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CBC | Charlottetown homeowners pull plug on solar panel battery storage system because of electrical code

Nancy Russel

Charlottetown homeowners pull plug on battery storage system because of electrical code | CBC News

Hank and Teresa Spierenburg were looking forward to having backup battery power during the next storm outage — after being without electricity for 10 days after post-tropical storm Fiona.

They recently installed solar panels on their Charlottetown home through the Switch home energy program, and decided to add two batteries at $1,500 each — not enough for all of their electrical needs, but the key ones.

But shortly after the batteries were installed, they had to be removed, because they did not pass the electrical inspection. 

The Spierenburgs said they were told that, under the new Canadian Electrical Code, which took effect in 2021, energy storage systems can be installed in garages of dwellings, directly mounted to a building, installed in or on a detached garage, storage building, or free-standing structure, but can’t be within the home itself.

The batteries have now been removed from the Spierenburgs’ home because of the electrical code rules. (Shane Hennessey/CBC )

“Apparently they’re okay in a separate location or in a garage, but in our case we don’t have a garage so we had to give up on the batteries, unfortunately,” Hank Spierenburg said.

“We were very disappointed because we had all these plans, and the regulations are lagging behind.”

Spierenburg doesn’t believe the batteries pose a risk.

“The technology of the batteries has greatly improved over the years, and the risk that was there before is very minimal right now,” he said.

“Hopefully they upgrade the electrical code, and in the future, we might be able to use batteries.”

This was going to be the first solar-battery project funded through the Switch Charlottetown program. (Shane Hennessey/CBC )

In other jurisdictions, homeowners have built “battery sheds,” to store their battery storage systems, but they need to keep them at room temperature. Spierenburg said he is looking into other batteries that use a different technology.

“I see this as a temporary setback, and hopefully in the next six months or a year, we can solve this problem,” Spierenburg said.

‘Regulation limbo’

Julian Boyle is president of PACE Atlantic, the Halifax-based company that administers the Switch program.

“It’s unfortunate a homeowner and a contractor got caught in, I guess I’d call it ‘regulation limbo.’ It’s not uncommon for new technologies to be caught in some of this regulatory grey area,” Boyle said.

“Obviously an update and a refresh of the regulations on the Island would help not only the Spierenburgs but other homeowners looking to install battery and energy storage systems to provide reliable electricity for them during grid outages.”

Julian Boyle, president of PACE Atlantic, says more than half of solar homeowners are expressing interest in getting backup batteries versus a generator. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Boyle said the demand is ramping up for battery storage systems, like the one that the Spierenburgs want to install.

“This is a technology that is now probably more economical than putting in a backup diesel generator, and provides a lot more flexibility for the grid and homeowner,” Boyle said.

“There’s a couple of thousand battery projects already in the pipeline here in Nova Scotia, and I suspect this will be coming to P.E.I. soon as well.”

Boyle says the demand is ramping up for battery storage systems connected to solar power, like the one that the Spierenburgs want to install. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Nova Scotia battery pilot

Nova Scotia Power has been working on a project called Smart Grid Nova Scotia, which includes a battery storage pilot with about 130 customers across the province — some integrated with solar and some not — using two different battery systems.

“We’re learning all sorts of things about battery storage. We’re learning about what customers want from a battery, and how they’re going to use a battery,” said Ed Cullinan, manager of product development at Nova Scotia Power.

A battery panel and two electrical panels installed on the interior wall of a building.
Ed Cullinan of Nova Scotia Power says the batteries were installed in 2021, and were put to the test several times during extreme weather events in 2022. (Ian Selig Photographer/Nova Scotia Power)

“We’ve installed all of our batteries in garages, or in outbuildings that are either adjacent to the property or disconnected from the home,” Cullinan said.

“We were fortunate enough that we had lots of interest from participants across the province, and we were able to find customers where we could place the batteries in suitable locations.”

Cullinan said the batteries were installed in 2021, and were put to the test several times during extreme weather events in 2022.

We talked to all of our customers about their experience with their batteries after Fiona, and had positive results across the board.​​​​​Ed Cullinan, Nova Scotia Power 

“Customers love the fact that it’s instantly available in the event of an outage. Most don’t even realize that the power has gone out, and it’s just no mess, no fumes, no fuss, compared to a generator,” Cullinan said.

“We talked to all of our customers about their experience with their batteries after Fiona, and had positive results across the board.”

Cullinan said Nova Scotia Power is also exploring other ways to use the battery storage systems.

“When the battery is on grid, we can actually operate the battery, and create a lot of value for the system,” Cullinan said. 

“Absorbing more wind instead of curtailing it, levelling the load on a certain feeder to reduce the pressure on the system at any given time. That will just help us operate the grid more efficiently and reduce costs for everyone.”

A Nova Scotia Power crew works on power lines near Halifax during a 2021 storm. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The three-year pilot will end in 2023, but customers have the battery storage system for 10 years.

A spokesperson for the P.E.I. government sent this response about battery storage systems: 

“It is up to each province, territory or jurisdiction to embrace the code, and on P.E.I., this practice would not be approved under the code(s) that have been adopted. For very specific situations, we always encourage all licensed electrical contractors to reach out to their local Electrical Inspector for guidance when they are uncertain of the code requirements.”

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