SolarPowerStore – Battery Advice
Batteries are mystical magic boxes in which we store
electrical energy by chemical changes. Much of today's battery
technology is a slight refinement of what we knew 45 years ago. If you
know of a more economically viable way to store electrical energy, tell
us! It will be the next wheel !
Several warnings are included in this document please read all of them;
the most important being:
This may surprise you but those innocent looking batteries
can be extremely dangerous, your battery room should not be accessible
to people unfamiliar with the risks of batteries; they can kill you if
you don't treat them with the caution that is required. (use your
legs...if you don't pick them up properly, there goes your back) When
working with batteries use extreme care, insulated tools, protective
gloves, footwear, and goggles. Remember: a typical P.V.P.S. battery
bank can produce 6000 amperes if shorted. (that's enough to weld tools
to terminals, cause burns, or STOP YOUR HEART DEAD.)
All of these statements are made from our experience using
mainly large deep cycle wet lead acid batteries in conjunction with
Photovoltaic Power Systems. They are opinions, if you have knowledge
you wish to share with me... please do so.
I am not a chemist, however with that said I can tell you there are
very few people who really understand these wonderful "Black Boxes".
If you have recently purchased a Photovoltaic Power System
(P.V.P.S) you know how expensive batteries can be! Batteries are our
industries achille's tendon but until somebody comes up with something
better here are some tips that should help you realize more years of
use from them. If you pay a bit of attention to them it will pay you in
the long run. (just like everything in PV!)
ALL batteries require a bit of maintenance (even sealed units
should have their connections checked)
The location of your battery bank is important; keep in mind
that you want everything close together to reduce system losses but you
want to isolate your batteries (i.e.: a separate container or room that
is vented to the outside) The venting is important to avoid a buildup
of hydrogen gas which can occur during charging and is explosive if
ignited. (Big Sign: No Smoking near batteries)
For these reasons (and the fact that battery acid is corrosive) you
want to locate all of your electronics in a room other than the battery
room. A spark that you can't see from an inverter is enough to ignite
hydrogen gas. Batteries should be on a rack or support that allows free
air movement all around, above and below the batteries. Never put
batteries on a floor!!
So Remember: Ventilate and separate!
General Battery Stuff
Generally, if you discharge a battery at a slower rate its
capacity is slightly higher than had you discharged it quickly.
Lower temperatures affect batteries by lowering their amp hour capacity
to a great degree. Very high temperatures will promote water loss and
reduce the number of cycles your batteries are good for. Therefore its
best to keep batteries as close to room temperature as possible and
failing that try to reduce the possibility of severe or rapid
Yes a battery can freeze because part of the electrolyte is water; but
a maintained battery will not freeze under normal operating conditions.
i.e.: an average deep cycle lead acid battery at a 50% state of charge
will freeze at about -24 degrees centigrade and -16 when 75% discharged
(which will never happen ...right? ) However, even with this in mind we
prefer clients to bury insulated battery enclosures to help protect
batteries from extreme temperatures.
Depth of Discharge:
All batteries are affected by depth of discharge; the less
you take from a battery between recharging the more cycles you will get
from it (i.e.: if you deep discharge your batteries frequently they
will not last very long) Batteries will self discharge when not being
used; generally with lead acid cells you can guess it to be around 5%
per month. (however it does increase with higher temperatures) A
battery that is only allowed to be 30% D.O.D. (depth of discharge)
could last three times the number of cycles as one that is 50% D.O.D.
March Solar's Recommended General Battery Maintenance
When working in the battery room I like a nice rubber pad to
be on (it's more comfortable and isolates me a bit from ground) Even an
old piece of thick carpeting can be of help.
I also like a big bucket of Baking Soda and some water
(They are quite effective in neutralizing small amounts of
- Check total battery bank voltage (if using a separate
meter make sure it is within 5% of your control panel meter)
- Check individual cell voltages; look for any that are out
of sync with the others. Try to check everything in the same order
every time and take notes. (Ask March Solar for our battery maintenance
- Check that all electrical connections are tight and clean;
watch for corrosion.
- Check battery tops; they should be clean dry and secure.
- Check your battery bank enclosure, make sure your rack is
in good shape and nothing can fall onto or interfere with the
batteries, make sure your enclosure is securable.
- Check your electrolyte level in each cell of each battery
and ADD DISTILLED WATER IF NECESSARY: never allow electrolyte level to
fall enough to expose plates to air.
- Always record any actions taken.
Checking State of Charge with a Hydrometer
To measure specific gravity use a hydrometer.
(Careful... you're playing with acid !!)
To use Hydrometer:
- Squeeze Bulb
- Lower into electrolyte and slowly draw electrolyte into
2a) on the first cell empty the electrolyte back into the cell and
repeat step 2 four times to bring the hydrometer to the same
temperature as the battery
- Take the reading carefully. The sample must be large
enough to float the inside tube, keep it straight up and down when
taking a reading.(be certain the float is free and unimpeded)
- Carefully return electrolyte to same cell
- Check specific gravity against chart for state of charge.
- All cells should be close to one another.
Specific Gravity State-of -Charge Chart
|SPECIFIC GRAVITY VALUE
||OPEN CIRCUIT VOLTAGE
||STATE OF CHARGE
||FREEZE POINT (Celsius)
Typically, you do not want to go more than a 50 % D.O.D.
(depth of discharge) if you want your battery bank to last.
Recommended First Aid Procedures
When dealing with your battery bank be prepared for the
accident that will never happen!
- If battery acid gets in your eyes:
flush with water for 15 minutes (to draw out the acid) and seek
immediate medical attention.
- If acid gets on your skin (even with those gloves on):
pour baking soda on it (which you should have handy) and then flush
with water for 15 minutes (to draw out the acid). Seek immediate
- The unthinkable: if someone has managed to ingest acid:
Rinse mouth and drink a glass of water (to dilute the acid). Call
Seek immediate medical attention.