Tesla upgrades global big battery fleet after Victorian fire

A fire that broke out at the Victorian Big Battery has prompted manufacturer Tesla to upgrade its global fleet of Megapack batteries after an investigation found the blaze was most likely sparked by a coolant leak causing short-circuits.

One of the 212 Tesla Megapacks at renewable energy giant Neoen’s Victorian Big Battery near Geelong, the largest lithium-ion battery in the country, caught fire during testing on July 30. It remained ablaze for three days, forced it to disconnect from the grid and covered surrounding suburbs with smoke.

After a two-month investigation, regulator Energy Safe Victoria has determined the coolant leak occurred while the Megapack was offline and in a mode that disabled fault-protections systems, enabling the problem to go undetected. The investigation coincided with root-cause inquiries by other regulators, fire authorities, Neoen and Elon Musk’s Tesla.

The regulator has required the operators to roll out a series of additional safety measures including ensuring the Megapack cooling systems are fully pressure-tested when installed and inspected for leaks after testing, and adding a new battery module isolation loss alarm.

“Mitigating actions have been put in place at the facility and across Tesla’s global Megapack fleet, including a combination of firmware enhancements, as well as monitoring and process improvements,” Neoen said.

“Through these actions, Tesla has improved the detectability and associated fault protection against these types of rare events.”

Neoen has been cleared to recommence testing of the Victorian Big Battery on Wednesday.

Further work, however, would be needed to ensure the Megapacks were engineered to fully mitigate the risk of fire spreading from one unit to another under Victorian conditions.

Energy Safe Victoria’s investigations will continue to examine whether there have been any violations of the Electricity Safety Act that require further action.

With a capacity of 300 megawatts and 450 megawatt-hours, the Victorian Big Battery is three times bigger than the initial size of the famous Tesla big battery built in South Australia in 2017.

Neoen said it was continuing to work with Tesla towards making the project operational in time for the Australian summer peak energy demand period.

“We have taken the time to understand the cause of the incident and we have implemented actions to ensure it will not happen again,” Neoen managing director Louis de Sambucy said.

“We are now actively working with all stakeholders to complete commissioning and testing of the project and we look forward to sharing the lessons learnt with the industry in coming weeks.”

Lessons and insights from the Victorian fire are being compiled into an independent report, to be made public in November.

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