Top Ten Battery Blunders and How to Avoid Them: Page 2 of 4

Intermediate

Inside this Article

Big battery, big mess. Don’t try this at home.
Big battery, big mess. Don’t try this at home.
These batteries have definitely seen better days.
These batteries have definitely seen better days.
Wrong Battery Type
Starting batteries work great in your car, but will quickly fail if used in deep-cycle applications.
Improper Size
A large battery bank requires a large charging source.
Improper Watering
An extreme result of battery neglect.
Many Small Batteries in Parallel Strings
Use bus bars to parallel multiple series strings.
Failure to Prevent Corrosion
Notice the parallel connections on the left side of the photo—the worst corrosion is at these stacked cable lugs. Batteries with corroded terminals will receive less charge, and will fail early.
Lack of a Protective Environment
A beautifully installed 48 V battery bank—sixteen 6 V batteries connected in two strings of eight. These big Surrette batteries have two holes on each terminal, so cable lugs don’t have to be stacked. The peaked battery enclosure allows for excellent hydrogen venting.
Lack of Proper Charge Control
Proper controller settings are critical for battery longevity.
Modern battery monitor
Example of modern battery monitor (amp-hour meter).
Modern battery monitor
Another example of modern battery monitor (amp-hour meter).
Big battery, big mess. Don’t try this at home.
These batteries have definitely seen better days.
Wrong Battery Type
Improper Size
Improper Watering
Many Small Batteries in Parallel Strings
Failure to Prevent Corrosion
Lack of a Protective Environment
Lack of Proper Charge Control
Modern battery monitor
Modern battery monitor

BLUNDER #3 Improper Watering

Flooded batteries require the addition of distilled water every two to six months depending on battery type, battery temperature, and on the charge controller settings and system usage. Some people forget to water their batteries. The photo shows a system that was ignored for more than two years. The low fluid level caused excessive gassing, and the plates to warp, short out, and spark, ultimately igniting an explosion.

But don’t overfill your batteries, either. There is no need to fill them more frequently than required to keep the plates submerged. Fill them only to the level recommended by the manufacturer. Otherwise, during final charging, bubbles will cause excessive spatter and possible overflow,  leading to corrosion of the battery terminals and wiring. Though an additional expense, a battery watering system simplifies battery watering.

BLUNDER #4 Many Small Batteries in Parallel Strings

The ideal battery bank also is the simplest, consisting of a single series string of cells that are sized for the job. This design minimizes maintenance and the possibility of random manufacturing defects. Suppose you require a 700‑amp-hour (AH) bank. You can approximate that with a single string of 700 AH industrial-size batteries, or two parallel strings of 350 AH (L-16 style) batteries, or three strings of 220 AH (golf cart) batteries. The diagram below shows these three variations.

A common blunder is to buy the smaller batteries because that approach is less expensive up front. The problem is that when current splits between parallel strings, it’s never exactly equal. Often, a slightly weak cell or terminal corrosion will cause a whole battery string to receive less charge. It will degrade and fail long before other parallel strings. And because partial replacement aggravates inequalities, the only practical solution is to replace the entire battery bank. One way to reduce or avoid parallel battery strings is to use the highest DC voltage standard that is practical. The same batteries that would form two strings at 24 V can be wired all in one string for a 48 V system (now a common standard). The quantity of energy storage is the same, but the layout is simpler and the current at critical junctures is cut in half.

If you must have multiple battery strings, avoid stacking cable lugs at the battery terminals to make parallel connections. Instead, bring wires separately from each string to two bus bars outside the battery box. This reduces corrosion potential and helps create electrical symmetry.

BLUNDER #5 Failure to Prevent Corrosion

The fluid in flooded batteries gasses (bubbles) during the final stage of charging. When using flooded batteries, a trace of acid mist escapes and accumulates on the battery tops. This can cause terminal assemblies to corrode, especially any exposed copper, which causes resistance to electrical current and potential hazards. It’s an ugly nuisance, but it’s simple to prevent.

The best prevention is to apply a suitable sealant to all of the metal parts of the terminals before assembly. Completely coat battery terminals, wire lugs, and nuts and bolts individually. If the sealant is applied after assembly, voids will remain, acid spatter will enter, and corrosion will appear. Special products are sold to protect terminals, but many installers prefer petroleum jelly. It will not inhibit electrical contact. Apply a thin coating with your fingers, and it won’t look sloppy.

Exposed wire at a terminal lug should be sealed, using either adhesive-lined, heat-shrink tubing or carefully applied tape. You can also seal an end of stranded wire by warming it gently, and dipping it in petroleum jelly, which will melt and wick into the wire.  Or, you can solder the lugs. Whatever the method, these connections must be very strong mechanically. Batteries protected this way show very little corrosion, even after many years.

It’s also important to keep battery tops clean of acid spatter and dust. This helps prevent corrosion and stray current across battery tops. Keeping battery tops clean is easy if you keep up on the job. A good habit to get into is to wipe the tops of the batteries with a rag or paper towels moistened with distilled water each time you water the batteries. Do not apply baking soda to the battery tops, since it might enter the batteries, neutralizing some of the electrolyte.

Comments (7)

bob tarzwell's picture

one trick for number 4 ie lots of batteries in parallel strings is to balance the charging with final wire size , I had acquired 80 good golf cart batteries and have 10 parallel strings in a 24 kw system , I balanced by voltage and current so each string gets very close to the same charging /discharge, I did it by reducing down a bit on the wire to higher groups , been 3 years now and still working great ,this year I will do a big charge and rearrange batteries in new strings to continue there life. in my other system its 120 volts 10 kw and two sets of 20 rolls s530's so not much to balance , works great especially when you get the charging right and charge hard.
ps after years of solar install I don't trust anyone's cable crimping I always scrimp and solder my connectors.

Woody Petrea's picture

Cool. Thanks for that. :)

Woody Petrea's picture

Was this article originally posted elsewhere?

Michael Welch's picture

As far as I am aware, only in our magazine. If it is out there elsewhere, it is most likely in violation of our copyright.

Woody Petrea's picture

It was just the way the article read. Under item #3 blunders, it states, "The photo at right shows a system that was ignored for more than two years." I noticed that all the images are at the top of the article.

Good read. Thanks to the author and to HP for posting it.

Scott Russell's picture

Fixed that text, Woody. We normally try to catch those references when republishing articles on the website, but they're easy to miss.

Michael Welch's picture

Ahhh. That's because the articles on our web site mirror the corresponding articles in the print version magazine. We generally try to avoid saying things like "to the right" and "on the next page."

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