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If you are visiting these pages you are obviously interested in what solar power can do for you. . . . .

If you intend fitting solar, wind or grid (MAINS) backup power, it is essential for you to understand how solar
electricity works and what it will do for you. It is really pretty simple!

We have compiled some information to give you the knowledge to design your own solar power system. Once upon
a time solar design was the realm of rocket scientists. These people thought they possessed special knowledge, but
as you will see, anyone with a calculator, two halves on their brain intact and an interest can design a solar power
system.

You already have the interest otherwise you would be surfing elsewhere, so without further ado, start with the links
on the left and work through page by page by working down the links. It will help to have a pen, a calculator and
some paper ...
A solar power system could look like this ... You would have some solar panels in a sunny place. These would
generate electricity whenever the sun shone on them. The problem is what to do with this electricity ...
We could attach something straight to the panel with a bit of wire, the trouble is whatever we attached would only
work when the sun was shining. Since the first basic need is usually lights at night this setup would be pretty
hopeless!

The next stage is to add a battery ...


The addition of a battery makes a solar system functional 24 hours per day. The electricity you generate during the
day can be used at night then replenished again on the next sunny day. A consideration here is what would happen
if the batteries were totally full of charge in the middle of a sunny day ...

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The next addition is a solar regulator ...
A solar regulator is a device that prevents the solar panels from over-charging the battery when it is full of charge.
This also serves to protect the battery from being dangerously over-discharged.

It is likely we need some "mains type power"...


When you have a simple solar system as described above you are limited to powering your lights and appliances
straight off the battery. This is fine for small setups needing only basic lighting and simple battery powered
devices. If you are intending to set up a solar system for a house, you will no doubt require some modern
appliances straight from the electrical shop. These devices will undoubtedly need a power point to plug into. To
provide the necessary power for these appliances from your battery bank you need an inverter. An inverter is a
device that converts the electricity stored in your battery to something more useable like the 240 volts you get
from the socket on the wall at home.

Add another generation source ...


Depending on your location and situation you may be able to add a complimentary generation source like a wind
generator. This will connect to your battery independently of the solar panels and will most probably require its
own regulator to work alongside the solar regulator. This is covered more in the information section on wind
generators.
Summary: You use solar panels in sunlight to generate electricity. You store this electricity in a battery bank. A
solar regulator prevents the battery bank from being overcharged/discharged. You convert the battery electricity to
mains electricity using a device called an inverter. Later on this information section will cover stuff like how many
panels we need, how big should the battery bank be and some information on inverter selection but for the
moment the next step to understanding all this stuff is a basic electricity lesson which is next!
Progress on to the next section which is simple electricity by using the side navigation bar.

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I would describe it as an invisible substance that came out of wires and made things like lights and the stereo and
TV and stuff work and that it could be a bit shocking if you touched it.
Basically it can be described as a bunch of things called electrons that flow through wires. These things can do a bit
of work for us.

For our purposes we need to know that:

Electricity is stuff that flows to appliances through wires.


Electricity has two characteristics called voltage and current. Some examples of voltage are:
12 volts - A common car electrical voltage and small solar system voltage
24 volts - A common small house or large motorhome voltage
48 volts - A more serious voltage for medium - large household solar power systems
96 Volts and above - Serious voltage from a large battery bank for a larger installation.
Mains type voltage - This varies depending on what part of the world you come from, commonly 110 or 220 -
250 volts
Current - Is the amount of electricity flowing and is proportional to the amount of power being used. A definition
would be that an item that uses a large amount of electricity, say a heater or an iron will draw more current than a
little electrical appliance like a light globe. Current is measured in amps or more correctly amperes. While voltage
could be called the potential of electricity, current is the amount of power that comes out of the wire.

Electricity will be in two forms: AC or DC.


DC Electricity is; "direct current" and is the electricity generated by your solar panels and stored in your
batteries.
AC Electricity is; "alternating current" as connected to most houses and buildings in most areas of the world. This
is the electricity your inverter will produce to run your appliances like the TV stereo and blender in a desirable
manner.
Grab a Calculator
Hopefully it will be powered by a solar cell! You are going to have to perform a few simple calculations on a piece of
paper called a load sheet. Prior to putting pen to paper however let's take a quick look at what a few of the
aforementioned electrical pioneers actually discovered.

Watts
The watt is named after Mr. Watt. He was a pretty clued up dude and invented (amongst other things) the steam
engine. The watt is the unit of energy you must become familiar with. A watt is a measurement of work just like a
litre is a measure of liquid. Solar panels are rated in watts. A simple calculation to remember is "Volts x Amps =
Watts. See "Ohms Law" below.
Enter Georg Ohm
Georg Ohm was a brainy German physicist who loved fooling about with electricity. While doing so he discovered a
relationship between voltage, electrical current and work performed (watts) This is called Ohm's law.
Ohms law states (in part) that: Amps (current) x Volts = Watts
Later you will find this calculation very useful. Of course you can reverse this for another common calculation;
Watts divided by Volts = Current. Useful stuff indeed! At this stage don't fret about remembering all of this stuff
though! Later pages will contain hints as to what to do calculation wise.
Parallel and Series connections

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Later on as you ponder connection solar modules or batteries together you will hear the term "connecting in
parallel" or the term "connecting in series". It is important to gain an understanding of what this means: Basically
speaking a device like a solar panel or a battery will have what is termed as a nominal voltage. The nominal
voltage of a solar panel is usually 12 volts. The nominal voltage of a lead acid battery is 2 volts.
A parallel connection between two devices will result in the voltage remaining the same. A parallel connection is
connecting the positive and negative terminals of one device to the positive and negative terminals of the other
device. The voltage will remain the same.

