NAATBatt International was shaken by news of the fire and explosion last week at Arizona Public Service’s McMicken Energy Storage facility in Surprise, Arizona. Four firefighters were hurt in the explosion, two of them seriously. First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with the injured and their families.
The McMicken incident hit particularly close to home for NAATBatt. A little more than five weeks ago, NAATBatt members toured the McMicken facility at the invitation of APS. The facility appeared to be state-of-the-art and well-maintained. It is hard to imagine what exactly went wrong.
An investigation of the McMicken incident is still ongoing and NAATBatt has no more information than what APS has released to date to the news media. That investigation needs to be thorough and complete. Storing energy, whether in the form of a battery, a tank of gasoline or a wound spring, is an inherently dangerous activity. We need to know exactly what went wrong at McMicken.
At the same time it is important not to overreact or jump to conclusions. Initial assumptions about the cause of past battery-related safety incidents, such as the 2012 fire at the Kahuku Wind-Energy Storage Farm in Hawaii, have sometimes been wrong. Battery technology, like gasoline tanks and wound springs, is safe when well-designed and well-managed. The long-term threat to battery technology comes not from full disclosure about safety issues but from the lack of it.