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Importance and cost of the battery for solar system, including street lights

In this article we will talk about the importance and cost of battery for solar systems ( that also apply for solar street lights ).To many people a battery is a very useful but rather mysterious device. It delivers electric power for a multitude of purposes, but is silent, has no moving parts and gives no visual evidence of its operation.

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The main advantages of batteries are:

i) They provide a portable source of electric power. This power is available in considerable quantity for use on moving equipment or where no power lines are accessible. They are unaffected by cords or cables.

ii) They are capable of delivering very large quantities of power for short periods and being recharged at low rates over extended times. Thus heavy surges on power are available when required, without heavy demands on a power system or equipment.

iii) They provide the most reliable known source of emergency power, instantaneously when normal power fails. They can thus enable light or power to continue when the need is greatest.

iv) They provide a source of pure direct current for laboratory and other specific purposes, either as a separate and independent supply or by acting as filter in a normal supply system.

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These and other distinctive attributes of a battery make it the optimum selection for an almost infinite number of applications. In many types of stand-alone photovoltaic (PV) solar systems for continuous power supply, batteries are required to even out irregularities in the solar irradiation. Today, nickel-cadmium (NiCd) and lead-acid (PbA) batteries are commonly used in PV solar systems. Some emerging battery technologies may also be suitable for storage of renewable energy, such as different types of redox flow batteries and high-temperature sodiumsulfur batteries. Identification of the important parameters in PV solar applications can be used to direct research and product improvements, and comparison of different battery technologies can be used to guide battery choice for specific user conditions

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II. BATTERIES FOR PHOTOVOLTAIC SOLAR SYSTEMS The energy produced during the day, which was not consumed by loads, is saved in batteries. Saved energy can be used at night or during days with bad weather conditions. ( For example, solar street lights to light up streets and roads.) Batteries in photovoltaic solar systems are often charged/discharged, therefore they must meet stronger requirements. Most often used classic lead-acid batteries are produced especially for PV solar systems, where deep discharge is required. Other battery types, such as nickel-cadmium (NiCd) or nickel metal hydride (NiMH), are rarely used, except in portable devices. Lately the lithium LiFePO4 battery is becoming more popular since the price is drooping rapidly due to economy of scale that is caused primarily because of the electric car boom. Hermetical batteries often consist of an electrolyte in gel form. Such batteries do not require maintenance.

Typical lead acid AGM solar system batteries’ lifetimes span from three to five years, depending heavily on charging/discharging cycles, temperature and other parameters. The more often the battery is charged/discharged, the shorter the lifetime. Lifetime depends on charge/discharge cycle rates numbers. The deeper the battery is discharged, the shorter the lifetime. The most important battery parameter is battery capacity, which is measured in ampere-hours (Ah). Battery capacity depends on discharging current; the higher the discharging current the lower the capacity, and vice versa.

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Batteries can be charged in many different ways, for example with constant current, with constant voltage etc., which depends on the battery type used. The charging characteristics are recommended and prescribed by different standards.

The prices of solar batteries are higher than the prices of classic car batteries, but their advantages are longer lifetime and lower discharging rates. Consequently, the maintenance costs of the photovoltaic solar system are lower. The battery’s capacity for holding energy is rated in amp hours: 1 amp delivered for 1 hour = 1 amp-hour. Battery capacity is listed in amp-hours at a given voltage, e.g. 220 amp-hours at 6 volts. Manufacturers typically rate storage batteries at a 20-hour rate: A 220-amp-hour battery will deliver 11 amps for 20 hours. This rating is designed as a means to compare different batteries to the same standard.

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Batteries are electro chemical devices sensitive to climate, charge/discharge cycle history, temperature and age. The performance of a battery depends on climate, location and usage patterns. For every 1 amp-hour removed from a battery, about 1,25 amp-hours will need to be pumped back in to return the battery to the same state of


This figure also varies with temperature, battery type and age. Batteries used in PV solar applications are fundamentally required to operate differently from those used in normal stationary or motive power applications. Unlike other conventional uses of storage batteries, the batteries meant for PV solar applications are characterized by a small or fractional change in state-of-charge (SOC) level on daily charge/discharge cycles, while exhibiting a sharp decline in SOC during certain periods in the year, depending on climatic conditions and season. In addition, typical stand-alone and remote PV solar installations require roughness and environmental flexibility and to be capable of unattended operation, easy installation and reliability. These conditions require that the sub-system including the battery should also meet the same criteria as set for the PV solar module.

The batteries specially developed for such applications, usually called solar or photovoltaic batteries, are therefore designed to have the following characteristics:

a) high cycle life;

b) good reliability under cyclic discharge conditions;

c) high capacity appreciation at slow rate of discharge;

d) low equalizing and boost charging requirement;

e) low self-discharge;

f) high watt-hour efficiency and ampere-hour efficiency at different SOC levels;

g) wide operating temperature range;

h) highly cost effective;

i) long life, robust design and low maintenance requirement;

j) manufacturing under stringent quality controls.