An example of parallel connection (above), voltage will be unchanged, power output can be taken from any
terminal.
A series connection is somewhat different: Opposite polarities are connected. You will take the positive terminal
from one device and connect it to the negative terminal of the other. This will double the voltage. See diagrams
below.

An example of series connection (above), voltage will be doubled; power output can only be taken from remaining
terminals on both devices.
Perfect Efficiency?
A final part of this subject is a little thing called efficiency. Unfortunately all things won't add up to a perfect power
system. You will hear about efficiency in later pages. To summarise what this is simple:
Your solar system will loose a bit of power as the electrons flow from place to place. A bit is lost in the wires
between the panel and the regulator, a touch more is lost in the regulator and still more is lost as the electricity
gets stored in the battery. Converting your battery electricity to another form via an inverter will result in still more
losses. You will calculate in an efficiency factor using your calculator (with the solar cell). Typically the efficiency
factor can be as low as 70% which might sound a tad sad, but there you have it and in reality is not that grim!
The next lesson is all about calculating what sort of equipment you need in the way of panels and an introduction
to the "POWER NEEDS FORM".

A solar panel is a device that consists of a few bits of silicon, usually glued under glass, that you put in the sun to
generate electricity. There are no moving parts and very little to wear out. A solar panel will go on producing
electricity year after year with only one proviso ... it must be in full sun to produce full power. Forget about shade

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tolerant panels and other marketing hype, sunlight = power from your solar modules, shade, overcast, rain and all
the inclement stuff means nil or very little output.

Some useful information to know:


• A solar panel is supplied ready to mount. It will have an aluminium frame that you use to attach the panel
to any surface. Typically this will be with tags, strips of metal, wood or anything else that suits the
particular location. Because aluminium reacts with some dissimilar metals you should either use aluminium
for tags or separate different materials with a non-conductor like plastic.
• A solar panel should have a tilt angle wherever possible to face it square on to the sun at midday. A few
degrees here and there is not critical. If you are mounting your panels flat, such as on the roof of a
caravan they will still work fine, you will however get slightly less power per day compared with a correctly
tilted array.
• No matter what a solar panel salesman tells you there is really no such thing as a "shade tolerant" or
"cloud tolerant" panel! A small loss of sunshine equals a large loss of output. A slight overcast typically
wipes out 90% of a panels output. Partial shading from that tempting tree in the desert will mean no
battery charging. Do not believe otherwise!
• A solar panel is not magic! If you use a 60 watt light globe for one hour at night you will need full sun on a
60 watt solar panel for one hour plus to generate what you have used.
• Your solar panel will typically be 12 volt rated although there are now some 24 volt panels on the market.
You will need pairs of panels to generate 24 volts if you use 12 volt panels. You will need your panels in
groups of four for a 48 volt system.
• A 12 volt panel will have a typical output of 20 volts! You need an excess of voltage for power to flow from
your panel to your battery.

• A solar panel will either be supplied with a junction box containing a positive and negative terminal or with "flying
leads" which are your positive and negative connections.

Calculating the Size of Your Solar Array


Determining the size of a solar system that will power your electrical needs requires some simple calculations and a
chart/form. The form is called a "POWER NEEDS FORM", this is covered extensively next.
Below is a sample "POWER NEEDS FORM" and the steps required to fill one out. Skim through this then move along
and get started on your own "POWER NEEDS FORM" in the next section.
• 1. Prepare a simple chart to list and calculate total electrical load.
• 2. Itemise all electrical appliances, the power they use and the length of time they are on per day. (For
appliances used occasionally a weekly power use can be divided by seven).
• 3. Total these electrical loads to arrive at a watt/hour per day electrical load. Divide this power
requirement by 0.7 to achieve a factored power requirement. Factoring the power requirement
compensates for losses and inefficiencies in the batteries, wiring, inverter etc.
• 4. Calculate the sun/hours per day average for your area. Information on this may be available from the
meteorology office, library etc. If a wind turbine is going to be used as well, wind figures could be obtained
at the same time. It is useful to have the sun hours for each month if possible to determine if any
particular month or period in the year is lower than average. A back-up generator could be considered for
months with below average sun/hours.
• 5. Divide your total factored load by the average sun hours per day to arrive at the size of the solar array.

Below is a sample chart prepared for a small cabin.

Electrical appliance Wattage x Hours per day = Av. Watt-hours per day

KITCHEN

Light 40 x 4 = 160

Blender 250 x 0.1 = 25

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Other Appliances 200 x 0.5 = 100

LOUNGE

Light 60 x 4 = 240

Lamp 20 x 2 = 40

Small television 60 x 2 = 120

Video player 30 x 1 = 30

Stereo/radio 20 x 2 = 40

BATHROOM

Light 20 x 1 = 20

Fan 10 x 1 = 10

Washing machine 600 x 0.5 = 300

BEDROOM

Light 60 x 1.5 = 90

Lamp 20 x 0.5 = 10

OTHER

Outside light 100 x 0.5 = 50

Drill 600 x 0.1 = 60

Total daily electrical requirements in Watt/hours = 995

Factored daily power requirement = 995 / 0.7 = 1721

This cabin is in an area that receives an average 4 hours of sun per day over 1 year. Dividing the factored daily
power requirement by the average sun hours will give you the size of the solar array required. 1721/4 = 430. In
this instance a 430 watt array should be sufficient. Given that solar panels are commonly sold in 60, 80 and 120
watt sizes the array would in reality end up being 480 watts. The voltage could be 12, 24 or 48 volts. The most
common size would be 24 volts, 12 would be OK, 48 would be the most efficient however it would require 4 x 120
watt panels or 8 x 60 watt panels.

