Enso Energy has submitted its planning application to Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils and the application documents have been published. Up until now we’ve covered a lot of information about the solar panels, and the impacts on the local area. But there is an aspect of the development that we’ve not yet touched upon.
The electricity network operates on a nationwide grid that constantly needs to balance supply and demand. Fossil fuel and nuclear power stations don’t need energy storage systems (ESS) because they can be turned on and off as demand needs. But renewables like wind and solar only produce energy when the wind blows or the sun shines. This can’t be turned off or on as demand needs. This makes it much harder to balance the grid, and so the story is to use ESS to achieve a more stable and secure energy network. When the energy generation is high, some of the power can be stored for use later, when the levels drop. There are many different types of technologies that can be used, but more commonly solar farms use a BESS, Battery Energy Storage System.
A substation is a transformation and transmission hub that converts power up or down and sends it onwards. Huge amounts of energy come through Bramford Substation from Sizewell B and the offshore windfarms. But until recently there has been no energy securely stored at the site. However, two 50MW BESS projects at the site on Burstall Hill already have planning permission. Now Enso Energy’s proposal for the “Bramford Solar Farm” includes yet another one, claiming it will bring stability and security to the grid caused by intermittent renewable energy (like the energy they’re generating), and bringing the total to a potential 150MW of stored stable and secure energy.
The location of the BESS within the Enso Energy solar farm is sited within Field 6 in the application and is comprised of 20 large shipping containers. It would look something like what this, but bigger. Another similar facility of 40 containers (Anesco) would be situated in the same field only a hundred yards or so away, and the third one of 20 containers by (Pivot Power) will be built at the end of Bullen Lane, right next to the substation. These sites are very close to the residentials areas of Burstall and Bramford. The yellow circle in the image below shows where the Enso Energy BESS will be located.
Battery technology has developed over the past decade, with many newcomers to the industry. Yet the most common type of battery used is lithium-ion. The lithium-ion battery has been enormously successful and there is a huge manufacturing industry today, meaning prices have continued to drop over the past twenty years. It is very likely the same type of battery in your smart phone, or your laptop. It is the same lithium-ion battery that sparked headlines when Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 caused a number of serious incidents when they spontaneously caught fire. The appliance was banned from any airline flights, and eventually Samsung had to discontinue the model after two product recalls failed to solve the issue.
The lithium-ion battery was a successful solution to the quest for a rechargeable battery which allowed the explosion of personal electronic gadgets to take place. The availability and price made the same battery an attractive option when electric cars became a focus for research and development, causing the industry to grow even more. The same batteries that are causing car makers to make massive recalls over battery fire safety and explosion concerns, without even crashing first.
The lithium-ion battery, although never designed for use on this scale, is now being packed into large shipping containers and stored together in vast groups by the renewable energy industry. Like the 2MW facility in Arizona that had been in operation for only 2 years before it exploded, caused by the lithium-ion battery failure. And the 20MW facility in Liverpool that exploded in September 2020 caused by a lithium-ion battery failure. And the 23 lithium-ion battery fires that occurred within one and a half years across South Korea, forcing the government to intervene and stop new developments. And just like Anesco, Pivot Power, and now Enso Energy right on your doorstep.
When we started to research this we were baffled over the lack of public awareness given that the risks are well-known within the industry. For instance AIG, a US corporation working in 80 countries around the world has produced a report entitled “Lithium-ion BESS: The Risks And How To Manage Them”. This is what they have to say:
While the use of batteries is nothing new, what is new is the size, complexity, energy density of the systems and the Li-ion battery chemistry involved – which can lead to significant fire risks. These risks are exacerbated by the fact that many of the new users of BESS’s are not energy specialists. Previously, these systems would have been used by companies that had an in-depth understanding of their uses and potential dangers. Today, a buyer of a BESS is just as likely to be a property developer, council or university, with limited understanding of the inherent hazards.AIG “Lithium-ion BESS: The Risks And How To Manage Them”
Enso Energy, on their home page, claim to be one of the UK’s most experienced renewable energy developers. However, on closer look they have never actually built a solar farm before. Neither have they built or operated a BESS system. The common theme found within the South Korean fires was that the BESS were being charged up during the day and discharged in the evenings during peak demand, on a daily basis. The full capacity of the batteries was being used too often, weakening the battery integrity. Enso Energy claim that the addition of the BESS will enable them to charge up the batteries with solar energy during the day, and discharge them in the evenings. As well as charging them up overnight from potential wind energy, and discharging them in the morning when everyone is waking up.
