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Storage Batteries: the fuel tank of the solar power system

Batteries are the fuel tank of the solar backup system and are a key component that all other components rely on for operation. Without batteries to store energy one would only have power when the sun was shining because solar energy is not available at night, or during overcast and cloudy weather. This section describes the basic types of batteries and provides some good tips on the care of your batteries to maximize their performance and life.

Type of Batteries Used in Solar power Applications

Motor vehicle starting batteries can be used but do not really have the capacity for continuous service with many charge/discharge cycles. It is recommended that one uses lead acid industrial type batteries which have much thicker internal plates that can withstand many deep discharge cycles. They are specifically designed to withstand repeated drains of power and recharging. If you parallel two such batteries this will generate twice the amp-hours of a single battery; three batteries will generate three times the amp-hours, and so on. This will lengthen the time before your batteries will need to be recharged, giving you a longer time that you can run your appliances.

There are generally two types one can choose from:

  1. Flooded Lead acid batteries that have caps to add water. They are reasonably priced and work well for many years. All flooded batteries release gas when charged and should not be used indoors. If installed in an enclosure, a venting system should be used to vent out the gases which can be explosive. Do not smoke or carry open flames near the batteries. Flooded lead acid batteries contain corrosive sulphuric acid and must be handled with care to avoid spillage. If spilled, it will burn the skin or eyes, it will burn holes through clothes and furniture, and it will damage cement floors. Flooded lead acid batteries need regular checkup and topping up with distilled water.

  2. Sealed Maintenance-free gel batteries: these have no vents, are leak/spill proof and will not release gas during the charging process like flooded batteries do. Venting is therefore not required and they can be used indoors. This is a big advantage because it allows the batteries to maintain a more constant temperature and perform better. They do not require maintenance but should be charged with a suitable charger.

Battery Life

The lifespan of a battery is closely related to the frequency of use, how deep the battery is being discharged, the quality of the battery charger and how it is maintained. Vehicle start batteries should not be discharged below 90% charged state, and solar deep cycle batteries should not be discharged below 50% charged state. Doing so will shorten the life of the battery based on most battery manufacturers’ recommendations.

Batteries wear out. No matter the type, they will eventually wear out and need to be replaced.

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