Standards Australia has published a new standard for household battery installation that includes strict new rules designed to minimise fire risk. However, not everyone in the industry is happy about it.

The new standard’s title is ‘Electrical installations – Safety of battery systems for use with power conversion equipment’.

Safety of battery systems for use with power conversion equipment follows a different format to other electrical standards and takes some getting used to. We’ve highlighted a few important points about the new rules, and we’re always at the end of the phone to offer you expert guidance. For the sparkies out there, you’ll want to do a thorough reading of the standard, which can be bought or downloaded directly from the Standards Australia website.

What is it for?

This is a new broad industry standard and the first set of rules designed specifically to guide the safe installation of residential battery storage systems.

There was a long and sometimes controversial five-year draft and consultation process to get to the point of publication of AS/NZS 5139:2019. A lot has changed in the industry over the past five years with technology rapidly developing. Whether this new standard will do the job is something Energy Partners will be interested in monitoring.

As far as actual safety incidents with batteries, there have been only two battery fires recorded in Australia, and they both involved a cheap Chinese brand, according to LG Chem Australia’s GM.

How does it change things?

What it means for the installation of battery storage systems in Australian homes is stricter adherence to aspects of installation such as materials used, positioning at instalment, and room location of the system in the house.

Standard ‘5139’ details seven hazard categories and more than 110 risk management factors that need to be considered when installing residential battery storage. It requires CEC-accredited battery systems to be installed with additional cement sheeting or other non-combustible material where there is a habitable room on the other side.

This does not apply if the wall in question is made of brick, tiles, concrete, or any other material that has been tested to be non-combustible.

The standard also means a pre-assembled integrated BESS cannot be installed within a set distance (measured in centimetres) of any exit; any vertical side of a window, or any building ventilation opening to a habitable room; any hot water unit, air conditioning unit or any other appliance not associated with the pre-assembled integrated BESS.

The standard also prevents battery systems being installed in ceiling spaces; wall cavities; on roofs except where specifically deemed suitable; under stairways; under access walkways; in evacuation or escape routes (such as a hallway); in areas of domestic or residential electrical installations; or in habitable rooms.

How has the industry responded to the new standard?

Responses from those in the industry are mixed, and the drafting process threw up lots of controversy.

The main positive, some would say, is that it’s well overdue given there were no existing indications and guidelines for installations. Now, with the momentum of rollout of batteries rapidly gaining pace in Australia and other countries, it’s an appropriate time to have an official standard for best practice in the industry.

The changes brought by the new standard, however, have upset some battery manufacturers. Major industry bodies and players including Tesla, Sonnen, and LG Chem continue to argue that the standard is too heavy handed, and that adhering to the rules will add costs and complexity to installations. They say that many companies have taken significant measures to make their products safe to install in homes. Unfortunately, the changes could now rule out the installation of battery storage altogether for some households where there is no suitable position for a unit to be located.

Battery makers have also complained that the standards have been written to a ‘perceived’ combustion or fire risk, and not a proven combustion or fire risk, and basically assume that all batteries are the same.

For installers, and particularly electricians, there are some fairly major changes, for example, around switching from LV (low voltage) and ELV (extra low voltage) thresholds to a new internationally recognised classification. Another change is existing battery systems will now have to be held to higher wiring rule standards.

To find out more about AS/NZS 5139:2019

We’ve covered some of the key points and issues with the new standard, but we strongly encourage you to deep dive into the detail. There’s a lot to get your head around!

To find out more:

Call Energy Partners for a chat on 1300 768 977, and ask for Jay.

Go to the Clean Energy Council website to view this great 6-minute Toolbox Talk. This video is a little explainer made for solar installers and designers to provide a brief overview of the install standard: https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/resources/resources-hub/as-nzs-5139-an-overview

Purchase the standard from the Standards Australia website https://www.standards.org.au/. It will cost you around $340 for a hard copy, or just over $300 for a PDF version.

Register for a Smart Energy Council workshop that is running as part of its Energy Installer Roadshow from 7-21 November 2019 across Townsville, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and Adelaide.