You should now be ready to fill out your own load chart. ( Fill a form online here ).

Without some idea of what you actually want to run with your solar system you are unfortunately wasting
everyone's time. Start by ruling out everything that uses continuous heat. This means electric stoves (except
microwaves), electric hot water and electric room heating and cooling. Forget your air conditioner and fan heater

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(except for very brief periods). Forget asking your solar dealer to do your designing. No excuses folk you must get
at least some idea of what you personally want to power. Without coming to terms with this basic concept your
solar system will quite possibly not work they way you hope! Then ask your dealer.

Consider what you really need ...


You need to become an electrical sleuth! This means starting to look at every electrical appliance you can lay your
hands on and discovering its electrical consumption. Just about everything on the market today has an electrical
placard on it stating the power consumption. This may be in watts or it may be in amps. To get the wattage
remember Georg Ohm and his rule: Amps x voltage (of appliance) = watts.

In becoming an electrical sleuth you are working out what an appliance costs to run in terms of energy. This will be
either expressed in watts or as a current and a voltage. Virtually all modern electrical appliances will have this
printed on them in the form of a placard. The wattage figure is what you are after. If the appliance placard states a
voltage and a current you can convert this to watts by the sum: Voltage x current = wattage. (Ohms law)

Lets look at a few appliances:


• Lighting: This is high on the priority list. Seeing in the dark is all important. How many lights, how long for
and what is the wattage of each bulb?
• Television: Most folk have one. Mine is rated at 90 watts with an average load of 60.
• Video and Stereo: Not to huge a power consumer , most are under 20 watts.
• Microwave: You will need a largish inverter for one of these. Could use 1500 watts or more. Don't go on
the cooking rating, this will be different from the power consumption. Find the placard!
• Toaster and Kettle: I have both. While they use a large amount of electricity they are usually only used for
a short time .
• Refrigerator: Very opinionated subject for solar buffs ... We have a page on refrigeration in this
information section.

How to fill in the form ...

(when you have read the following tips, click on the link below to fill in an online form)
1. List your appliances down the left hand column. It may be easier if you divide this column into rooms if
you are planning a household load sheet.
2. List the appliance wattage in the watts column. Remember the formula current x voltage if all you have is
current data.
3. Determine the average daily run time of the appliance in hours. For items that may only be used once a
week or so, work out the weekly wattage and divide by seven

4. Calculate the watts per day then tally up the total foe your electrical load.

5. Divide this by 0.7. This gives a factored amount and will allow for inefficiencies etc. in your power system.

Fill in a Power Needs Form!

You need to make a list. The shorter it is the less your solar system will cost you. You need to fill out a chart. We
have designed a simple form for you to fill in and email to us.

Click here to fill in a power needs form! ! !

1. In order for your solar system to be useful you need storage ... Search Website
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2. If you want to collect solar energy you are going to need somewhere to 17
store it. This is where batteries come in! Here we are dealing with lead
acid batteries and although you could conceivably use ni-cad batteries
(at somewhat of an expense) it is the lead acid battery that we will deal 28
with in this section. Modern lead-acid batteries come in flooded, gelled
and absorbed glass mat types just to name a few. For the purpose of
this lesson let's assume that they are all the same. US Dollar

3. Voltage:
A lead acid cell, regardless of size is a two volt device. Regardless of how Change Currency
large you build a lead acid battery the nominal voltage will always be 2
volts. If you put 6 of these batteries in one box and join them in series
you will get a 12 volt device as is used to start your car. Bottom of Form

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4. Battery Capacity:
Battery capacity is measured in amp-hours (A/H or amp/hour or AH). This
measurement is the amount of amps (energy) the battery will provide
for one hour. Battery capacity is also relative to speed of discharge. A
slow discharge over 50 hours will produce a higher total energy from
the same battery than a rapid discharge. Temperature also affects
capacity. A battery bank at 30 degrees Celsius will have a significantly
larger capacity than if it were cooled to 0 degrees Celsius.
Battery capacity is stated as discharge over time. The time depends on what
the battery manufacturer had in mind when designing the battery.
Forklift and electric vehicle batteries usually have a stated capacity over
5 - 10 hours @ 30 degrees Celsius, batteries specifically for solar
installations have the capacity stated at 100 or 120 hours @ 25 degrees

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Celsius.
5. Summary so far: Battery capacity is measured in amp/hours and
provided to us by battery suppliers as capacity over time.

