As Electric Vehicles continue to become more popular in the UK, and as private companies and local authorities strive to reduce their carbon footprints, the demand for a charging infrastructure and dedicated parking areas has exponentially increased. This document provides a brief overview of the main Property and Liability hazards associated with Electric Vehicle charging, and appropriate controls from a loss prevention perspective.

Significant investment by the UK Government (via the ‘Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund’), and by public authorities and private organisations, has resulted in new electric vehicle charging facilities becoming a prominent feature in a wide range of premises from multi-storey car parks, to national parks and commercial/retail premises.

There are a number of factors that should be considered prior to and following the installation of electric vehicle charging units at your premises to ensure that the associated hazards are adequately managed.

Electric Vehicles, including Hybrid Cars, E-bikes and Mobility Scooters, typically store energy in Lithium batteries of different capacities and chemistries to supply the vehicle’s power demand. Recent loss history has shown that fires involving these batteries can create a serious challenge for firefighting.

Many Electric Vehicles use Lithium-Ion batteries (Li-Ions or LIBs) as a power source for the electric motor and other electrical components utilised in modern vehicles.

Compared to other, conventional battery types, Lithium batteries provide higher energy densities and extended lifetimes. If the Electric Vehicles are operated according to

manufacturer’s specifications, operation is safe. However, the hazards increase if normal operating conditions are deviated from such as:

  • Age and usage
  • Modification of the Lithium batteries and/or configuration of the vehicle
  • External damage or impact to Lithium batteries (e.g. accident/impact, mechanical and thermal stress, extreme vibrations, etc.)
  • Electrical malfunction during charging and discharging

In the worst-case scenario, the above-mentioned conditions can cause a thermal runaway of the battery cells, which is a highly exothermic reaction creating toxic, flammable, and/or explosive chemical components.

The gaseous components generated, such as hydrogen, carbon monoxide, etc. by the fire, and those created by cooling and extinguishing activities, such as hydrogen fluoride and other toxins, present an increased risk to fire fighters and building occupants, and can contribute to a high degree of environmental contamination and damage in the surrounding area.

Location

Prior to installation a fire risk assessment should be carried out in compliance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (or equivalent legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland) that considers the control measures required when selecting and designing charging/parking areas.

Permanently installed charging units are preferred to mobile charging devices, ideally installed externally, and located as far as possible from important buildings, structures and utilities. The distance required between a charging unit/parking area and buildings, etc. will be primarily driven by the construction of the building walls.

Ideally, electric vehicle charging, and parking should be located at least 10m from combustible walls or at least 7.5m from unprotected openings/extensive glazing in non-combustible walls.

Consideration as to what is stored externally will also be needed. Electric charging units/parking areas should not be located within a minimum of 10 metres of external combustible or flammable storage areas, such as waste compounds, pallet storage or gas cylinder cages.

External charging units are exposed to changing weather conditions, and whilst these are designed to withstand a degree of exposure to the elements, the location where stations are installed must be assessed for flood. Flooding can come from a number of sources such as rivers, surface water during heavy rainfall, and inadequate storm drainage. Charging units should not be installed in any location where flood or excessive surface water run-off and pooling is considered a risk.

In circumstances where electric vehicle charging units are installed internally, charging/parking areas should be located as close as possible to exits and preferably on the ground level to allow easy access for the fire brigade.

The high combustible fire load of modern cars in general and the high energy generated in these types of fires, can result in a well-developed fire involving numerous vehicles by the time the fire brigade arrives.

Internal charging/parking areas should be in a separate fire compartment with a minimum of 60 minutes fire resistance, subject to consideration of the hazards presented by the occupation of the building. Basement level charging/parking areas present additional complexities for firefighting therefore these compartments should achieve a minimum of 120 minutes fire resistance.

The generation of toxic gases is particularly problematic for firefighting activities in below ground charging areas. It is therefore essential that below ground or concealed charging and parking areas are provided with adequate ventilation.

Wall mounted charging units, whether internal or external, should be installed on non-combustible walls and installation beneath or next to unprotected openings/extensive glazing should be avoided.

Source: our insurer partner Zurich