Cornell professor: solar battery risk ‘manageable’

Published: Aug. 24, 2023 at 4:58 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - A professor at Cornell University says the risk from batteries used to store solar energy is ‘manageable’ and overall, the batteries are safe.

The issue of battery safety surfaced in late July when a lithium-ion battery array at a solar farm in the Town of Lyme caught fire and burned for four days.

The lithium-ion batteries used to store electricity generated by solar farms are like the batteries in your cell phone or laptop, only much, much bigger.

“One clear pro is that battery storage helps us integrate more renewable energy,” said Dr. Max Zhang, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Cornell.

Dr. Zhang said the batteries store excess energy, which can then be used when the solar f arms are producing less energy, say, for instance, on a cloudy day.

Lithium-ion batteries are the most common batteries used at solar farms. They are relatively cheap to make and have a large storage capacity.

Dr. Zhang acknowledges there is some risk to the batteries - they could become flammable in time, “but I think it is a manageable risk,” he said.

Lithium-ion batteries are not the only way to storage energy; there are other types of batteries, including ones based on zinc - though there is no large scale production of them - and energy storage solutions which don’t rely on batteries at all.