Bringing Energy Storage Systems Up to Code

Bringing Energy Storage Systems Up to Code

This piece was originally published in the May 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Jack Lyons, Northeast Field Representative, NEMA

For the past three years, I have been discussing energy storage system (ESS) matters with electricians and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) up and down the Northeast corridor because of the growing interest in new battery technologies and their energy storage applications.

Beyond the electric utility applications for ESSs, new technologies are creating a growing market within buildings in areas such as New York City. Electric power demand, utility demand charges, and optional standby power systems in residences are just a few ESS applications that the electrical community is seeing installed. The electrical safety rules that apply to these systems need to be understood and enforced.

With the creation of Article 706, Energy Storage Systems, members of the National Electrical Code® (NEC) code-making panels added requirements that address safety considerations. Previous editions addressed ESSs in Article 480, which dealt with batteries and did not sufficiently address newer storage technologies.

Behind the Meter, Behind the Times

The issue for electricians and inspectors is that the installations of these systems are behind the meter (i.e., building owners rather than utilities). Therefore, the installation falls under the auspices of the local AHJ. The NEC does not regulate installations under direct control of the utilities, unlike installations in front of the meter. The NEC, in effect, creates a demarcation point between the premises’ wiring systems and wiring under the control of the electrical utility. This point, often referred to as a service point, is generally considered to be on the utility side of an electric meter.

The NYC Department of Buildings and Fire Department have cooperated to create guidelines for ESSs. Caught without adequate installation requirements in their current codes, the city had no clear guidelines for complete packaging of ESSs in the electrical code, nor were there clear guidelines on fire hazards and responses to some of the new technologies.

These city departments have addressed the safety issues for these new systems. Since many jurisdictions use the same model codes as NYC, potential conflicts are resolved in advance if individual jurisdictions follow the same model codes. Otherwise, specific local rules could create hardships for manufacturers when compliance is not standardized.

The problem in NYC was that the building, electrical, and fire codes were not updated. The city is still using the 2008 NEC and, until recently, used the 2009 International Building Code. Proposed changes for the fire codes are now being implemented to address ESSs. The city has worked with model code developing organizations (e.g., the National Fire Protection Association and the International Code Council) to ensure that their current guidelines mirror proposed code requirements.

Beyond New York

The 2017 NEC has been adopted by Massachusetts and is being reviewed for adoption in other New England states. Most, however, use the 2014 NEC, with one still using the 2008 NEC.

While we wait for states to adopt the 2017 NEC, ESSs continue to be installed. AHJs want to know what to look for when conducting an inspection, and contractors want information to use with the AHJs during a plan review or permitting process. I provide all parties with information that the ESS manufacturers use to ensure safe and effective systems. This helps the industry create common local guidelines on installations and product safety standard acceptance. The objective is for these states to follow some standardized guidelines until they officially accept the newest edition of the NEC.

My goal is to have the electrical industry use the information in the 2017 NEC and other codes that promote safe electrical installations as they apply to ESSs.

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