Battery Energy Storage Systems Are Here: Is Your Community Ready?

By Courtney Stenson

Newswise – Across the country, the transition to clean energy will require thoughtful conversation and robust planning for communities. In fact, many communities are already being asked to evaluate construction proposals for a relatively new type of utility infrastructure: battery energy storage systems (commonly called BESS). To help with this process, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) Experts have assembled BESS resources that communities will need as they pursue their energy goals.

What are battery energy storage systems?

batteries represents a unique class of energy system infrastructure. Because the main unit is small—either a cell slightly larger than a standard AA battery, or a pouch that can be as small as your cell phone battery—BESS is modular and can be configured to virtually any size. As a relatively new option for energy storage, many communities do not understand the need for safety, zoning and community awareness as installment becomes part of neighborhoods – both urban and rural. Devin Powell, an economist at PNNL, has researched local zoning ordinances and regulators and believes these information gaps can make it difficult for communities and local land-use planners to respond to proposed battery storage projects or develop zoning ordinances for future expansion. PNNL's additional researchers and subject matter experts use evidence-based research and real-world experience to help inform BESS's near- and long-term planning, from land use to zoning standards.

Battery Energy Storage Systems – Why Now?

new account Energy storage in local zoning ordinances, prepared by a team of PNNL energy storage and battery safety experts, identifies the potential impacts of an energy storage project on the community in terms relevant to local planners. It provides real-world examples of how communities have addressed these impacts.

“Local planners already have a lot going on, and asking them to become energy experts in the short term of the zoning process — more than anything else — is unwise,” said Jeremy Twitchell, PNNL Energy Advisor and co-author. account. “This report provides local planners with objective information to help them fill these gaps by identifying the questions they need to ask and the conditions under which they can ensure their communities receive the benefits of energy storage and are protected from its risks.”

Several states, as well as the federal government, have aggressive decarbonization goals that they must make progress toward. One way to achieve these goals is to add wind and solar power to the grid. These energy sources are sometimes referred to as “variable” due to their dependence on the weather. Many states have adopted policies to encourage or require the development of energy storage, providing flexibility to match wind and solar power with customer demand. This policy, along with the decline in energy storage technologies, has led to a boom in energy storage deployments.

Battery energy storage systems – what do members of the public and planners need to know?

With relatively limited infrastructure requirements, requiring only a concrete pad to sit on and a connection to the power grid, BESS can be located virtually anywhere, including near existing commercial and residential uses.

As battery energy storage gains momentum and public need is evident, planners face several questions about safety, land use prospects, zoning implications and project permitting. In fact, relatively few cities and counties have zoning ordinances governing energy storage, further emphasizing the need for local planning guidelines.

So how can communities be better prepared?

Most energy storage technologies will likely use lithium-ion batteries Providing energy on demand for several hours. of this type batteries They're the most readily available and affordable—perfect for consumers, community planners, and those focused on grid sustainability. As a modular type of battery, BESS can be adapted to different needs. As a build-your-own menu option, they're flexible—large-scale units can take up as much space as an acre or a corner of a garage.

Battery storage system failure or fire is well documented and widely studied; The PNNL report provides information and suggestions for risk reduction strategies.

“As with any complex electrical device or equipment, failures occasionally occur,” said Matthew Pace, a PNNL battery safety expert and co-author of the report. “At BESS, although this is rare, it should be considered in the planning process.”

When preparing for battery installments, it is important for planners to rely on the vast amount of battery safety information available. Paiss cites several resources, including National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 855, International Fire Codeand batteries-and-energy-storage”>UL Solutions.

“A lot of public uncertainty is about safety considerations and how restrictive we should be with BESS to balance aesthetic and safety concerns with deployment or policy goals,” added Powell, the report's third co-author. “Battery energy storage systems are still emerging technologies and unknown to many local planners. By developing resources that describe key considerations and show what types of regulations have been adopted in other cities and states, we hope that incorporating common sense BESS regulations into local zoning codes will soon become as common as solar PV regulations.

Zoning issues such as noise, odor and visual and environmental emissions must be considered. Although these issues may not seem as important as safety, they are still a concern for planners. Most BESS are in electrical enclosures, cabinets, or modified shipping containers. The PNNL researchers suggest that planners consider site location — whether BESSs will be placed in new or old facilities — or placed outdoors, where planners may consider trees or other visual barriers. A holistic view of the size and complexity of the system provides guidance on sound and odor emissions in neighboring buildings.

Finally, environmental impacts must be considered in the rare event of failure. Battery systems have no emissions or environmental impact during normal operation. However, in the event of a fire, emergency response plans must consider the strategy that will be used to mitigate the incident. For example, if water is used to protect any exposure, will the runoff need to be contained? If smoke poses a potential risk to nearby residents, will shelter-in-place or evacuation occur?

Change is here for most themes. In fact, it's almost inevitable—especially as energy planners work more closely with grid planners and other entities to ensure power is available when and where it's needed. However, by using the many tools at their disposal, such as state, national, and international codes and standards, planners can help reduce risk factors and increase understanding. This is where PNNL's expertise comes in handy. Nora Hawkins, senior energy policy specialist at the Washington State Department of Commerce's Office of Energy, said, “Washington's Clean Energy Transformation Act commits our state to zero-emissions electricity by 2045. As such, we are seeing an increase in the number offered. Grid-scale battery energy storage systems and the communities that host these systems raise important questions and concerns. Working with PNNL has allowed the State Energy Office to engage more effectively with communities, local planning departments and emergency managers. We are grateful for PNNL's work in promoting national information sharing on how to safely incorporate energy storage into our rapidly transforming clean energy system.”

This work was funded by the Department of Energy, Office of Electricity, through the Energy Storage Program, led by Dr. Imre Gyuk, and is the first of two battery energy storage system reports. The report was written by Jeremy Twitchell, Matthew Pace and Devin Powell. Contact Matthew Pace Learn more about how PNNL can help communities understand security considerations. Contact Jeremy Twitchell or Devin Powell About ordinances, policies, and community placement.


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory builds on its distinctive strengths chemistry, Earth Sciences, Biology and Data science To improve scientific knowledge and solve challenges sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL operates Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE's Office of Science is working to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information visit For more information about PNNL, visit PNNL Information Center. Follow us Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.