Alternative Energy

Lithium-Ion Batteries Strain Risk Management

The Fire Department of New York is concerned about grid storage safety.
By: | August 1, 2017 • 3 min read

New York City is agressively adding solar capacity. But the risks of energy storage must be addressed.

In September 2016, New York City committed to an ambitious program of solar energy and storage. The plan calls for 100 MWh of energy storage by 2020 and 1 GW of solar capacity by 2030. Photovoltaic technology is well established, but the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technology used to store the collected energy is much more fraught. Within weeks, the Fire Department of New York expressed concerns about retrofitting commercial- and industrial-scale batteries, called grid storage, into the density of the city.

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In January 2017, underwriters with FM Global issued an 18-page data sheet with loss-prevention recommendations for Li-ion installations. Some specialty insurers have been willing to underwrite standalone Li-ion grid storage, others so far have only been willing to cover such installations as part of a broader property policy for a renewable-energy generation facility or power plant.

“We think we can come up with schemes that will provide reasonable levels of protection now and in the future.” — Gary Keith, vice president, engineering standards manager, FM Global.

Li-ion batteries power cell phones, tablet computers, and some electric cars. They are compact, dense, and represent the leading edge of storage efficiency. Those same characteristics make them prone to runaway overheating if there is a short or damage to a cell. There have been notorious examples of burning devices and even vehicles in recent years.

There have also been fires at grid storage installations. The most notable was a 2012 incident in Hawaii. A 15 MW grid storage array with 12,000 cells was destroyed by fire at the 30 MW Kahuku wind farm on Oahu.

Li-ion grid storage “in conjunction with wind or solar provides stability into the grid as well as peak performance,” said Charles Long, area supervisor for energy at brokerage Arthur J. Gallagher.

Gary Keith, vice president, engineering standards manager, FM Global

“For some underwriters, grid storage is literally too hot to handle. Others are willing to quote but very selectively. For a large utility the insurers will pick it up no worries, but for a phone-battery maker looking to move up to grid storage, they would find a lot of resistance in the market.”

Long emphasized that the big issue for grid storage is not the value of the battery but the potential for business interruption.

“The BI is usually significantly higher than the property. If a 200 to 300 MW wind farm loses its grid-storage, that may be $20 million to replace the battery but a $40 million BI loss if the power-purchase agreement mandates battery backup.”

Gary Keith, vice president engineering standards manager at FM Global, said that with the proliferation of microgrids and grid storage, it was important for his firm to issue the data sheet as soon as it could.

“We are going to see more and more mandates for this type of storage. Power generation is one aspect of the issue, but our motivation for the data sheet was usage expanding to independent power availability in commercial and industrial applications.”

There are two key points, Keith stressed.

“The fire hazard is from a short or damage that causes a runaway chemical reaction, not from the ambient heat of operation. Also, Li-ion is not lithium metal [which reacts violently with water]. We recommend sprinkler protection, and separation, at least 20 feet from any other structure or exposure.”

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While the proliferation of microgrids and grid storage represents a clear emerging risk, “the technology is not outside current fire codes and practices,” said Keith at FM Global.

“We think we can come up with schemes that will provide reasonable levels of protection now and in the future.”

That future looks very big. According to the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, as of June 2016, the U.S. had more than 21.6 GW of rated power in energy storage compared to 1,068 GW of total in-service installed generation capacity. Globally, installed energy storage totaled 150 GW.

Only 2.5 percent of delivered electric power in the U.S. is cycled through a storage facility. For comparison, that figure is 10 percent in Europe and 15 percent in Japan. U.S. energy storage projects increased by 105 percent from 2013 to 2016. California leads with 149 operational projects (4.03 GW), followed by Virginia with 3.25 GW and Texas with 24 projects.

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]