6. Battery Life:
If you get a brand new battery and store it with some means of maintaining
its full of charge status (like a trickle charger) and put it on a shelf in
the shed its life will be determined by the length of time it takes for the
acid to degrade the bits the acid is soaked in (like all the internal bits).
Typically this could be 10 - 20 years.
You are not going to buy a battery and store it on a shelf are you?!
The next thing that determines battery life is cycling (using then
recharging) it. A discharge followed by a recharge is a cycle. The depth
you discharge a battery to before recharging it is the depth of cycle. A
small cycle could be a battery discharged a little, say 10%. A deeper
cycle could be more like say 30 - 50% and a really heavy cycle could be
80%. If you discharge a deep cycle battery by more than 80% on a
regular basis you will quickly ruin it.
Battery manufacturers will state the cycle life for batteries designed to store
power. Batteries designed to start things are not storage batteries.
They are "cranking" batteries and there capacity is not stated, rather
there usefulness as a starting battery is stated in "cold cranking amps".
We are not interested cranking batteries here but you should know the
difference.
7. Typical spec for a deep cycle battery for solar system use:
4000 cycles to 10%
3300 cycles to 30%
2500 cycles to 50%
1500 cycles to 80%
From the above information we can determine a life expectancy: A solar
system discharged on average 10% per day could be expected to have
a battery life of around 4000 days or 10.9 years.
If you were a little harder on your battery and discharged it to 80%
down every day before recharging it fully you could expect a battery life
of around 4.1 years.
Given that the worst thing you can do to a battery is to leave it standing
around "flat" and a daily discharge of 80% is enormous and in reality
not likely your battery life is realistically about 8 - 15 years. Quite
commonly I see good quality deep cycle batteries still in service after 20
or more years so the above figures are conservative ...

8. The manufacturer of this battery also states capacity as follows:


Capacity C120: 375, C100: 340, C20: 213, C5: 171. These listings are not
until the battery reaches zero volts but are typically the capacity you
will get until the voltage reaches 1.8 volts per cell or for a 12 volt bank
until it reaches 6 x 1.8 = 10.8 volts.
9. Summary so far ... Battery capacity is measured in amp/hours and
provided to us by battery suppliers as capacity over time. Battery life is
determined by the number of cycles. A battery has a greater total
capacity if it is discharged slowly.
A final rule: (made to be broken of course). Plan to be able to use about
50% of a manufactures stated battery capacity at the C20 rate. More
than this constitutes a pretty heavy discharge.
10. Working out what you need:
It is a relatively simple matter to determine what size battery bank you
require. You have already read and retained the prior knowledge
imparted to you by way of our "Power Needs Form" page (haven't you)?
Another big word we solar designers use in calculating what to install

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where is "Autonomy"
Autonomy is simply the number of days you would like to have power
when things are inclement ... like no sunshine! A good figure would be
about 4 days.
Get your total electrical load in watts per day. Multiply this by four days.
Double this because you only want to discharge to 50%
Divide the result by the battery voltage you have chosen and you will
have your required amp/hour capacity at the C100 rate.
OF course you may well choose a higher or lower autonomy than 4 days.
11. Choosing a battery bank voltage:
No matter how much I stare at my thumb there seem to be no rules written
on it! Here is a guide though:
Up to 1000 watts: 12 volt battery bank
1000 - 3000 watts: 24 volt battery bank
Above 3000 watts: 48 volt battery bank or larger. It is not uncommon
for battery voltages to be as high as 120 volts or more in large
household power systems.

12. Measuring battery level:

This is covered in the "system monitoring" page of this information section.

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olar
Regulators

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1. A solar regulator will prevent your batteries being over-charged. When a battery is "full" a means of
tapering back or turning off the solar array is required. It also serves to protect the battery from over
discharge. This is the function of the solar regulator or controller.

2. What is Available

3. Solar regulators come in four varieties:


4. 1. Switching Regulators.
These regulators switch off the solar array at a predetermined voltage and turn it on again at another
(lower) pre-determined voltage. These regulators are often referred to as simple regulators and are the
most common small regulator type available. Once all regulators were switching devices however modern
electronics have made PWM regulators affordable and reliable. The most economical regulator for small
solar arrays is still switching regulator

2. Pulse Width Modulated or PWM.


PWM control of solar current is more efficient than switching. Instead of your solar array being switched off
at a pre-determined voltage, PWM type regulation will reduce panel current while maintaining a constant
voltage at the battery terminal. A single constant voltage can still over-charge a battery bank so most
modern PWM regulators actually provide an initial (high voltage) bulk or boost voltage. After a pre-
determined time at this setting a further reduction in battery terminal voltage is initiated. The second lower
voltage is called the float setting.

3. Diversion Regulators.
Instead of switching off or reducing your array current a diversion regulator will divert unneeded panel
current to another device, usually a heating element. This type of regulation is very efficient if you have a
large solar array and want to extract all energy it provides. This type of regulation is often offered as an
option on high current PWM solar regulators
4. Maximum Power Point Tracking Regulators or MPPT
These regulators operate on the principle that a solar panel is at its power producing best at a variety of
voltages and temperatures and therefore will product the most power into the battery when these
parameters are met on the input side of the regulator.
5. In order to understand what is happening refer back the first three types of regulators. All three have one
thing in common; when the battery voltage is below the regulation voltage the panels are connected

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directly to the battery. When regulation voltage is reached the panel to battery connection is either broken
or interrupted to reduce or eliminate panel output. Connecting the panel to the battery is fine but
automatically the voltage of the panel becomes the same (for all intents and purposes) as the battery
voltage.

6. Check the typical spec of a solar panel:


7. It could look like this:
8. Peak power watts: 125
Peak power amps: 7.2
Voltage @ peak power: 17.4
9. Impressive?
Actually it is the spec "Voltage @ peak power" that the makers of MPPT chase and this figure varies
according to cell temperature. If you run the panel at this voltage and then turn this voltage into what is
required to charge the battery without linking the panel to battery you will get a substantial increase in
panel output on most days. An even bigger advantage of using these MPPT thingies is that you can use a
24 volt panel on a 12 volt system or use a grid feed panel (32 odd volts usually) on a battery system. Even
more impressive you can wire all your modules up in series and feed the high voltage over a largish
distance through thinner wire to the MPPT and have it convert this higher voltage to battery charging
volatge with an impressive efficiency level. Typically you may choose a 48 volt nominal array voltage for
12, 24 or 48 volt systems.
10. In a coldish climate a MPPT on an array of say about 450 watts or larger is simply too good a device to
ignore. The benifits are huge and far outweigh the initial higher cost of these type of solar controllers. See
our products pages for more details on these devices.

