ENERGY STORAGE

How to overcome energy storage construction risks

Storage project sites face ‘unforeseen internet communication challenges’, while construction site accidents can jeopardise public support for storage projects

 

BEN COOK

January 11, 2024

  • Storage project sites in remote locations face ‘unforeseen internet communication challenges’
  • Internet challenges restrict developers’ ability to utilise CAD software and BIM
  • Meanwhile, statistics show construction accidents increasing, jeopardising projects profitability
  • With accidents jeopardising public support for projects, top tips for improving storage construction site safety

The successful deployment of energy storage is heavily dependent on the effective implementation of construction site logistics. One of the biggest challenges energy storage developers face relates to the location of the development site. Energy storage systems are often built in remote locations which can mean equipment takes longer to get delivered, while there may also be a lack of internet access. With regard to the issue of remote locations, such areas are in particular need for energy storage given their lack of access to sustainable energy supplies, which is largely due to geographical constraints that mean traditional electricity grids cannot extend their reach to the areas in question.

Bringing storage to remote areas is a key issue for countries such as Australia and Canada. The Australian Energy Council has highlighted how, with regard to more remote communities, there will be a need for storage that can “maintain power quality and deliver reliable energy for days or weeks”. Meanwhile, battery energy storage company Troes Corp has previously highlighted the fact there are approximately 276 remote off-grid communities in Canada – with a combined population of around 200,000 people – that are in need of energy storage as their energy security is in peril.

‘Unforeseen internet communication challenges’

Installing energy storage systems in remote locations is a major challenge for developers. Energy storage product provider Fluence has highlighted managing construction site logistics as a common challenge when deploying storage systems. The company has said that “during the project planning phase, it’s important to consider common logistical hiccups that may arise surrounding the location of a planned energy storage system”. Such challenges can include the need for longer construction timelines due to the impact of equipment delivery scheduling as well as “unforeseen internet communication challenges”, according to Fluence.

The issue of internet access can be especially problematic for energy storage development in remote locations. For example, the traditional means of providing a new internet link to a site with a wired leased line connection requires the digging of trenches and the laying of cable, an undertaking that can add expense to the job and take up a lot of time. But internet connectivity on a construction site is vital for a number of reasons. For example, construction companies use desktop and laptop computers for running CAD [computer-aided design] software to share and develop architectural and engineering designs on site. Previously, these programmes were stored on individual machines, meaning workers and contractors would have to go to the site office or have a laptop taken to them to view the plans. Now construction companies use cloud-based CAD software services, which means plans can be viewed on any device, as cloud services company M247 has highlighted. The issue is, of course, that cloud services rely on internet access.

How internet access improves security and project design

Similarly, internet access can also improve security as well as reducing its associated costs. Rather than having security personnel on-site at all times of the day and night, CCTV can stream images via the internet either to the security team based in head office or to a contractor. Internet access is also important given the growing use of ‘smart machinery’, specifically networked equipment enabling data capture and monitoring with a view to improving performance and efficiency gains, as well as facilitating the automation of routine tasks. One key aspect is building information modelling (BIM), which involves the use of data from on-site sensors and cameras for the development of evolving 3D digital models of the site and the construction as it progresses. These can be compared with CAD designs with a view to ascertaining structural and functional integrity before progressing the development further. BIM, which can be used for all types of infrastructure, is a rapidly growing field with the market expected to double in size between 2024 and 2029 (see graph below). Given the numerous benefits of internet access on construction sites, one option that could be considered is the use of “wireless leased internet lines” on construction sites, which are much easier to install than a wired connection. As Fluence has highlighted, it’s vital to “carefully consider internet requirements for the construction phase”.

Construction sites becoming more dangerous

Another major risk during the construction phase of energy storage projects is job site safety. Worryingly, evidence suggests that construction sites are becoming more dangerous. Data from the UK’s Health & Safety Executive showed that construction-related deaths increased by more than 50 per cent in 2022/23. In addition to causing significant trauma to workers and their families, construction site accidents are a major cause of project delays, a fact that has been acknowledged by energy storage companies. Project delays are also costly, one survey of construction industry professionals found that around one in four respondents (26.2 per cent) reported that delays had cause project costs to increase by 11-20 per cent.

Fatal injuries in UK industries (Source: HSE)

The energy storage industry is also acutely aware that safety incidents during the construction phase of an energy storage project can “erode public support for the project and lead to future permitting challenges for future projects being planned in the same region”. It’s imperative to avoid such a scenario, especially given that public opposition to storage projects is also being fuelled by concerns about battery fire risk, as well as the perception that some energy storage companies’ primary objective is to grow profits via energy arbitrage – that is, buying power when prices are cheap and then storing for use when grid electricity prices are high – rather than having a desire to reduce damage to the environment per se.

Prioritise safety over speed and cost-cutting

Consequently, first-rate safety standards are crucial on energy storage construction sites. One of the key requirements is “prioritising safety over speed and cost-cutting measures”. Research has shown that accidents tend to happen late in projects and this has been attributed to a phenomenon known as ‘normalisation’, which, as the Harvard Business Review has highlighted, “often allows people to accept looser standards in the name of greater speed“. Project developers have been advised to work with an “experienced energy storage provider that puts safety first“.

Here are six tips for improving safety on energy storage construction sites:

  1. Perform regular safety inspections Frequent safety inspections, such as ‘safety walks’, can help to identify potential hazards and control risks before they become major problems.
  2. Provide workers with health and safety training Effective training is crucial for maintaining a safe working environment, preventing accidents and increasing productivity.
  3. Keep equipment properly maintained Construction equipment needs regular upkeep to ensure optimal performance and prevent accidents.
  4. Identify and mitigate hazards Risk assessments should include identifying potential hazards and evaluating their likelihood and severity.
  5. Ensure safety policies and procedures are enforced Everyone involved in construction work must: be familiar with the potential hazards and risks associated with their particular tasks; be able to take steps to mitigate those risks; and follow established protocols for reporting incidents or near-misses. 
  1. Promote a safety culture It’s important to create an environment where everyone on site feels responsible for guaranteeing it is kept safe.