Nova Scotia adopts standards making locally made deep
May 28, 2023
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One of the least expensive, safest and environmentally friendly ways to create a battery backup for home solar or wind is manufactured by Surrette Battery in Springhill.
Just don’t try to use a locally made a deep-cycle, lead-acid battery backup bank in Nova Scotia.
Because unlike most other jurisdictions in North America, this province is imposing standards meant to address the higher fire risk of lithium-ion batteries on the much safer and simpler lead-acid batteries manufactured by Surrette Battery for 64 years.
“Unaddressed, this will have a significant impact on renewable energy installs throughout the province, not only for homeowners looking for affordable off-grid and backup power solutions, but for Installers who must have the systems inspected and approved,” said Jeff Myles, spokesman for Surrette Battery.
“It means the cost of energy storage for Nova Scotians will be higher and also means, despite their popularity and use elsewhere, the deep-cycle batteries manufactured in our own province can't be used.”
Chris White is learning about the changing regulatory environment for battery chemistry the expensive way.
He fell in love with a piece of land in Chester Basin.
Looking to build a home there and restart his life outside of Halifax, he learned it would cost $35,000 to run power lines to it.
“So I said, ‘fine, I’ll do off-grid’,” said White.
He built a tiny home with all the appliances running off propane and three solar panels to provide electricity for lights and outlets. The CSA-approved Schneider solar system charged a bank of eight new Rolls Batteries manufactured by Surrette in Springhill.
“I went out of my way to have everything done right, by the book,” said White.
“I’m over budget, but that’s fine. I love my home.”
The structure, along with its plumbing and electrical, have all been inspected.
But he can’t get an occupancy permit for his house because a Nova Scotia Power technician failed his battery backup system that is located in a separate shed on the property.
“(Needs to be) CSA or other approved certification,” reads the note describing why his system was failed.
Here’s where it gets complicated.
When you buy a computer, woodstove, dishwasher or just about anything else theoretically capable of bursting into flame and killing you in your sleep, somewhere on them you should find a plate with a bunch of letters and numbers on it.
Those letters are acronyms for organizations (some governmental, others private) that come up with safety standards. Countries, states and provinces either operate their own certification authority (like the CSA in Canada) or adopt/accept compliance with a standard set by another organization.
“Approval requirements are in place in Canada and the US, as well as other jurisdictions, for electrical products and equipment,” reads a written response from Nova Scotia Power to Chronicle Herald questions about why White’s battery backup was failed.
“However, while some batteries may be approved for use in the US, they may not be approved for use in Canada. Unapproved electrical equipment may pose a fire/shock hazard. Approved batteries in Canada bear the following Recognized Canadian Electrical Product or Equipment Approval Marks: Recognized Canadian Electrical Product or Equipment Approval Marks | Standards Council of Canada - Conseil canadien des normes (scc.ca)”
If you go check the approved safety marks of the Standards Council of Canada, you will find Underwriter Laboratories Solutions is one of them. You’ll find their ‘UL’ mark on the Surrette Batteries used by White. It has the UL Solutions 1989 certification for standby batteries.
The batteries also hold a variety of certifications covering their use in industrial sites and homes in North America and Europe. They include (in case you really wanted to know): CE EN 61000-6-1:2007, CE EN 61000-6-3:2007, IEC 60896-22 Ed. 1.0 b:2004 and 61427-1 Ed. 1.0 b:2013.
And White’s Schneider solar system is CSA-approved to charge flooded lead-acid batteries.
The issue is that the approved batteries and approved charging system have not been independently lab tested working together.
Now, pretty well everywhere else (and up until recently in Nova Scotia, too), this wouldn’t be an issue.
People were allowed to hook up any approved lead-acid battery to any charger approved for use with that kind of battery.
But then, in response to the increased fire risk posed by lithium-ion batteries, in 2020 UL Solutions updated its certification for residential battery backup (UL 9540) to include that the charger, battery management system and batteries all need to be lab tested to work together.
This makes sense for lithium-ion batteries, for which the computerized battery management system is critical to the safe charge and discharge of electricity, along with maintaining battery life.
But lead-acid batteries don’t need a battery management system and, according to the National Fire Protection Association, are of much lower fire risk due to their chemistry and lower density of energy storage.
For the past half century, people have been mixing and matching certified batteries with any one of countless certified chargers or inverters.
“(UL) short sightedly rewrote those requirements to apply to all battery systems and unfortunately a select few jurisdictions have prematurely adopted this,” said Myles.
Nova Scotia is the only province that The Chronicle Herald has been able to determine has adopted these new rules.
For its part, UL Solutions product manager Maurice Johnson told The Chronicle Herald that their company only develops standards — it’s up to the local regulatory authority to determine when they are applied.
So this province has chosen to apply a standard that will require every potential combination of lead-acid battery and charger or inverter be individually lab tested before they are allowed to be used.
“Basically, they would have to be field tested,” said Ernest Thompson, owner of Fundy Solar.
“That’s an impossible process. It’s just way too expensive.”
Under that process, an approved laboratory would do on-site testing of a battery system after it was installed to verify that it’s not a fire risk.
Thompson, like others in his profession, installed deep-cycle lead-acid batteries for decades in this province without trouble. Though bigger and heavier than lithium-ion batteries, they are about a third the cost and have a lower fire risk.
But as of late, he’s run into the issue of Nova Scotia Power refusing to approve the systems.
“Ontario has adopted the new rules for lithium-ion batteries which are designed for lithium-ion batteries,” said Thompson.
“But when you use lead-acid batteries in Ontario, they apply the old rules which had clear requirements for the installation of lead-acid batteries.”
White just wants to live quietly in his dream home.
He went over budget building a to-code, environmentally progressive home, using local products.
But he can’t get an occupancy permit for the house because of regulations drafted for a different kind of battery than he has.
No-one in government or at Nova Scotia Power has shown any interest in fixing the problem.
Adding insult to injury is that batteries, charger and solar panels are all located in a shed separate from the house he wants to live in.
“I do get the idea that all the electrical has to be covered and inspected, but this doesn’t make any sense,” said White.
For its part, Surrette Battery and other manufacturers are working with UL Solutions to have the certification amended.
About 99 per cent of their product is exported out of province so Nova Scotia’s regulatory attempt to make their products unaffordable doesn’t cause them large financial pain.
“But it does have a huge impact on the installers working in this province who are traditionally buying from us,” said Myles.
And on those seeking a less expensive, safer way to reduce their impact on the environment.