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The energy requirement for battery production and transport is dominant for systems based on NiCd, NiMH and PbA batteries. Production and transport of batteries contribute 24 – 70 % to the energy requirements, and the PV solar array contributes 26 – 68 %. The contribution from other system components is less than 10 %. For a PV solar-battery system with a service life of 30 years, this corresponds to energy pay back times between 2,5 and 13 years. The energy payback time is 1,8–3,3 years for the PV solar array and 0,72–10 years for the battery. The overall battery efficiency, including direct energy losses during operation and also energy requirements for production and transport of the charger, is 0,41–0,80 for battery and inverter, respectively.


In most cases the choice of battery is based on lowest price. Because of this, an inadequate and improper battery is selected, which reduces the system’s reliability and durability.

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Many approaches can be followed for the selection of a PV solar battery. Cycle life, performance at extreme temperature, effect of rate of discharge, self-discharge rate, battery voltage and maximum current drain capacity in ampere-hours, watt-hours per weight, maintenance requirements, watt-hours per unit volume and cost per watt-hour are a few critical parameters which can be optimally combined to select the right battery for any particular PV solar installation. Conventionally, a lead-acid automotive battery has been used in most PV solar installations. Recently, industrial lead-acid battery types with pasted, plante or tubular plates, having grids with low or high antimony content or of pure lead or calcium alloys, are frequently used. Further, vented, gelled and recombination types make the selection even wider.

In addition, according to promoters the nickel-cadmium battery has better performance characteristics over the lead-acid battery. Other alkaline battery systems also compete with leadacid batteries for PV solar applications for their longer service life and completely maintenance-free operation.

A. Batteries Commonly Used for PV solar Applications

The most commonly used storage battery for PV solar applications is the lead-acid type. Alkaline batteries are also suitable for PV solar applications, however at present only nickelcadmium has acceptable performance characteristics and life cycle costs for these applications. Automotive, traction, stationary and maintenance-free gelled electrolyte batteries have found their use in different PV solar applications. Automotive batteries (also known as SLI; Starting, Lighting and Ignition batteries) have traditionally been used for daily shallow depth of-discharge (DOD) PV solar applications, e.g. street lighting, although they have only a 2 – 4 years life span and a poor cycling ability. A stationary battery is frequently used for applications involving telecommunications, navigational aids, emergency lights, uninterrupted power supply systems, etc. These are capable of occasional deep discharge. Rechargeable traction or motive power batteries are used in electric vehicles, which can also be powered by a photovoltaic solar array. Maintenance-free batteries are increasingly required in automotive, traction or stationary applications. Gelled electrolyte or sealed maintenance-free batteries are suitable for PV solar applications, which require completely unattended operations. Research and development on sealed lead-acid batteries for PV solar power application has recently led to the development of a tubular-type battery featuring acid immobilization using silica gel, antimony-free Pb grids and thicker plates compared to conventional ones. Batteries with lead plates strengthened by calcium or small amounts of antimony are relatively cheap and exhibit good properties for remote applications. Self-discharge accelerated by antimony is reduced by using pure lead grids. As per the experience of some PV solar companies, a battery with low antimony content is the best choice for PV solar applications.

B. Battery Installation,

Operation and Maintenance

In order to investigate the ‘Battery charge control and management in PV solar systems’, the Commission of the European Community (CEC) initiated concerted efforts in this direction. The objective of this work was to identify battery operating problems based on experiences with 16 PV solar power plants. The main problems found in these studied plants were due to: poor operation and maintenance procedures; an inadequate battery charging system; improper sizing of the battery; and inadequate information on the condition of the batteries. In several PV solar plants, batteries were found to be damaged due to deep discharge, ageing and structural failure of the cell casing. A few cases of excessive overcharging and the large number of operating cycles in five years of their operation were observed. In addition to these, cases of explosions caused by a build-up of hydrogen in the cells were also observed. The investigation revealed that in most of the studied plants, the operation and maintenance procedure was not documented and routine tests of voltage, temperature, specific gravity and periodic visual inspections were not carried out. Some of the observed problems could have been detected and avoided, if proper operation and maintenance procedures were adopted.

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Several other studies have also reported the significance of adequate management of battery storage in PV installations. One such study emphasizes the need to install peripheral components for the acquisition and processing of battery specific parameters in addition to adopting active measures for battery management. The battery in a PV installation is subjected to two distinct cycles, namely:

a) a daily cycle characterized by varying profile and amplitude depending upon the PV energy supplied and electrical energy given to the load;

b) a seasonal cycle depending on the variation in average insolation during the year. These cycles cause several stresses and ageing mechanisms in the battery. The most commonly observed problem areas are the following:

i) Overcharging the battery causes corrosion of positive grid plates and excessive gassing resulting in loosening of the active material. Due to this, loosened material deposits as sediment at the bottom of the cell. Overcharging may also cause temperature to rise to a permanently destructive level.

ii) Consistent undercharging of the battery leads to a gradual running down of the cell, which is indicated by the reduced specific gravity readings and the tendency of plates to become light coloured. Excessive undercharging also causes sedimentation of white lead sulfate powder. The strain on the plates caused by the lead sulfate, which occupies more space than the original active material on the plates, results in their buckling.

