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California Fire Code Updated to Allow More Residential Energy Storage Capacity

Sep 23, 2020

Last month, the California Building Standards Commission (BSC) voted to update the California Fire Code (CFC) to align with recent changes to the California Residential Code. This change, which will go in effect in July 2021, is great news for residential energy storage installers across the state! Read on to learn why.

Growing Demand for Storage in California

In recent years, extreme heat, drought, and high winds have posed a serious threat to the state’s electricity grid, as even a single spark could result in a devastating wildfire. As a result, Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), in which utilities turn off power in specific areas to prevent fire risk, have become more and more frequent. California residents have had to contend with an average of 8,000 wildfires per year, triggering more than 30 PSPS events by the state’s largest utilities since 2013. In 2019 alone, 1.1 million California homes lost power during PSPS events. As extreme seasonal weather is becoming the norm, associated PSPS events are also likely to become more common.

Now more than ever, homeowners are seeking out options to support their emergency power needs. Thanks to dropping installation costs and the state-funded Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), battery energy storage systems are now a cost-effective option for residential backup generation in the state. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that a whopping 50,000 new residential energy storage systems will be installed in California by the end of the year.

The Historical CA Fire Code Limits Installers and Customers.

Lithium-ion batteries can pose a fire risk if not installed with the appropriate safety considerations. As energy storage systems have grown in popularity, state fire and building codes have been adjusted to address any relevant safety hazards. This can lead to complicated requirements and confusing permitting processes that create major barriers for energy storage system installers.

The historical CFC is particularly restrictive toward energy storage system sizes in residential buildings: the maximum allowed size is a mere 20 kilowatt-hour (kWh) capacity. As the average U.S. residential customer consumes about 33 kWh per day, a 20-kWh system is typically enough to power a home’s critical appliances for up to 24 hours. However, we’ve seen PSPS events last for multiple days, often during heatwaves or other extreme weather. A 20-kWh system may not be enough to support and protect families during these longer periods.

The Updated Fire Code: A Win for Residential Storage

The recently ratified CFC addresses this issue by doubling the allowance for energy storage system capacity. The new maximum sizing for an aggregate rating structure depends on the location of the system at a residential home or other buildings, such as assisted living facilities or childcare centers.

  • 80 kWh: Attached or unattached garages; outdoors; on exterior walls
  • 40 kWh: Storage spaces such as utility closets
This is an incredible win for residential storage providers – and their customers. The City of Santa Rosa, which suffered devastating fires in both 2017 and 2018, has already adopted this code in advance of the 2021 state CFC rollout. This will allow the city’s residents to obtain energy storage systems sized appropriately for future possible PSPS events during wildfire season.

Getting Started with Storage

With this huge boost in potential system sizes, residential energy storage is more feasible than ever in California. Now, installers can provide the best systems to help families across the state keep the lights on and essential appliances running.

Sizing Made Easy

Enphase’s System Estimator tool makes it easy for anyone to estimate the most appropriate size for a new system, whether it be an energy storage, solar, or a combined solar + storage system. Simply enter basic inputs such as location, square footage, and energy consumption, and the Enphase System Estimator tool will give you an instant estimate for the optimal size of your system and how much backup power it can provide.

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