ASK THE EXPERTS: Balanced Battery Coverage

Beginner
This 48-volt lead-acid battery bank
This 48-volt lead-acid battery bank consists of eight 6V batteries. Lead-acid is the most widely used battery type in home renewable energy systems.

Home Power seems stuck in the old technology of the past, just like coal power plants, with articles on lead-acid batteries in almost every issue. Please at least balance your articles with some information on advanced lithium batteries, which are being used for many applications including utility power regulation and peak time-of-day storage.

Understanding Batteries” in HP157 missed the mark in many ways. It did not mention the longest-lasting batteries that have been available for many years—nickel-iron—and didn’t mention advanced lithium batteries.

Jim & Elaine, the Solar Stacks • via email

I appreciate your criticism of lead-acid (LA) batteries. Lead pollution from mining, smelting, and recycling accounts for a pervasive risk to human health (see “Exported Battery Recycling” in HP145).

In countries with few enforceable environmental regulations, battery manufacturing and recycling has a high impact on human health and the environment. By comparison, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 96% of LA batteries in the United States are recycled. The risk of pollution in modern recycling plants is low because of strict environmental, health, and safety standards, emission monitoring, stack scrubbers, dust control, and waste treatment.

The issues are less with the fundamental technology, and more with global economic and social inequalities. As long as cars have LA batteries, these issues will persist.

More than 1 billion people worldwide lack access to reliable electricity. Most will never see a power line in their community. As cellphones have allowed people in less-developed countries to enjoy the benefits of microenterprise businesses, small, decentralized PV systems using LA batteries provide lighting, communication, and medical services that would otherwise be unobtainable

Lithium batteries are now being used all over the world, but primarily for consumer devices such as cell phones. They are only finding utility applications in some developed countries, and have achieved wide acceptance in none. They are not yet ready for wide acceptance in energy-storage applications for homes.

HP153 included a feature article on lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries for off-grid systems. The article fairly presents their pros and cons for RE storage—in short, Li-ions are a highly promising technology not yet ready for widespread use: “At present, the lack of battery management system integration in residential RE power conversion equipment is the biggest hurdle.”

Nickel-iron (NiFe) battery technology is more than 100 years old and indeed offers long life and more benign materials than LA. But before spending your money, look into their disadvantages—low charge and discharge efficiency, high self-discharge, and high cost. The only current source for NiFe batteries is China, and only MidNite Classic controllers have settings to accommodate their atypical charge-cycle performance. Common inverters lack settings to properly charge and maintain them.

Few NiFe suppliers serve North America, and these batteries can be up to four times the cost of comparable LA batteries. And, assuming 100% depth of discharge, an equivalent Li-ion pack is six to 10 times the price.

LA batteries have established themselves as the default choice for most applications because of a practical combination of predictable life, ease of maintenance and recycling, wide availability, and reasonable cost. Home Power focuses on today’s practical solutions, warranted, supported, and affordable to as many people as possible.

Allan Sindelar • Positive Energy; positiveenergysolar.com

Comments (11)

kenbell48's picture

I have lived off grid with hydro and solar for over 30 years. Persistent research has been unable to find any energy storage medium that can compete with lead acid batteries. Mass production, availability and price are still magnitudes ahead of everything else. Other things have theoretical advantages, but fail in the price per unit of energy arena. Maintenance is minimal with the correct float voltage and, depending on usage, they can last 20-30 years. The life is determined by a combination of number and depth of cycles, not by a fixed calendar.

phil ribble's picture
phil ribble's picture
Robert Crosby's picture

I recently came across a lead-carbon battery from http://www.axionpower.com/PbC_Batte.... Would appreciate more info on these -- pros & cons, problems, etc...

Zamfodder's picture

I was told that the Outback MX-60 and FX-80 charge controllers were capable of working well with NiFe batteries. Can anyone tell me if this is the case?

Christopher Vaught's picture

Hello there, I am planning on installing a residential wind & solar RE system that is grid tied with battery back up in the spring of 2014. I am looking at NiFe batteries for this system, so please advise if and where my reasoning for NiFe goes wrong? My goal is only to reduce my monthly electric bills by being grid tied, and to have a battery back up in place should there be extended outages, or a total SHTF scenario. I am looking for a system that can achieve these goals for the next 30 years, or the remaining years of my life, whichever comes first .lol I understand the initial cost uplift of NiFe versus LA batteries, but believe this would be more than compensated for by not having to replace the LA batteries 2,3, or 4 times over the next 30 years. Keeping in mind the associated uncertainties of battery costs, dollar devaluations, and inability to replace the batteries at all in a SHTF scenario over the next 3 decades. I understand the low charge and discharge efficiency, and high self-discharge rates of NiFe versus LA, but see that as not really applicable because the NiFe batteries would not be used at all unless there were extended outages or a SHTF scenario. They would only see occasional charging and discharging for maintenance and readiness purposes, and would really only be there as a last resort type of insurance. In a system with my goals in mind, wouldn't NiFe be more cost effective and more hassel free than having to replace a LA battery bank three times over a 30 year period, and having to do meticulous maintenance on them throughout that time frame, to keep from having to replace them five or 6 times? What am I missing here?

phil ribble's picture

I thought the article (understanding batteries) was very informative and contemporary in all ways. Thank You.

phil ribble's picture

LA batteries are the best choice in many ways!! And after spending many years in the recycling industry, I know from first hand experience that recycling is paramount to all LA battery manufacturers. The manufacturers are very good about picking up/reclaiming old batteries. Not to mention the substantial deposit on batteries. I have 16 Trojan deep cycle batteries incorporated into my off grid PV system, and am very happy. LA batteries really are a recycling success story!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mike Burns's picture

That's if you throw your batteries in the land fill after they die. Lead is expensive and fully recyclable.

Jim and Elaine Stack's picture

If you read the article that's just for the mining and manufacturing of a LEAD battery. Not to mention some don't get recycled properly. Locally they found hundreds in the water at Lake Pleasant that had been dumped overboard by boaters when they replaced their old battery.
Read the article. It is the worst hazard in history. We took the lead out of paint and even gasoline why not heavy short life batteries.

Jim and Elaine Stack's picture

LEAD is one of the worst pollutions in history. Just look it up on the internet.

http://www.infoplease.com/science/e...

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