Tesla Megapack battery ignites at substation after less than 6 months

Yesterday morning, a Tesla Megapack battery at a California substation caught fire, leading to a shelter-in-place order and many road closures in Moss Landing, Monterey Bay.

According to the Monterey County Weekly, a Tesla Megapack caught fire at the Elkhorn Battery Storage facility, an 182.5 MW Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) facility that Tesla co-manages and has been in operation since April of this year. The North Monterey County Fire Department was alerted to the fire, the publication states.

Joel Mendoza, the fire chief, said that the batteries burnt swiftly and thoroughly, which is unusual for such incidents. “The drawback of these batteries is that they occasionally burn for days. It burnt in this instance rather fast, in around six hours “Mendoza declared. “There is no flame emanating from it. Smoke will still be visible, but it will be white smoke rather than black, foul smoke.”

Approximately 20 hours after the fire was first reported, at 10 p.m. local time yesterday, Monterey County declared the fire entirely under control but warned that it may continue to produce smoke for many days.

Firefighters at the site, according to CNBC, let the battery burn out as is customary in lithium-ion fires. To prevent the system from reigniting, firefighters planned to stay on the scene throughout the night.

Emails asking for more information have received no response from Tesla. No comments, according to PG&E.

Facilities like the Elkhorn Battery storage plant will be crucial components of the grid as the US transitions to distributed, renewable energy generation because they can store energy during periods of overproduction and release it later when renewable energy sources are underproducing.

Sadly, even at the same Moss Landing substation, massive lithium-ion battery installations like Elkhorn, which is made up of 256 Tesla Megapack batteries the size of shipping containers, have shown to be fire dangers.

The biggest battery storage facility in the world, according to Monterey County Weekly, was erected in Moss Landing by Texas-based Vistra. Unfortunately, it has also experienced fire problems—two of them—and was shut down for months before returning to operation in July.

Tesla has been associated with prior lithium-ion fires; last year, its Australian “Big Battery” caught fire and burned for four days. Li-ion batteries can potentially catch fire weeks after being damaged, as happened with a ruined Tesla car.

Battery energy storage system (BESS) fires cost $32 million in damages between 2017 and 2019 in South Korea, where BESS had been widely used. Inadequate operational environment management, improper installations, a lack of electric shock protection, and BESS integrations with other energy management software, according to Korean investigators, “may result in situations that lead to a fire.”

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