Calculating your regulator size:


11. Simply add up your panel wattage and divide by your system voltage at its maximum (full charge) level.
For a 12 volt system this will be 15, for a 24 volt system this will be 30 and for a 48 volt system this will be
60 volts.

12. 2 x 125 watt panels in a 12 volt system would need a regulator sized: 2 x 125 / 15 = 16.6 amp regulator.
13. If you are using an old regulator or a cheap and cheesy devise from a dubious manufacturer you are better
off dividing the panel wattage by the nominal voltage ... 12, 24 or 48!
To calculate the rating for a MPPT is somewhat easier. You need to look at the spec sheet for the device in question.
The manufacturer of the MPPT will state a maximum array size in watts. Obviously you won't exceed this ...

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An inverter is a box full of electronic goodies that will convert your battery voltage into mains type power.
Once upon a time if you wanted to get "mains" type power from your battery bank you used a device called a rotary
inverter. This was simply a battery powered motor spinning generator with an output similar to mains power. As
you can probably imagine efficiency was somewhat lacking...
To the rescue came the electronics era and a bunch of silicon bits called transistors and MOSFET's, which are metal
oxide switching field affect transistors just in case you needed to know. Without them we would have no computers,
compact electronic devices or efficient inverters to power our electrical appliances.
The modern inverter is so efficient and reliable that using appliances powered directly from the battery, as was the
norm in the past, is now all but history.
The modern concept in solar design for anything other than a small campervan, 4WD or campsite is to power

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everything from "mains" type voltages "inverted" from the battery bank. The advantage this gives us is that we can
go shopping in a local electrical store and buy conventional appliances just like the common folk on grid fed power.
Take the humble light globe for an example: A 12 volt device that gives good light output for a reasonable power
consumption is getting hard to find and somewhat expensive. Choosing 24 volts for your lighting makes light bulb
hunting even more difficult.
If on the other hand you get all your power from an inverter you can trot off to the local supermarket and choose
from a great selection of super efficient low power consumption light globes that will often cost a fraction the price
of anything dc rated.
To sum up ... You need an inverter to utilize the power your solar system will produce! Without further ado let's
look at what's in the box. BUT and its a BIG BUT ... An inverter is only as good as the battery bank it is connected
to and that battery bank is only good if your power system is capable of charging it when needed!

Inverter ratings. The three ratings that should concern you when buying an inverter are:

1. Continuous Rating: This is the amount of power you could expect to use continuously without the inverter
overheating and shutting down.
2. Half Hour Rating: This is very useful as the continuous rating may be to low to run say a large power tool or
appliance but if the appliance was only to be used intermittently then the half hour rating may well be high enough
to cover this.
3. Surge Rating: A high surge is required to start some appliances that once up and running may only need
considerably less power to keep functioning. The inverter must be able to hold its surge rating for at least 5
seconds. One well known brand we used to sell was incapable of this and led to disappointment and hassle. We
dropped it from our line! Televisions and refrigerators are two such items that require only relatively low power
once running but require a high surge to start.

What the market can provide for you

The inverter market today will basically supply you with two inverter types:

Low Cost: These inverters are available from electrical stores, hardware stores and electronic suppliers are
commonly available. Often you will find them sold by folk who know nothing of inverters or electricity. These
inverters usually lack devices such as auto-start or any form of adjustability. Performance may or may not be as
stated (or even not properly stated at all). However they are not all bad. Consider one if your needs are modest and
your budget is limited. Usually they present no problems for TV and video, computers and smaller appliances. High
output models can be good "power tool" inverters. We don't sell them.
High Quality: There is no substitute for quality. You will find only a small handful of companies worldwide who
make high quality power inverters. You don't need a price tag here; one look will convince you of a superior
product.

With a High Quality Inverter You will Get:


• An auto-start system. An auto start allows an inverter to switch to a low power consumption standby state
when nothing is connected and turned on. This will save you a lot of manual switching and/or wasted
power
• Adjustability. An ability to adjust parameters such as auto-start and battery depth of discharge is also
helpful.
• High quality heavy-duty power transformer. You won't see this unless you go poking around inside your
box of electronic goodies but looking at the weight spec or picking up your quality inverter will demonstrate
a heavy transformer inside.

Two Types of Electrical Wave


Your inverter will either be a modified sine wave variety or a sine wave variety. If you could see electricity you
would notice a difference between two types. You may have to take my word on it here however if you can lay your
hands on an oscilloscope (and work out how to use it) you can easily view the differences on the monitor.

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Modified Sine Wave Inverters
Virtually all low cost inverters are "modified sine wave". A modified sine wave is easier and cheaper to produce than
a sine wave inverter. It is also a fact that cheaper modified sine wave inverters have given this type of inverter a
bad name. Very few "high quality" inverter manufacturers even make an inverter with this type of electrical output.
If you buy a high quality modified sine wave inverter however you will get an inverter that will run 99% of
everything electrical, have a higher surge rating and cost you less than a sine wave inverter.

Sine Wave Inverters - The Cutting Edge of Inverter Technology.


A small bunch of inverter manufacturers worldwide have developed quality sine wave inverters to highly efficient
levels. Efficiency has reached up to around 94% and the electricity from these devices is of a higher quality than
grid power virtually anywhere in the world.

