Samsung SDI, LG Chem attempt to make ESS safer

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Samsung SDI, LG Chem attempt to make ESS safer

Domestic battery makers announced safety measures to address public fears after series of fires in energy storage systems (ESS) over the past two years.

Samsung SDI on Monday said it has almost finalized the installing of safety equipment on all the sites of its ESS batteries while LG Chem announced its own safety equipment, including an insulation monitoring device to prevent future fires.

An ESS stores electricity from solar and wind turbines for later consumption. It consists of a battery, which charges and discharges electricity; a power conversion system, which converts direct current into alternating current; and an energy management system, which is used to monitor the electricity stored in the ESS.

“Although it has been confirmed that Samsung’s system didn’t cause any fires, we decided to come up with countermeasures to prevent such incidents and quell rising consumer fears,” said Heo Eun-gi, senior vice president of the system development team at Samsung SDI at a press briefing held in central Seoul on Monday.

The battery maker said it has been working on its ESS safety system for the past year and will complete installations by the end of the month. It tackles problems pointed by industry insiders as the potential causes of fires.

The system includes censors that check for any damage from the delivery or handling of batteries; regular training of ESS partners; and upgrading of software to detect irregularities in the condition of a battery, including its temperature.

Samsung has developed a special fire extinguishing system that could prevent the heat from one battery cell spreading to adjacent cells. This system - which is made of special chemicals that the company refused to name - helps to immediately extinguish flames and, therefore, prevents a fire from spreading.

Samsung said it has spent a total of around 150 billion won ($134 million) to 200 billion won to install the safety systems on 1,000 ESS sites in Korea.

Samsung suggested that the causes of fires could have been the mismanagement of its equipment.

“The biggest difference between domestic and overseas ESS operators is that companies abroad have much more experience in the management of electrical grids and strictly follow laws in the installation and operation process,” said Samsung SDI Vice President Lim Young-ho.

After the government in June announced the results of an investigation into ESS fires, another fire broke out at a Samsung ESS site and two more at LG Chem sites. But batteries that Samsung has sold to partners abroad have not had any problem with fires.

A total of 26 fires broke out at ESS sites nationwide since August 2017.

LG Chem on Monday said in a statement that it installed safety equipment at its existing ESS sites and that it plans to install them at new ESS sites.

LG installed a surge protector device, which is designed to protect electronic equipment from voltage spikes and power surges, and an insulation monitoring device, which reportedly prevents fires by cutting the power supply when irregularities occur.

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]
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