iii) Presence of non-conducting materials, which form a layer between the battery terminal and the connector, may offer an increased resistance to the passage of large currents through the load. Corroded terminals, however, may not ordinarily interfere with the charging of the battery or with the discharging at low discharge currents.

iv) Short circuits may be caused by a breakdown of separators and excessive sedimentation, due to a phenomenon called ‘treeing’, in which tree-like structures of lead are formed from the negative to positive plates. Treeing may be due to the presence of certain materials in the grid, e.g. cadmium. It may also be due to ‘mossing’, in which the sediment brought to the surface of the electrolyte by the gas settles on top of the plates leading to the formation of bridges over the separator tops. v) When a battery is either operated at partial SOC for several days without equalization or it remains unused for any length of time in fully or partially discharged conditions, the deposition of large lead sulfate crystals instead of normal tiny ones on the plates takes place.

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The phenomenon called sulfation also occurs when there are temperature variations in the battery. These large crystals tend to increase the internal resistance of the cell, which results in low discharge and high charge voltages. vi) When the battery reaches full charge, the rise in plate potential beyond a certain cut-off voltage leads to the decomposition of water to hydrogen and oxygen gas (water loss). The quantity of gas formed depends on the amount of excess charging current which is not absorbed by the battery. It is recommended that a battery (conventional flooded type) meant for PV solar applications is installed in a separate room in order to avoid accidents due to the formation of hazardous gases. Adequate ventilation and moderate temperature must be provided in accordance with the supplier’s instructions. Batteries are most commonly designed for floor placement over wooden or plastic planks. In some cases, installation is also done on steel step stands with acid-resistant paint on them. A sealed maintenance-free battery can be housed in a usual working area with normal ventilation. It can be installed on slotted iron racks, although battery suppliers recommend specific installation guidelines, including battery room designs based on the type and construction of the supplied battery. The standard guidelines for installation and maintenance of lead acid batteries for PV solar applications and of nickel-cadmium batteries for generating stations and substations are available from the IEEE in the form of the European Standards. These standards describe in detail the safety precautions, installation procedures, installation and design criteria and maintenance requirements. C. Battery Protection and Regulating Circuits Proper battery

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operation in a PV solar system requires voltage regulating protection circuitry to prevent overcharging and excessive discharging. Permanent damage can be done to a battery if it is charged too fast and for too long. Similarly, forcing higher charging currents into a battery when it is fully charged will cause the battery to gas. Excessive discharging will cause the plates to disintegrate and should be avoided. The use of voltage-regulating circuits to maintain the battery voltage within an acceptable range or window is therefore necessary. A few elementary regulator currents are discussed below. Shunt Regulator The regulator which is connected in parallel to the PV generator dissipates excess energy through a resistor and power components. There is no voltage drop in the charging unit and the power consumption by the regulator is negligible during the non-regulation period. Any failure in the regulator does not interrupt the battery charging Series Regulator with Semi-conductor The series regulator uses a transistor in series with the PV generator. The regulator behaves like a variable resistance, whose value is a function of the state-of-charge (SOC) of the battery. The dissipated power at the transistor terminals is low compared to PV peak power.

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However, during the non regulation period, the regulator introduces a voltage drop and thereby current consumption in the circuit. Series Regulator by Electromechanical Cut-off This regulator stops the battery charging by an electro mechanical cut-off when it reaches the maximum acceptable voltage level. It is reset for charging automatically when the threshold voltage is reached. There is no power dissipated in the regulator. Automatic Circuit Breaking This regulator is used in cases of weak sunlight, over consumption, etc., when it becomes necessary to cut off the load to limit the depth of battery discharge. Below a certain threshold voltage level, the load is cut off and is reset automatically when the battery reaches a sufficient charge level. D. Battery Simulation and Sizing Stand-alone PV solar systems with battery storage are usually designed to ensure array energy output exceeding the load demand year round. The system is also expected to maintain a continuous supply of energy during cloudy days and for nighttime loads. The battery size is dependent upon the load energy requirement and weather patterns on the site, the latter necessitating increased storage and PV solar capacity during the heavily overcast sky and low insolation period of the year.

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Consequently, during peak sunshine days, the battery will remain near a fully charged state with the array generating excess energy. In order to prevent the battery from overcharging it needs to be either disconnected or dissipated. A major concern in designing any PV solar power system, therefore, is to obtain optimum capacities of the PV array and the battery storage for the supply of energy at the chosen reliability. In order to match the battery behavior properly with the array, as well as with the load, a modelling exercise is performed. This modelling exercise gives parameters characterizing the battery’s state, e.g. current accepted and lost, internal electromagnetic field, voltage or terminal voltages, state of charge, internal resistance, etc. The application of the simulation technique in battery sizing results in an optimum battery capacity required to satisfy the given load with an expected reliability. Several researcher groups have developed battery models describing the relation between battery voltage, current and SOC. The discharging current is useful for designing the control system, a model for relating the capacity of the battery. The ageing model describing the lifetime of a battery is useful for an economic analysis.

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