Choose a cheap modified sine wave inverter if your needs are modest and occasional.
Choose a high quality modified sine wave inverter if you want value for money.
Choose a high quality sine wave inverter if you want the best available.

These devices are inverters when no electricity or generator power is available and battery chargers when mains or
generator power is available.

This makes really good sense in something like a house that suffers from unreliable electrical supply. It also makes
really good sense if you have a high quality generator and are installing a solar system or if you are planning a solar
system and need a quality battery charger for occasional use. An inverter/charger is heaps cheaper than a quality
inverter and a separate quality battery charger of the same power output/input.

The combination of inverter + separate battery charger


An inverter/charger has several advantages and some disadvantages over the battery charger and separate inverter
combination. First let's look at using a battery charger that is separate from an inverter:
When the power is low you start your generator and plug in the battery charger, battery charging commences. You
still continue to use power from your battery bank as required via the inverter. An inverter delivers high quality
power and your power supply remains quality. This can be an advantage as you will see shortly when you look at
the difference. A problem arises here if you need more power than your inverter can provide and you wish to use
the generator for this power. You need separate circuits or a changeover switch to direct your generator to your
power points.

Joining inverter and charger together into one box ...


When you use an inverter/charger all the above stuff about separate devices is redundant. You are using inverter
power through your power outlets when the device is an inverter. You are using generator power through your

14
power outlets when your device is a battery charger.
The process of going from inverter power to generator power at your power points is automatic and this function is
provided by the inverter automatically with a built in automatic transfer relay. It is so simple that most electricians
scratch and mumble and fail to grasp the basics without explanation! The swap between inverter power and
generator power is virtually instantaneous.

Check it out so you can explain it if need be!


• Your inverter/charger has three connection points: Battery, household supply and generator (or mains
etc.)
• When it is used as an inverter, power comes from the battery, gets "inverted" to household power then
comes out the household supply line. Nothing different from a conventional inverter here.
• When you start your generator or plug in the mains an automatic transfer takes place via an inbuilt
transfer relay. Transfer is virtually instantaneous! Power is also provided from the input back through
the inverter to the batteries. Battery charging commences.
The whole process is automatic, needs nothing added and is ready to function straight from the box. (This is what
electricians fail to comprehend). The inverter/charger has everything, even a delay so your generator can warm up
and stabilize prior to supplying energy. A quality device will also look at and match the generator output prior to
transfer so that even sensitive devices like computers will continue to function right through transfer.

There are a few advantages and a few disadvantages associated with this automation
The obvious advantage is that everything is in one box and the purchase price will have been a lot less than a
separate inverter and separate battery charger of the same quality. If you use heavy power tools or welders or such
stuff you need not worry about plugging them into separate power points or switching over your generator via a
switch. All this is done for you. Your inverter/charger could have on board electronics to automate starting the
generator (if your generator is suited to auto-start) and will be a highly reliable device saving space as well as
money. A good inverter/charger will have electronic sensing to determine generator load and will reduce battery
charger output if your household demand on the generator is high.

The disadvantage is this: If you use anything but a high quality generator your power quality will suffer. The output
from the average generator is way inferior to that of a modern inverter. Whether you want to or not, if you are
battery charging with the charger part of your inverter/charger you are also using generator power from your
generator in your house.

Some other uses for inverter/chargers:


The use of an inverter/charger is not limited to solar power systems that need a generator. These devices are pretty
neat! For example if you only have a generator for your power and nothing else, adding one of these devices plus a
battery bank will give you 24 hour power for a vastly reduced generator run time. the savings in fuel alone could
well pay for the installation cost.

If you have mains power connected and it is unreliable or you need a guaranteed continuous supply for medical
equipment or computer systems an inverter/charger will provide all of this automatically and reliably.

An inverter charger is a device that will be around for a long time!

Wind
Generators

A wind generator is a pretty neat device. Wind power is about the cheapest form of renewable energy you can add
to your site. BUT! But before you rush out and buy a wind generator consider this: A lot of folk out there have made

15
the wind generator purchase only to discover that although they think they live in a windy site the power output is
less than anticipated.

The perfect wind site


From the above info you can deduce that having wind alone will not make a wind generator work. You need wind
plus location. A wind generator likes smooth undisturbed air. Anything else and it will "hunt" and "twist" as it
constantly seeks wind direction. Australia is starting to bristle with wind farms. They are so common now that most
folk who have ventured on a long country drive (and not so long if you live close by) will have seen one. All wind
farm sites share one thing in common: They are all located in flat open treeless plains, often near to the coast.
Another good location is a hill top.

More Marginal locations


All this no doubt sounds somewhat sad if you are in a windy area but are surrounded by hills and trees. No
Chance....... If you have the space to fly a kite, you can get your kite airborne and if you can keep it airborne all
with a minimum of fuss and running around you will probably be in a reasonable location for a wind generator.
Another option to asses your location is to buy a weather station complete with wind sensor and data logging.
These devices aren't altogether out of the price range of many people and are available from electronics stores like
"Dick Smith" or "Jaycar" here in Australia.
The final option to asses whether your site is any good for wind is to actually buy a small wind turbine and install it.
This is what most people do. An "AirX" for example (see our products pages) is a very popular device.

Height
The higher you can mount your wind generator above the ground the better it will work. There is a considerable
difference in wind speed in just 6 metres of height. It is not unfeasible to make and install towers up to 15 metres
high.

