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Ensure a steady supply of electrical power with off grid systems

Batteries Expert can help you pick the best system for you

Demand for electricity in Ontario is increasing due to economic growth and a rapid shift to electrification in transportation and other sectors. Despite having access to a sustainable and reliable electricity supply, many Ontario residents are taking steps to ensure they maintain access to power in the event of a disruption in electrical supply.

One of the most common solutions is going off-grid by installing generators or solar power systems in residential spaces. Systems like these often require high-capacity batteries and other cutting edge technologies. According to Barry Bailey, General Manager of Sault Ste. Marie supplier Batteries Expert, there are a few steps every consumer should take before purchasing any solar power equipment or battery operated off-grid electrical system.

“It’s important to educate yourself on the products available,” said Bailey, whose company sells a wide spectrum of batteries and renewable energy products and systems. “Our team of experts can provide you with all the available information you need to make an educated decision on what kind of system is best for your power needs.”

According to Bailey, the following are some of the important points to consider before investing in any residential solar power system.

1. Know your energy needs.

In order to ensure that your energy needs are met for the duration required, you first need to know how much energy you plan to use. Your first step is to make a list of the appliances you need to power, with their power consumption and daily duration. For example, a laptop with a 60W power supply used for 4 hours per day will use at most 240Wh/day (60W x 4h). For intermittent appliances such as a refrigerator, you can check if they are Energy Star rated, which gives you a yearly average in kWh.

You can also check online for average power consumption for similar products.

For example, 550kWh/year would equate to approximately 1500Wh/day (550kWh x 1000 ÷ 365 days/year). “Our specialists will help you refine your list with comments and suggestions to make certain that it will reflect a realistic use case,” said Bailey. “This list will be useful to determine the inverter size and type, and the battery bank size and voltage.”

2. What is your application?

In order to properly design your system, you need to specify how it will be used. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is it for a cottage, an RV, a boat, or at home as an emergency backup system?
  • In what region will it be used?
  • How often, and for how long?
  • Will you be using a generator as a backup?

This will help determine what kind of batteries should be used, the size of the battery bank, and the number of solar panels needed to ensure autonomy and proper battery charging.  Batteries Expert will offer the right products to make sure your batteries are kept in good health for as long as possible.

3. What kind of batteries should you use?

The main three types are Flooded Lead-Acid, Sealed Lead-Acid and Lithium (LiFePO4).

Lead-Acid batteries are usually less expensive to purchase and are expected to last approximately five years if well maintained. They like to be kept fully charged, as they will age more quickly when kept discharged. It is not recommended to discharge Lead-Acid batteries lower than 50% of their capacity, as they become more difficult to recharge and their life expectancy will be reduced.

Flooded Lead-Acid batteries require regular maintenance to keep the electrolyte levels high enough to cover the plates (losses occur when charging and discharging) by adding demineralized water. They require outside ventilation as gases (oxygen and hydrogen) are released, mostly during charging. They are not recommended for standby applications (such as emergency power), as inactivity tends to cause stratification which leads to premature aging of the batteries.

Sealed Lead-Acid batteries, aka AGM or VRLA, require less maintenance as they are sealed, which retains more moisture inside the cells, so no need to (and no way to) add water. They only need to be kept charged as much as possible. They can release gases when charging, so ventilation is recommended, but it is much less than their flooded counterpart. They are ideal for standby applications and have a better resistance to cold than flooded batteries.

Lithium (LiFePO4 or LFP) batteries are more expensive to purchase, but they can last much longer than Lead-Acid batteries, three to four times longer in fact. And you can discharge them to 80% Depth of Discharge (DOD), which means that you don’t need as much capacity as with Lead-Acid batteries.

They do have some draw backs though. They cannot be recharged below 0°C (unless they have an integrated heating circuit). They also have integrated circuitry, called BMS (Battery Management System) to ensure safe operation, such as minimum and maximum voltage and temperature, maximum charge and discharge current, cell balancing, etc., which can place a limit on the power that can be drawn. This ensures safe operation for both the user and the battery. Note that LFP batteries are inherently safer than Lithium-Ion batteries, as they are less prone to catch fire if/when misused.

4. Make it fit your budget.

If you have a price range in mind, or a fixed limit you do not wish to exceed, it is possible that your energy requirements may need to be revised. This may influence your habits.

For example, the use of a generator every 1-2 days for a few hours can reduce the number of batteries and panels required. Also, a DC refrigerator usually uses half the energy of a standard 120V model but will require occasional manual defrosting. This will also reduce the number of batteries and panels required.

Although these examples require extra spendings up front, keep in mind that they will reduce the number of batteries that will need to be replaced in the future as well.

Learn more about the products available from Batteries Expert. Visit them online or at 531 Second Line E in Sault Ste. Marie.