Fires between 2017 and 2019 brought South Korea’s energy storage market to a standstill. A new study now seeks to shed light on all the causes of accidents and to analyze several social factors that may have led to the continuation of accidents.
The country’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) made a handful of broad conclusions in its investigation report into the accidents. By taking the systems apart and examining the components, it identified a number of potential manufacturing defects and concluded that some systems likely lacked adequate protection against electric shock. It also used humidity, dust and salt spray tests to identify weaknesses in the battery systems’ environmental controls.
In addition, MOTIE raised the issue of poor installation practices and identified problems that can arise when installers combine energy management and control system components from different manufacturers – even though these components are not designed to be used as elements of an integrated system.
However, according to a new study by South Korea’s Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), these reasons may not be all the reasons behind accidents. “Our the study considers the effects and risks of social factors related to battery fires, which have rarely been considered in previous studies,” the study’s lead author. Ji-Bum Chung, we were told pv magazine. “Although the risk of fire has been reduced by advances in battery storage technology, there are still potential risks such as human error and normal accidents that can be caused by people, organizations and the social context in which the technology is used.”
According to Chung, Korean fires were socially constructed by environmental factors, such as strong incentives, insufficient regulation, different cultural backgrounds of stakeholders, close coupling and abuse of different sub-technologies, systematic pursuit of pressure. , and a false sense of security.
“These social factors have contributed to the occurrence of negative interactions between relevant social groups (RSGs) and led to harmful outcomes such as the normalization of deviance and structural secrecy that accumulates fire risks,” Chung further explained. “These groups have taken a negative view of battery storage, a socially constructed technological artifact, due to a series of accidental fires. Similarly, in 2021, the Korean government changed its storage policy from an unusually strong support to zero support. The government’s cold attitude led to a decrease in the profitability of batteries, which was an obstacle to the growth of the industry, along with the risk of fire.
In the magazine “The Social Construction of Fire Accidents in Battery Energy Storage Systems in Korea,” recently published in the journal Journal of Energy Storage, Chung and his colleagues presented the results of 24 interviews conducted in 2021 to gather different interpretations of the causes of battery fires from stakeholders, including members who have participated in two official investigative committees established by MOTIE.
“Semantic network analysis (SNA) and thematic analysis (TA) were performed on all textual interview data to explore important issues,” the researchers explained. “During the interviews, we found that social factors such as policies, regulations and organizational characteristics were considered to influence battery fire risk.”
They also used social engineering theory (SCOT) to study the construction process of battery storage technology. This theory says so technology does not determine human activity, but human activity shapes technology.
The team concluded that RGSs did not fully understand the benefits and risks of storage technology and viewed batteries as a way to seek financial incentives. “Such naive use of technology and lack of risk awareness are motivations to combat future technology risks,” it stated. “Acceptable risks can make members make irrational choices based on their interests. If the battery is misused, the risk of heat escaping increases.”