Designing a Stand-Alone PV System: Page 3 of 6


Inside this Article

Ackerman-Leist Pole-Mounted Array
The Ackerman-Leist pole-mounted array stands at the garden’s edge, an integrated part of the family’s homestead.
A Watt-Hour Meter
A watt-hour meter gives precise figures on consumption for appliances already owned. Without that information, the values in the “Loads” table must be estimated.
Battery Bank
Contained in this simple battery box, three parallel strings of four 225 Ah Trojan T-105 batteries make a 24 V, 675 Ah battery bank.
Back of Pole-Mounted Array
This pole-mounted array offers unimpeded solar access at the site from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Outback Power Controller
Step-down MPPT controllers can help decrease wiring costs by allowing PV array voltage to be higher than the battery bank voltage.
Xantrex Inverter
Select an inverter to handle the maximum loads that will be on at once in the home. Choosing the next larger size will help ensure your system can meet the demands of future loads.
Ackerman-Leist Pole-Mounted Array
A Watt-Hour Meter
Battery Bank
Back of Pole-Mounted Array
Outback Power Controller
Xantrex Inverter

Step 2: Battery Bank Sizing

The average daily load is then used to calculate the battery requirements. The batteries must be able to store the total daily load, in addition to the extra energy lost by inverting from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). Dividing the AC average daily load by the inverter efficiency (90% standard), inflates the average daily load that the batteries must store to account for efficiency losses from the inverter. While inverter manufacturers will commonly list “peak efficiency” (generally ranging from about 92% to 95%), we use a more conservative 90% to account for the fact that the actual operating efficiency depends on the AC load, which is constantly fluctuating. Hence, an inverter will rarely operate at the load level which results in peak efficiency.

The battery bank’s ambient operating temperature is also taken into consideration, since temperature affects a flooded lead-acid battery’s internal resistance and ability to hold a charge. As temperatures fall below 80°F, battery capacity is reduced. A battery temperature multiplier table can be used—check with the battery manufacturer for their specific correction factors.

Days of autonomy is also an important design criterion, as it dictates how many days the battery bank will need to sustain the average daily load when there is little or no sunshine to recharge it. It’s a compromise between having energy during overcast spells, how much time the generator will run, and the added cost of a larger battery bank. The more days of autonomy desired, the larger the battery bank. Generally three to five days of autonomy provides a good balance. Keep in mind that the larger the battery bank, the larger the PV array will need to be to recharge the bank sufficiently on a regular basis—or the more the generator will be needed to pick up the slack.

The last major design criterion for sizing batteries is the depth of discharge (DOD). While deep-cycle lead-acid batteries are designed to discharge 80% of their capacity, the deeper they are discharged on a regular basis, the fewer charge/discharge cycles they can provide over their lifetime. When choosing a DOD, strike a balance between longevity, cost, and the significant hassle of replacement. Many system designers will specify a 50% DOD to be used in the worksheet. Because several days of autonomy are accounted for, which increases the battery bank size, the actual depth of discharge during sunny weather will often be less than 20%. The DOD design value can greatly affect the cost of the battery bank. (For simplicity, the numbers from the load table have been rounded in the following equations.)

(1,800 AC Wh Avg. Daily Load ÷ 0.9 Inv. Eff.) + 360 DC Wh Avg. Daily Load = 2,360 Wh/day 

2,360 Wh/day ÷ 24 DC System Volts = 98.3 Avg. Ah per day

98.3 x 1.11 battery temperature multiplier x 3 days autonomy ÷ 0.5 DOD = 654.7 total system Ah

654.7 ÷ 225 Ah individual battery capacity = 3 parallel battery strings (rounded up from 2.9)

24 V system voltage ÷ 6 V battery voltage = 4 batteries in series

3 parallel strings x 4 batteries in series = 12 total batteries

The battery calculations indicate that a battery bank made up of 12 of the chosen 6 V, 225 Ah, flooded lead-acid batteries will provide adequate storage to meet daily energy requirements, inverter efficiency losses, operating temperature effects, days of autonomy, and the desired average depth of discharge. The number of batteries or series-strings of batteries connected in parallel should be kept to a minimum, preferably three or less. This minimizes the chance of unequal charging from one battery or string to the next. While using higher-capacity batteries would have resulted in fewer parallel strings, the Ackerman-Leists chose lower-capacity batteries for budgetary reasons.

