Answering Frequently Asked Questions About NFPA 855

In 2016, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) set out to bridge gaps in its existing regulations for stored energy solutions. The project resulted in the creation of NFPA 855: Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage.

This change has many owners wondering: what are these new regulations and how will they impact a facility’s operations? Keep reading to for the GBA Mission Critical team’s answers to questions surrounding this regulation.

What is NFPA 855?

The organization adopted NFPA 855 at its 2019 conference in San Antonio, Texas. It set out to standardize and codify installations of lithium-ion, or Li-ion, batteries, as well as other new technologies. The standards also included lead-acid and nickel-cadmium (Ni-CD) batteries, which the industry has used for decades.

What are the new requirements within NFPA 855?

Some of the impactful requirements of NFPA 855 include:

Large-scale fire testing shall be conducted on a representative energy storage system (ESS) in accordance with UL 9540A or equivalent test standard.

  • This translates into staging a fire for each type, grouping and topology for every planned battery deployment.

The ESS shall be comprised of groups with a maximum stored energy of 50 kWh each and secured against unauthorized entry. Groups are described as enclosures, cabinets and rooms. Each group shall be spaced a minimum of 3 feet from the other groups as well as walls in the area.

  • Compared to previous standards, the area required for a battery deployment is larger.

Although the provisions of 855 do not apply to ESS installations that existed or were approved for construction prior to the effective date of the standard, the criterion includes the provision for an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to retroactively apply any portions of the standard deemed appropriate.

  • In the past, NFPA grandfathered in existing installations. The new standard poses that an AHJ may require the redesign of an installation to meet 855.

Water is considered the preferred agent for suppressing Li-ion battery fires. Water has superior cooling capacity as the battery must been cooled down to help ensure there is no reignition. Lead-acid batteries by example can use different agents in addition to water such as powders, and inert gases.

  • The battery groups and deployment must account for the release and dispersal of water so as not to present collateral damage to systems in the area that maintain primary operations.
How do these regulations impact owners’ existing facilities?

The impact of this broad classification of batteries has the potential to stall construction and require a redesign of existing data centers. There is a considerable potential impact to those responsible for operating data centers and other mission-critical facilities.

How do these regulations impact future builds?

The new standard encompasses all battery installations over 70 kWh. This means that many owners that have built data centers will need to comply with new regulations in the future, despite what they have designed before. A thorough understanding of NFPA 855 is crucial to the success of a new facility.

What does this mean for the future of the data center industry?

With change and new technologies come challenges. In the 1990s, the introduction of the valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) battery caused the industry to go through a similar transition period. There is a learning curve with such new technologies such as the Li-ion battery. A balanced approach to ensuring safety, while not impeding the intended goal for many of the applications where batteries are essential, is critical.

Today’s technological society should not overlook its goal to provide reliable power to information exchange systems—a key to communications, commerce and safety.

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