When a lithium-ion battery catches fire, it is at risk of something called ‘thermal runaway.’ This is a cycle where once it gets hot it keeps getting hotter. The same report from AIG states that “It can be caused by a battery having internal cell defects, mechanical failures/damage or overvoltage. These lead to high temperatures, gas build-up and potential explosive rupture of the battery cell, resulting in fire and/or explosion. Without disconnection, thermal runaway can also spread from one cell to the next, causing further damage.” So, when one single battery cell in one container gets hot enough, it can trigger a chain reaction and set them all off without intervention.
In fact, the chemical reaction is not strictly speaking a fire as it does not feed on oxygen. In conventional fire-fighting the source of the blaze is covered to keep the oxygen out, which quenches the flames. But, because no oxygen is involved in the chemical reactions in a lithium-ion battery, conventional fire extinguishers are useless. We’ve spoken to Suffolk County Council Fire & Rescue Service and all a fire crew can do is a “controlled burn”, meaning basically to allow the fire to burn itself out. Lithium-ion batteries are known to reignite several days after the fire is thought to have been extinguished. They may want to use water to cool down the extreme temperatures in the chemical reaction or to prevent the surroundings from catching fire. Allianz Insurance suggests a rate of 500 gallons of water per minute. With SCC Fire & Rescue having one fire truck with a capacity of 2000 gallons (the others are smaller), and no mains water available on site, this fire truck would be depleted in a mere 4 minutes.
However, ironically, the presence of water may cause a worst-case scenario where toxic gases are released into the environment, one of the most dangerous being hydrogen fluoride:
Hydrogen fluoride is among the world’s most dangerous chemicals. In its liquid form, it is highly potent acid capable of dissolving concrete and steel. It is used to split rocks, etch glass and is favoured by acid attackers. As a gas, small doses can cause fatal poisoning, respiratory problems, lung damage, skin burns. Long term effects of exposure include chronic lung disease, scarring and blindness. It’s a horrible way to die. If you’re feeling strong of stomach, google “hydrofluoric acid burns”.Faversham Eye Batteries Included
Trident Energy Limited, renewable energy specialists, have produced a potential flume model to illustrate the likely “at health risk” area for a cloud of this toxic gas (image below). The lines represent the at-risk areas for wind speeds of 10, 20, and 30mph. The final dispersion area in an actual event would be ultimately determined by surface wind speed and direction, relative humidity, temperature, atmospheric stability, and mixing height at the time of the disaster.
In terms of regulation for BESS, if you want to have a small BESS in your home to support the solar panels on your roof, there is an extensive government document with all sorts of safety standards for materials and practice for the safe installation of this system. But no such guidelines currently exist for the much larger BESS like the one Enso Energy are proposing. Until recently, large scale BESS have been built in the desert and away from human populations. The Enso Energy proposal is scarily close to a lot of people’s homes.
So we’ve got 100MW of lithium-ion BESS, already with planning approval, in the area. And Enso Energy are proposing another 50MW. All within the vicinity of 1000’s of people’s homes, schools, open public spaces, and wildlife sites.
There is very little publicity about the risks of lithium-ion batteries on this scale in the general media. Yet they are well-known facts within the energy industry and there have already been a number of very serious incidents around the world! The potential for a catastrophic accident of unimaginable proportions is all in the hands of a commercial enterprise who is a newcomer to the industry.
We need you to help us spread the word about these concerns because it is happening nationwide, and the industry that is building these BESS have no regulations to follow. We all whole-heartedly support renewable energy, but we cannot leave safety in the hands of commercial enterprises. There are a number of alternative battery types already in existence and more are being developed all the time as it is clear to scientists that better solutions are crucial both in the energy and the Electric Vehicle industries. Unfortunately, a commercial company will by its very nature look at keeping costs down and so the very convenient, but risky, alternative still dominates the market. But, as one observer has put it, it is not a question of whether a major disaster will occur one day, it’s a question of when. And where.
We’re being touted by the energy developers that BESS bring stability and security to an increasingly intermittent energy supply, but it seems that there is nothing stable or secure about lithium-ion batteries.