Batteries are rated by their capacity in amp-hours and at the rate that they are charged/discharged. In most PV systems, the appropriate Ah rating to use is based on a discharge over 20 hours. Unlike shallow-cycle vehicle batteries, deep-cycle batteries in PV systems are charged and discharged over 24 hours, and the weather, level of solar irradiance, and energy usage patterns all influence the charge/discharge scheme. In this system example, the battery could provide 225 Ah of stored energy—if discharged 100% over 20 hours. If it were discharged faster, the capacity would be less, and vice versa. Be sure to check with the battery manufacturer, as they provide battery-specific Ah capacity values based on different charge/discharge rates. Choose the 20-hour rate when sizing and selecting batteries, unless a specific load profile dictates otherwise.

Comments (5)

Marty Rosenzweig's picture

Very straight forward article but am I missing something here? Where is the "array sizing" adjusted for the C/10 optimum charge rate for those batteries? 3 X 225 Ahr /10 = 67.5A. necessary for the battery charging (plus accommodation for the load amps).
Even at C/15 that's 45A. I speak from experience since I designed an identical system for my house in Mexico. After about a year, the battery inertia (don't know what else to call the increased internal battery resistance) made bringing up to full charge those three strings more and more difficult and I experienced somewhat premature battery failure in less than 4 years. Even the addition of 300 W.more panels were not satisfactory. I've settled on 2 strings (450 Ahr.) with the 1200 watt array and two days of autonomy. We'll see how long the new batteries last under these conditions.
It would be beneficial to hear how the Vermont design is currently holding up and to track the battery life in the future.

Justine Sanchez's picture

Hi Marty,
Thanks for your comments! Joe has already covered the key aspects to battery longevity. I would also just like to add a few additional thoughts...while we can dial in the charge rate of an battery charger utilizing a generator (or the grid if avail) to charge batteries, from my experience an array is usually sized to simply replace lost energy from the battery bank on a daily basis. If we oversized the array to meet a specific charge rate (including during the winter months), we likely would have a significant portion of our array producing excess energy the rest of the year...and in an off-grid setting no place to utilize that excess other than a dump load. Historically it is the job of a backup generator to get those batteries topped off when the array (sized for estimated daily energy consumption) cannot.

A few other notes...Not sure what the rest of your system is comprised of but an MPPT charge controller will help wring some extra amps out of those modules, especially during cool sunny days. Also keeping the parallel battery strings to a minimum (one is ideal) will help keep battery bank charge/discharge imbalances from reducing battery longevity. And of course making sure the batteries are regularly maintained (watered, tops cleaned, connections checked for corrosion or loose hardware, etc.) will also increase battery life.

Home Power Magazine

Joe Schwartz's picture

Hey, Marty. We'll check in with Khanti and see if we can get some information on the performance of his system/batteries to date. Few thoughts related to battery charging:

First, historically, most off-grid PV systems were not designed to meet a battery manufacturer's optimal charge rate. The cost of modules was simple too high for most people to afford/achieve a c/10 charge rate for example. With the falling cost of modules higher charge rates in the range of c/10 are becoming more common.

Designing a system to meet a battery manufacturer's optimal charge rate is significantly less important to battery longevity than the following:

1. System's should be designed to replace all of the energy used on a (sunny) daily basis including system efficiency losses.

2. The battery bank should be fully recharged as often as possible, at least once a week and more frequently is always better. It should be completely recharged every sunny day.

3. Systems should be sized to limit the average daily depth of battery discharge to around 20% and again, less is always better. For example, my off-grid system is designed for a daily depth of discharge of 10%.

4. Off-grid system owners need to avoid the common scenario of falling into a pattern of cycling their batteries between say 80-60% capacity on a daily basis and rarely recharging them fully. Run the engine generator when necessary to avoid this scenario.

5. Flooded batteries should be equalized regularly per the manufacturer's recommendations.


Geoffrey Kaila_3's picture

Hi Khanti,

I refer to your article designing a stand alone PV system in HP 136. I have two observations; 1. Cound't you have used a higher voltage than 48V on the PV side to maximize the MPPT benefit. 2. When I use the PWM sizing method I get the same # of modules. I thought the MPPT method would reduce the # of modules. Please clarify. Thank you and best regards,

Geoffrey kaila

Art Drayton's picture

Nice article - particularly like the emphasis at the start of energy efficiency first! Cheers - Aussie Art

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