|A fire engulfs an energy storage system at a cement plant in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province, Monday. / Courtesy of North Chungcheong Province Fire Service Headquarters|
By Nam Hyun-woo
A series of fires in energy storage systems (ESSs) has been raising safety concerns, according to industry analysts, Tuesday.
With ESSs essential for optimizing energy efficiency, further accidents may compromise the feasibility of renewable power and hamper the government's bid to expand the use of cleaner energies.
According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, it recommended individuals, companies and other organizations to stop using 584 uninspected ESSs across the country.
The move came after an ESS at a cement plant in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province, caught fire on Monday, causing 4.1 billion won ($3.63 million) worth of damage to the plant. The ESS was set up by LC Chem and LG CNS in January.
It was the 15th fire in an ESS in Korea this year, taking place amid the ministry's safety checks on 1,253 ESSs across the country. The ministry finished inspecting 669 ESSs as of Monday and the recommendation was issued on the remainder.
"The ministry decided to issue the recommendation recognizing the seriousness of the situation," a ministry official said.
Since solar, wind and other renewable energy sources have limits in their power production continuity, they are coupled with ESSs, comprised of large-scale batteries and other electric facilities assisting them. Including the Jecheon accident, Korea has seen 16 ESS fires so far and half of them were linked to solar power generators.
As fires continue, experts pointed out the government's "hasty" expansion of ESS use is responsible for the series of fires and those fires will deflate its bid to expand renewable energy across the country.
"As part of its policy to save electricity and expand renewable energy use, the government has given an excessive amount of subsidies to those who are using ESSs," said Jeong Yong-hoon, a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). "This led many entities to use the technology without enough verification of its safety and stability."
Jeong added that the government's bid to expand renewable energy use will lose momentum for a while, because calls for stronger safety measures will jack up the costs, additionally burdening the already expensive renewable energies.
"Since safety issues have emerged, ESSs are required to have stronger safety measures, such as a monitoring system," he said. "It will further raise the costs for using renewable energy, whose low feasibility is already one of the strongest disadvantages."