I just heard from a friend who went to a seminar about Lithium Batteries. His head was full of the lies they are spouting, so I guess it is time… It is also time to dispel the claims that my blog is out dated. Baloney, I just haven’t had enough new things to say that are worth adding to something that is already too long. Not much has changed in the solar industry. It is still full of crooks.
How many remember when AGM batteries were first introduced? They were going to take over the market with much longer life and all sorts of other claims. The worst of which was that they would take a charge “a lot faster”. “A lot” turned out to be something like 1 or 2% better. Solar companies started pushing them and installing them in house systems instead of regular flooded lead acid. The reality turned out that they don’t last any longer and in fact, if you don’t charge them perfectly, they are more easily destroyed. Then, if you damage them by undercharging they cannot be recovered by equalizing like the tried and true old flooded lead acid batteries. Most people still don’t know these truths, but I have many years of experience with them and can tell you from personal experience that they are fine for use in solar systems, but not really worth the money unless the zero maintenance or lack of access for maintenance are the most important things to you.
How many remember salt water batteries? They were going to take over the off grid world. A couple of years ago after much hype that company went bankrupt and simply vanished. I must have been one of the only people who was not surprised.
So, now we have Lithium…. Many times the cost, so they can make a LOT more money. Is it worth it? Following are the things I have heard, with my take on the facts:
1) Much lighter weight. This is the only thing they are saying that is true and nobody can argue with it. If this is the most important thing to you, go right ahead.
2) Much better efficiency. This is a bald faced lie. Tesla is claiming a 90% efficiency for their Power Wall Two and it is probably accurate. My flooded lead acid Crown batteries in my home solar system run at about 95% efficiency and I can prove this with my Trimetric battery monitor. While talking about the Power Wall, it has a rating of 14KWhr capacity for $5500. My Crowns if derated to 80% (for winter cold) have a capacity of 25KWhr, for less than half of the price. The Power wall does include an inverter, but my inverter is worth about $1800 and I don’t need another one to get my battery capacity. My batteries are still much less per KW. As far as needing to overcharge lead acid to make sure it is charged, this is true to the tune of 15 or 20%. Their claim of needing no such treatment for Lithium troubles me and I doubt that it is true. The same thing has been going on in charge controllers and I have to wonder just how efficient the cheap ones that the dealers pushing lithium like to use are. Morningstar Tristar outperforms both Outback and MidNite substantially at a much lower cost and almost nobody agrees with me. I have seen forum posts that said this taken down after only one day, so you cannot find truth. Bottom line; solar dealers push them because they make twice as much profit selling something that costs nearly twice as much. The last time I replaced an Outback with a Tristar and the owner saw what it did, instead of using the Outback on a shop he was building, it went into the trash. He threw away an $800 controller and replaced it with a $650 Tristar because I proved to him how much better it is. Say WHAT?
3). Since I mentioned capacity, the next thing I have to repeat yet again is that they are lying about damaging lead acid batteries if you run them below 50%. The truth is 20%, (or 80% use) and this is what the lead acid manufacturers have been saying for YEARS. Where did this lie start and why do people keep repeating it? Think about how golf cart batteries are treated and yet still get around 5 years of life. My own batteries in our old RV were run down under 40% many times after several cloudy days in a row and my home system went there about a month ago, taking two days of good sun to recover. Now my batteries act like they are brand new. I see the same voltage under load every morning while making coffee and that is how I watch for problems. If the voltage changes, your batteries are having a heart attack or something else is wrong.
4) The next claim was low voltage causing damage. I was told that the Lithium folks told him that anything under 12V for lead acid is dead and will cause damage. 11.5V under load is common for me and it goes right back up after the load is removed. Voltage is a very poor indication of the state of charge. That is why I have been harping on Trimetric meters and have been installing them for so long. Even 11V under a big load will not hurt a lead acid battery.
5) Green? Lithium is mined and refined using fossil fuels and shipped all around the world using more before the components are manufactured in China. It is NOT recycled. The simple truth here is that while lead acid batteries contain acid and aren’t that clean, they are the recycling success story of the 20th century, with over 90% of them being recycled. If you buy a new lead acid battery today it is probably made of 80% recycled lead. This saves a lot of of fossil fuels in mining and refining. Lead acid batteries are “green”. This is a tough pill to swallow.
6) Life? Nobody really knows yet, but Tesla warrants the Power wall for 10 years and I will bet there are all sorts of requirements in that warranty. You really should read this: https://www.fool.com/investing/2016/09/27/dont-believe-elon-musk-on-the-powerwall.aspx.
I’ve had RV friends report over 10 years of life from Trojan and Crown golf cart batteries. The Trojan T105 batteries I had in our RV for NINE years were destroyed by running power saws and such tools while building, so who knows how long they may have lasted. One friend I did solar work for reported 11 years of life from the Trojans’s in his motor home! I cannot say how long the Crown CR235’s I left in our RV when selling it will last, but at 5 years they were working exactly as new. I expect at least a dozen years from my L16 Crowns after figuring out the optimum charge settings and probably more. One guy I know who bought Lithium has reported that the voltage under load has degraded more than they had predicted, so we’ll see how long they really last. He also reported that the metering provided with them did not show every amp hour used and was not accurate. He bought a Trimetric to fix that.
7) Safety? OK, the lithium batteries in solar systems and cars are not the exploding things in those Chinese made toys. However, has anybody seen the news report about the Tesla that was burning and reignited itself after the fire department put it out? You might want to ask your local fire department what they know about the danger of lithium batteries. The truth is that they are scared to death of them. The only issue with lead acid if in a wreck is acid or shorting of cables that could happen with any kind of battery. They don’t explode and they don’t catch on fire if you break them.
8) Better voltage under load? OK, this is one I cannot argue with, but if you oversize your batteries as I suggest and do not run them below 85% nightly, why is this an issue? It is NOT. I run my whole house vacuum system in our home any time we have a spill, day or night, and it is a huge load. Also, our 1/2hp water system pump has run just fine with our batteries under 50%. I stopped worrying about it.
My take on this whole thing is that Lithium is being sold to make a lot more money. If a dealer gets to charge you 4 times as much for batteries, he is making four times the profit margin. I am sick of this issue just as much as I am about the man caused climate change hoax. Anybody who visits here will be shown fossils that prove just how much warmer the planet used to be before man was around to have any effect. This winter broke cold records from the 1930’s and last year we broke snow fall records. I’m sick of it. Nobody knows what “normal” is and nobody knows how many hurricanes or tornado’s there used to be in North America. The people who lived here in the past centuries could not record temperatures and they also had no written history. Just another thing that is all about money.
A few years ago I received a donation from a guy researching solar power in Moscow…. Not the one in Idaho. So, I guess I am guilty of collusion with the Russians. I admit it. It was me…. I was bought off by a Russian so I would vote for Trump. No, I am not a liberal.
Bob, Common Sense Man