This past Monday, I was asked to present on lithium-ion (li-ion) battery fire safety in data centers at the 7x24 Exchange conference. My positions on the topic generated a lot of conversation. Here are some things we need to wrestle with (the whole industry) going forward:
- There are thousands of li-ion batteries installed in data centers that fire departments know nothing about and aren’t equipped to handle if one catches on fire.
- These existing installations were done without following NFPA 855 and, in general, with no additional fire protection considerations despite li-ion needing more fire protection than lead acid batteries.
- Fire marshals aren’t enforcing 855 in jurisdictions yet, often because the model codes aren’t referencing it or it’s an older version. This is one application where the delay in applying the latest code version will hurt people. Battery technology changes are happening too fast. They are outpacing code adoption schedules.
- Battery system sales people are in charge at this point. They are telling operators that li-ion is completely safe and they’re buying it because the pitch is good and their previous experience with lead acid was good.
- Li-ion batteries DO have fires and there are plenty of news stories about this issue. The sales people are doing well telling the data center, “It’s the other guy’s batteries, not ours.” But I say, “It’s not ours, YET.”
- There is still confusion in terminology and document scopes for ESS, UPS, standby stationary stored energy, what 855 covers, what the NEC covers, and which UL listing standards apply. We need a lot of work to make the codes and regulations usable for all parties. I’m in the weeds on this and I’m still confused.
- Research into viable, affordable fire suppression and battery cooling solutions has to continue. The fire protection industry has to provide a backstop system in data centers if the battery safety features fail. And they ARE going to fail. They have in all the other industries using li-ion and data center UPS battery applications aren’t that different.
Please continue the conversation with me. These will sound like words of attack to some, but they aren’t. They’re a call to reality for what we’re dealing with—the possibility of serious fires caused by li-ion batteries in data centers leading to major service outages or injury to unprepared first responders. Computing and data handling affects all our lives, it gets more important every day.
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