For the first time, a Tesla Megapack caught on fire yesterday at the newly registered Victoria Big Battery in Moorabool, which is in the state of Victoria, Australia. News7 Melbourne shared images of one Megapack battery unit that was ablaze. It looks like only two of the giant battery units were affected.
— techAU (Jason Cartwright) (@techAU) July 30, 2021
The cause of the fire is unknown and both Tesla and Neoen are working with emergency services to manage the situation. Renew Economy pointed out that the battery had just begun testing and that Neoen Australia managing director Louis de Sambucy said:
“We can confirm that during initial testing today at approximately 10-10.15am a fire occurred within one of the Tesla Megapacks at the Victorian Big Battery. No-one was injured and the site has been evacuated.
“Neoen and Tesla are working closely with emergency services on site to manage the situation. The site has been disconnected from the grid and there will be no impact to the electricity supply.
“We will provide updates and further details as they become available.”
The Geelong Advertiser reported that firefighters were called to the scene of the battery fie around 11 am. A spokesman told the Geelong Advertiser:
“Crews are working to contain the fire and stop it spreading to nearby batteries.”
The article also pointed out that this is the first time that an incident of this type happened at a grid-scale battery storage facility in Australia.
There is a bit of good news in that the fire has not impacted the electricity supply. A spokesperson told The Sydney Morning Herald this and added that they are working with the asset owner, Victorian electricity network businesses, and relevant authorities in response to the incident.
Toxic Fumes Are A Concern
The Sydney Morning Herald also reported that after the fire, a toxic smoke warning was issued. Emergency services issued a warning for toxic smoke in the Batesford, Bell Post Hill, Lovely Banks, and Moorabool areas. Residents were told to moved indoors, close windows, vents, and fireplace flues, and bring their pets inside. When Exxon had its “not an explosion” explosion here in Baton Rouge in 2020, we had similar warnings — although, later the officials said that there were no toxic fumes emitted.
Tesla’s batteries are made from chemicals as well as metals, so it’s an important lesson for Tesla and its engineering team to take note of how to minimize the impact of a fire like this in the rare case that one starts. And for other companies in the battery business as well. In fact, any type of chemical company is at risk of fires. In a statistical analysis of alerts sent to RiskMethod’s customers in 2018, the company found that the chemicals industry had the highest impacts from fires and explosions.
Final Thoughts — For Now
As with all things Tesla, I suggest we wait until the cause of the fire is actually known before running with wild theories. Fires, sadly, are a common occurrence in the chemical industry. The fossil fuel industry is well known for having plants catch on fire — and even managed to set the Gulf of Mexico on fire this year, accidentally opening a portal to hell.
With Tesla’s focus on safety, I have no doubts that it’s doing what it can to figure out what caused this fire and how to prevent such a situation in the future. It may not have been Tesla’s tech at all that caused it. After all, tests were being conducted and we don’t know what the details surrounding those tests are. On the flip side, there could have been a flaw in Tesla’s design, and if so, I have no doubt Tesla will correct it. These are million-dollar products Tesla is selling — just one unit.
And this is also a new era we are entering. Batteries can catch fire — not as often or quickly as diesel or gasoline, but they can nonetheless. Perhaps this is why every time a battery catches on fire, it makes worldwide headlines, whereas exploding cars and gas station fires don’t. We are too used to the latter, while the former is novel.
Just a few nights ago — on the full moon, actually — my power went out. There was no storm — the sky was clear. I later found out that a nearby gas station had sparks flying and they in haste cut off power to shut down the source of the sparks — and the grid was shut down as a result. This didn’t even make local news. These incidents are all too common.