Distance
Small wind turbines for 12 volt systems are limited in the distance that they can carry the electricity. To a certain
extent all the battery charging wind turbines are limited by cable size and cost to being within 100 metres or so of
the battery bank with one exception:

High Voltage AC Wind Turbines for Battery Charging


Alternating current (AC), unlike direct current (DC) has a distinct advantage; it can be carried over distance with
less loss in a thinner cable than the equivalent DC voltage. Should you have a suitable hilltop where you can site a
wind generator that is some distance form your power system then a high voltage AC wind turbine may be the
answer. We have installed such a device on a hill top on an island in Bass Straight. The wind turbine is a high
voltage (150 volts AC) unit and it feeds 150 volts AC over one kilometer to the battery bank located by the
residence on the property. At the battery bank the 150 volts AC is converted into DC then controlled by a custom
built AERL maximising controller and fed into a 24 volt battery bank.

< Prev Next >

16
Using Refrigeration in Solar
Systems

Your choice here is reasonable however all refrigeration is somewhat of a disappointment when it comes to solar
electricity. Unfortunately refrigeration is not a highly efficient commodity at this time. It is also a relentless load,
consuming power whether the sun shines or not and if you want it to work correctly you cannot turn it off when
you feel like it.

Refrigeration choices are outlined below along with their advantages and disadvantages (as well as my opinion).
All prices are in American dollars and are an average sort of figure gained from casual inquiry. We do not sell any
of these appliances yet, and you may find prices vary greatly in your area of the world.

1. Gas or Kerosene refrigeration.


This is obviously not an electrical load! It is perhaps a suitable choice for some people. Gas refrigerators
are expensive to buy and operate and you will need to consider the cost in your particular situation.
Our opinion... we have tried a couple and they all used a lot of gas. The gas heating section requires
regular cleaning and maintenance and mine always seemed to run out of gas at the most inopportune
time. A comparative cost in US$ dollars is as follows. Purchase price around $750.00 for a 220 litre fridge.
Gas use = 4 x $120.00 gas bottles per year = $480.00 per year running cost. Given a maximum
refrigerator life of 20 years; at today's gas prices the cost of this refrigeration would be $9600.00 in gas
alone! Over a 20 year period solar/electrical refrigeration is most definitely cheaper.

2. Conventional household refrigerator.


These are the cheapest refrigerator on the market due to the volume sold worldwide. The average
examples are not highly efficient and need an inverter of suitable size to power them.
Purchase price: $550.00 - $1,100.00 + Running cost average = the output from 3 x 120 watt solar panels
per day for a 220 litre version up to 6 x 120 watt panels per day for a largish family size refrigerator
averaged over 1 year.
Beware if you are going to take this route. You must be careful in your choice of refrigerator due to
inverter requirements. An inverter converts battery power into household power and this conversion uses
energy even if no appliance is connected to the inverter. Good inverters have a standby (auto start)
system fitted to avoid unnecessary electrical use when no power is being used from them.
With no other electrical load plugged in the refrigeration cycle should work as follows: The refrigerator
thermostat switches on the refrigerator to start the refrigeration process. The inverter senses that there is
an electrical load and starts up from standby to run the refrigerator. The refrigeration process completes
itself and the thermostat turns off the refrigerator. The inverter senses the loss of electrical load and
returns to standby.
Most modern fridges have either, some or all of the following: Auto defrost, frost free, electrical spike
suppresser. All these items must be disconnected to allow the inverter to turn off when it is not required.
This process is often as easy as a simple wire disconnection. In addition to the above, if you want your
inverter to return to standby when it is not in use the refrigerator will have to have a manual control dial

17
for the temperature.

3. The electronic controls fitted to some refrigerators require constant power and keep an inverter on.
Manual control dials are temperature controlled switches requiring no electricity for the switching process.
An inverter for a refrigerator must be rated at least 3 times the refrigerator power consumption. This is
because initially the power requirement to start the refrigerator is often 3 times higher than the power
required to run the refrigerator once it is running.

4. Buy a conventional refrigerator and have it converted to operate directly off the battery (i.e.: 12 or 24
Volts). This process is relatively easy for a refrigeration mechanic and some refrigeration businesses
specialize in the conversion. The ac driven motor and refrigeration compressor are removed and replaced
with a high efficiency dc driven compressor unit. Cost for conversion around $600.00 - $2,200.00. You
must consult the refrigeration mechanic prior to purchasing your refrigerator. The result is a higher
efficiency refrigerator, the losses from the inverter are eliminated and the new compressor (which
probably cost you as much as the fridge) is a better unit than that previously fitted.

5. Our opinion: This is what we should have done. The refrigerator we brought is not particularly suited to
conversion process (we consulted the mechanic after purchase!). Converting your fridge to DC can also
free up the use of a small inverter if that is all you have. It's not much fun to be watching television or
using a computer from your inverter then have it shut down because this load plus the refrigerator start
up load exceeded your inverter rating. Generally the gain in efficiency is most in fridges at or under 230
litres in capacity. It is of the opinion of the refrigeration mechanic I consulted that anything larger than
this may even be more efficient on ac power. A possible 20% reduction in refrigeration array size is
gained from this process.

6. Buy a purpose built high efficiency refrigerator that is designed for a solar system. If you can afford it this
probably is the best choice. These high efficiency refrigerators seem to cost heaps! Around $2,500.00 for
220 litre plus paneling.

7. Make your own! This is not as hard as you would imagine. A conversion that is becoming popular is a
converted freezer unit. Small freezers use less power than refrigerators. This is because of the top loading
design and the fact that they are often insulated better. If you can live with a top loading fridge then
convert a small chest freezer. All that is required is a different thermostat to keep your goods at the
correct temperature. Most refrigeration mechanics should be able to perform this operation however it
would be sensible to consult the mechanic prior to purchasing your freezer.

