wrong at this time. We’ll find out with the investigation,” she said in an interview, adding “It’s still early to provide a real timeline. We expect to have a good idea pretty soon.”

The utility is investing heavily in battery storage, to help shore up solar energy. Last month it issued an RFP for up to 500 MW of storage. 

“It’s a learning process and we will continue to apply those lessons going forward,” said Quezada.

Fluence said that is has dispatched a team of “top safety and technical leaders” to the site. 

“Our top priority is the health and safety of the first responders, and thoughts are with them and their families,” the company said, adding, “the Fluence team is working closely with Arizona Public Service and local officials, and offering any assistance needed to ensure safe conditions and to thoroughly investigate the cause of this incident.”

The battery storage system uses lithium-ion technology, which is no stranger to fires, having been the culprit in numerous injuries and even fatalities from fires in laptop computers, e-cigarettes and even Teslas.

We’ll continue to update this story as more details emerge.

A discussion about energy storage and safety will be on the agenda at the next POWERGEN International, which takes place in New Orleans, November 19-21.

(Rod Walton, Content Directer for Power Engineering and POWERGEN International contributed to this story.)

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com

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