Batteries and Alternative Power



 Strange thing this. Being in the distribution chain myself it’s quite unbelievable to see just what that mark-up is once it hits the retailer’s shelves. And consistency is not the key.

Over the next year we are going to be powering along with all things green and one thing we seriously need to look at is the price of batteries. I reside in sunny South Africa with climate that is perfectly matched to solar panels. Readers should check the different avenues to source deep cell batteries. Also manufacturers should now start setting a precedent – are you selling deep cell or hybrid? I look at pages and pages of waffle – pricing for deep cell batteries vary from 200U$ to 400U$ for 12V 80 to 120A/Hr. Why the vast price difference?

Coming from a technical background I am not going to get into a debate here. Manufacturers and resellers owe it to their customers to be open with their specifications and give the exact composite of their batteries. Likewise the manufacturers of audio spec’cing their amplifiers to the PMPO format is rubbish, our battery manufacturers need to tow the line with their standards. Many life dependent electrical circuits use deep cycle batteries and to buy one battery because it is cheaper over the other only to have disastrous consequences later is tantamount to a despicable crime.

There are numerous well known and very reliable battery manufacturers on the market – Willard, Delco and Yuasa to name a few. If you are looking for good second hand batteries (and sometimes free) you should be looking at electric stackers (fork-lifts). I doubt you will get by with this idea in sunny RSA though – they get recycled as soon as they are written off – and then resold. They have good value because they last for ever. I was in the merchant navy and in those good old days your emergency batteries were always NiFe (Nickel Iron or Nickel Alkaline). They cost a mint but they had a life span of anything between 10 to 20 years. And why was this – because by law a log had to be kept. Specific Gravity had to be drawn on each cell AND voltages and discharge ratings logged. This was once per month. There was no quick solution to this – these batteries could save the life of the crew in an emergency and if you did take a short cut you were in for the high jump. Safety surveyors could pick up short cuts a mile off and could stop a vessel from sailing if they weren’t happy. This obviously applies just as much today as thirty years ago.

What batteries to go for? Well if you are feeling slightly green go for the deep cycle variety – your charging current is not as high as regular (porous lead plates) lead acid cells which makes them ideal for solar panels. Solar panels obviously can be stacked for higher outputs but remember they are expensive. In south Africa a solar energy system – panels, regulator, inverter and deep cycle batteries for a three bed roomed home would cost anything upwards from R40 000 (6 000U$) if installed by a contractor. For the technically minded this can be done for far cheaper. Also look at where your main loads are – your geyser and stove if they are electrically run.  If both are on, your stove running with four plates and griller you would be drawing anything between 40 and 60 amperes at 220V and 250A from your 48V setup.  It’s not an economical solution – go with a solar heating system and a gas hybrid for a cooker. I have read quite a few articles on solar energy and wind turbines and they all rely on one thing – the user has to start looking at conservation. All things considered I can’t see us coming up with an instant efficient system to beat our local electrical grids in pricing and efficiency but you sure can run most of your appliances off a simple solar / charger / battery setup. Unless you build your own pebble reactor of course.

These huge current delivery batteries are also not without their own set of problems, all financially related. The cost saving over lifespan of the battery compared to your grid – have you checked the hybrid car battery replacement interval and pricing?  The wiring, thick copper cabling is extremely expensive. Living in Southern Africa one would think that copper would be a giveaway. Sadly the exact opposite is true – people trade in copper and with Chile being the world’s largest exporter, their life-blood is not going to be a freebie.

At present, in South Africa, we are stuck in the middle of the biggest electrical supply fiasco ever – our main (and only) supplier, Escom, is planning to push our electrical tariffs up by 60%  over the next three years. We do have cheap power here but this is fast going to become the most expensive in the world thanks to their ineptitude and bungling.  But let’s be realistic – this has been on the cards for some time. Not the salary increases the executors gave themselves but our power was just too cheap. Koeberg, our only reactor is coming to the end of its lifespan. The only viable cheap form of power right now is the commissioning of new reactors and there’s no money to pay for it without hiking prices.  So we get back to our solar, wind and other green alternatives to our current problem. You need money to save money – but is it an economical and viable solution?

I don’t think so.

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