Factors that Affect Solar Battery Bank Capacity

Factors that Affect Solar Battery Bank Capacity

Before setting up your Battery Bank it is important to understand that there are certain factors that affect and determine it’s capacity and the full extent of the battery drain. Understanding these factors should help you get a more complete picture on how to size your low DC voltage batteries when powering 120/240 volt loads using an inverter.

The size of the battery bank required will depend on the storage capacity required, the maximum discharge rate, the maximum charge rate, and the minimum temperature at which the batteries will be used. When designing a power system, all of these factors are looked at, and the one requiring the largest capacity will dictate battery size.

Discharge Rate

One of the biggest mistakes made by those just starting out is not understanding the relationship between amps and amp-hour requirements of 120 volt AC items versus the effects on their DC low voltage batteries.

For example, say you have a 24 volt nominal system powering a load of 3 amps, 120VAC, which has a duty cycle of 4 hours per day. You would have a 12 amp hour load (3A X 4 hrs=12 ah). However, in order to determine the true drain on your batteries you have to divide your nominal battery voltage (24v) into the voltage of the load (120v), which is 5, and then multiply this times your amp hours (12 ah).

So in this case the calculation would be 60 amp hours drained from your batteries – not the 12 ah. The easiest way to quickly determine the total battery amp hours required is to first determine total watt-hours required by all loads, and then divide by the nominal DC system voltage.

This resulting number will indicate the amount of amp hours needed to operate all loads for a given period. However, additional amp hour capacity would typically be added for more “reserve” capacity or to prevent complete discharge. Using the above example, 3 amps x 120 VAC x 4 hours = 1440 watt-hours divided by 24 VDC battery environment equals 60 amp-hours; the same answer as before, but another way to get it.

Temperatures

Temperature has a significant effect on lead-acid batteries. At 40°F they will have about 75% of rated capacity, and at 0°F their capacity drops to about 50%.

The storage capacity of a battery, the amount of electrical energy it can hold, is usually expressed in amp hours. If one amp is used for 100 hours, then 100 amp-hours have been used. A battery in a solar power system should have sufficient amp hour capacity to supply needed power during the longest expected period “no sun” or extremely cloudy conditions. In wind systems allowance for “no wind” days should be included.

A lead-battery should be sized at least 20% larger than this amount. If there is a source of back-up power, such as a standby generator along with a battery charger, the battery bank does not have to be sized for worst-case weather conditions.

Wiring

Series Wiring


Series wiring refers to connecting batteries to increase volts, but not amps. If you have two 6 volt batteries like the Trojan L16 rated at 350 amp hours, for example, by connecting the positive terminal of one battery to the negative terminal of the other, then you have series wired the two together. In this case, you now have a 12 volt battery and the rated 350 amps does not change. If you were to series wire four L16’s you’d have 24 volts at 350 amps, and so on.

Parallel Wiring

Parallel wiring refers to connecting batteries to increase amps, but not volts. If you have two 6 volt batteries like the Trojan L16 rated at 350 amp hours, for example, by connecting the positive terminal of one battery to the positive terminal of the other, and the same with the negative terminal, then you have parallel wired the two together.

In this case, you now have a 6 volt battery and the rated 350 amps increases to 700 amp hours. If you were to series wire four L16’s you’d have 24 volts at 350 amps, and then parallel wire these four to the four other that are in series, then you’d have a 24 volt battery at 700 amps.

Basic Wiring Types


Using these wiring examples a complete battery bank might have any number of total batteries to achieve required reserve capacity.

Battery Types

Lithium batteries the “usable” capacity is generally only about 80% of the rated/advertised capacity. So you can pull over 10 amp hours out of a 12v Lithium Battery without pulling it’s voltage under 11.2 volts. The discharge voltage can go lower but it’s not good to discharge lithium batteries under 11V generally.

Lead-acid batteries are the most common in PV systems because their initial cost is lower and because they are readily available nearly everywhere in the world. There are many different sizes and designs of lead-acid batteries, but the most important designation is whether they are deep cycle batteries or shallow cycle batteries.

Shallow cycle batteries, like the type used as starting batteries in automobiles, are designed to supply a large amount of current for a short time and stand mild overcharge without losing electrolyte. Unfortunately, they cannot tolerate being deeply discharged. If they are repeatedly discharged more than 20 percent, their life will be very short. These batteries are not a good choice for a PV system.

Deep cycle batteries are designed to be repeatedly discharged by as much as 80 percent of their capacity so they are a good choice for power systems. Even though they are designed to withstand deep cycling, these batteries will have a longer life if the cycles are shallower. All lead-acid batteries will fail prematurely if they are not recharged completely after each cycle. Letting a lead-acid battery stay in a discharged condition for many days at a time will cause sulfation of the positive plate and a permanent loss of capacity.

Sealed deep-cycle lead-acid batteries are maintenance free. They never need watering or an equalization charge. They cannot freeze or spill, so they can be mounted in any position. We especially recommend sealed batteries for remote, unattended power systems, but also for any client who wants the maintenance free feature and doesn’t mind the extra cost associated with these batteries.

Sealed Gel Cell (gelled-electrolyte) batteries are relatively maintenance free, however unlike a high quality sealed lead-acid battery extra care must be taken to insure a Gel Cell battery is not charged above 14.1 volts for a 12 volt battery, for example. Over charging a Gel Cell even once for a sustained period can really shorten it’s life and even ruin it. Any charge source or charge regulator used must have user adjustable settings for sealed Gel Cell batteries to insure charge voltage does not exceed a safe limit.