Utility and Misc

Wind power backup and storage batteries explode into flames and send a toxic cloud over the city of Brussels

A wind power storage battery has exploded into flames at a power station located near the city of Brussels. The fire resulted in a cloud of toxic fumes that flew over the city and force thousands of people to stay at home. The battery was part of the first real live testing of power batteries being used to store wind power in Belgium. After less than one month, the test miserably failed with the battery being destroyed by fire and residents hiding in their houses to escape the polluted cloud. Here is the story.

On Saturday the 11th of November 2017, around noon, people in some western areas of the city of Brussels (Belgium) could smell a strong and irritating odor that some described as being similar to the smell of “burning plastic”.

A little later, the population was informed of a fire going on in the Electrabel-Engie power plant located at Drogenbos. Electrabel-Engie is the main electricity producer in Belgium, and operates a gas turbine power plant in Drogenbos, a village located at the western limit of the city of Brussels – where the wind did come from at the time of the accident.

An official alert was broadcast by the Belgian authorities:

“Fire in the ENGIEelectrabel plant at Drogenbos. Toxic smell. Alert activated. Follow recommendations: as a precaution close doors and windows”

And the news outlets were covered with pictures like this one:

“Fire at Engie: Drogenbos residents requested to stay home”.
“A fire at Electrabel emits a cloud of toxic fumes”

Still a bit later, some local newspapers explained that “a container-size lithium battery has blown up into flames. The fire as provoked a cloud of smoke potentially toxic”. The message circulating on the social networks was that “a cloud full of toxic lithium was blowing over the city”.

It took several hours for the firemen to control the fire. The alert was lifted around 16hr local time. No injuries were reported, although some people did complain of respiratory irritation. At that time the population has been informed that “Measures of air pollution were normal and they were no more risks for health or environment”. However they didn’t say what were the pollutants found in previous measurements and in which quantities they were present in the air.

So what went wrong? You can find part of the answer on the Belgian Engie web site (http://www.engie.be/en/drogenbos-to-store-renewable-energy-on-a-large-scale/) in an article written in English and dated July 10, 2017.

Under the title “Drogenbos to store renewable energy on a large scale”, the article explains that:

Conventional power stations consistently ensure adjustable, predictable power generation. If they are replaced (as will increasingly be the case) by less predictable solar and wind energy, a solution will have to be found to continue guaranteeing a steady supply of electricity and safeguard grid stability. For the grid requires a constant balance between power generation and consumption. So what’s the solution? Master the large-scale storage of electricity …

Several containers containing batteries, transformers, converters and computers have been installed at ENGIE’s Energy Storage Park. The aim is to conduct trials on storing 20 MWh of renewable energy …

This will the first time that large batteries have been tested in Belgium. ENGIE’s Energy Storage Park will simultaneously serve as both a test bed and a laboratory. ENGIE will start by testing lithium batteries with a maximum capacity of 6 MW, produced by four different manufacturers, exposing them all to the same conditions …

Starting in October 2017, the facilities at ENGIE’s Energy Storage Park should be able to draw electricity from the grid when too much power is being generated, store it in the batteries and then reinject it into the system when needed.

So apparently they indeed started-up the real size testing of their carefully selected batteries.

But it took less than one month for the first of them to blow up into flames and forces tens of thousands of inhabitants to stay hidden in their home to avoid the toxic cloud that resulted from this experiment.

One of the mainstream newspaper has reported a press release of the Electrabel-Engie group saying that the “battery that has burned was not in operation at the time the fire broke out”. Let’s hope that at least this one is fake news, otherwise it would mean that these batteries are just chemical bombs ready to explode at any time.

If the dream of wind proponents has ever to become true, ours landscapes will be scattered with such container-size batteries. At the light of what did happen this weekend in Drogenbos, authorities everywhere should take note and impose to the industry the required protection measures to avoid the possibility of such an accident.

Not a single article in the local media mentioned the link between the battery that has polluted the city of Brussels and wind power backup and storage requirements. For the uninformed reader, the message was that “the villain Electrabel that operates nuclear power plants has once again polluted the environment”. But this accident was really due, although indirectly, to the presence of wind turbines in the production system.

We should see it as a chemical pollution directly related to the supposedly clean wind power.

Source: National Wind Watch

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