8. Go without refrigeration. This actually suits some people.

Finally I will leave the mathematics up to you as to what will cost you how much when. In a perfect solar system
all appliances would be of the highest efficiency available regardless of cost.

It is also worth considering that a refrigerator has a life of maybe 20 years. Most solar panels will last 40 years or
more. It is up to you whether you buy efficient refrigeration or extra panels or adopt my route and use a direct
charging system when the solar input is low.

Solar Power for your 4WD, Camper or Campsite

Solar power is fast becoming a common way of powering campsites around the world. As campsites become more
comfortable and campers become less inclined to "rough it" solar power is increasingly being used to power small

18
refrigerators, kitchen appliances, tools and provide for lighting at night. Noisy generators are becoming less and
less popular and are now banned from many campsites.

Solar panels are easy to use and transport, and are generally used to charge an auxiliary battery that can also be
charged by a vehicle alternator while on the move. Panels can be mounted on a Camper or 4WD roof or connected
to a lead and placed in a convenient position when a camp has been established. If panels are roof-mounted, care
must be taken to park in a site that gets full sunlight. If panels are kept on a lead they can also be tracked for
maximum efficiency by orientating them towards the East in the morning and towards the West in the afternoon.
Two smaller panels can easily be joined together to make a folding panel for ease of transport.

Calculating a solar array for camping.


Consideration needs to be given to how long you wish to remain in one spot and how large the auxiliary battery is.
Often a panel that does not quite meet power requirements is sufficient, as the vehicle can charge the battery
while on the move and the time of stay in one spot is not long enough to fully discharge the battery.

An example of this would be a camp where a small refrigerator is used. With no solar panels the refrigerator
discharges the batteries chosen to run it in 1 day (24 hours) The average stay "in camp" is 2 days. The vehicle
alternator is set to direct charge the battery whenever the vehicle is running. The panel output can be as low as
half the refrigerator power requirement. This can mean cheaper refrigeration than if the average camp stay was
say 4 days. The panel output required for 4 days would then be higher as the full refrigeration load would be from
the panel.

Will solar power work for me?


Maybe... Some folks understand it and make good use of it, some through ignorance or bad experience will be
quick to inform you of the shortfalls. The most common shortfalls are:

1. Lack of sun. If you are visiting a warm climate you will tend to want to park in shade wherever possible.
Pity about the roof mounted panels! No matter what the panel salesman told you will quickly discover that
there is no such thing as a shadow tolerant panel! Continual overcast weather or rain in your location will
also severely reduce panel output. This may result in no power when you want it most!
2. Lack of battery capacity. This is related to no sun. When the batteries are not being charged they go flat!
An undersized battery bank will quickly disappoint you. More so if you have no additional means of
charging.
3. Poor quality batteries. This is unfortunate, especially if you have paid good money for them. You need
heavy duty deep cycle batteries and you must limit the total discharge to avoid your battery becoming
totally discharged. You should never leave your battery in a discharged state for longer than 2 - 3 days.
4. Not enough solar panels for the load used. Unfortunately being human we want as little cost as possible
for the most power. When we have some power we want more... Beware of increasing you electrical load
without realizing it! It's very easy to add small components over and above the planned load. Suddenly
what should have worked no longer does. If you can only afford a small investment keep your electrical
requirements small. Always use high efficiency appliances when possible.

19
But look at the advantages!
You no longer need that expensive powered site. You have power where there is none. You are responsible for
your own energy. You learn about a new technology.
Battery
Charging

There comes a time in most battery owner's life when current methods of charging simply are not enough. You
must know the feeling, otherwise you wouldn't be here on this page: The sun won't shine, the wind won't blow or
you wish to undertake a power intensive activity that is just too much for the setup you have.

What is battery charging?


Simply put it is adding electricity into a battery that is less than fully charged. There are a few basic sorts of rules
to assist you in selecting a method of charging and an appropriately sized battery charger.

To get power to flow into a battery the charging source must have a higher voltage than the battery. If you ever
check out the voltage from a 12 volt solar panel you will quickly discover that the voltage present on the terminals
when the panel is in full sun is around 20 volts or more. The voltage of an alternator as used to charge your car
battery can be even higher, up to 90 volts or more on old alternators, and diode limited on newer alternators to
around 40. When you connect any of these devices to a battery the output voltage is stabilized by the battery and
held down to slightly above battery voltage.

The charging stages:


You will hear a lot about battery chargers, solar regulators etc. and the type of output they have, often referred to
as charging stages. A quality modern charging device like a solar regulator or a battery charger will typically offer
what is called three stage charging. Let's look at the three stages as are offered by most quality charging devices.

Stage 1: Bulk charging


This is the initial stage and is when you first connect your charger to the battery. Current is "poured" in until the
battery terminals reach a certain pre-determined voltage. Usually around 15 volts for a 12 volt flooded lead acid
battery. This voltage is called regulation voltage. A good battery charger will determine when bulk charging is
finished because as the regulation voltage is maintained and the battery fills, less and less current will be required
to maintain this voltage.

Stage 2: Absorption charging


Once the regulation voltage has been reached and the current flow stabilized a timed period should commence at
which this voltage is maintained. Usually around 1 hour.

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Stage 3: Float charging
After the period of time at absorption has passed the battery is for all intents and purposes "full of charge". At this
stage if you were say, running a generator you would "switch off" and that would be the end of the process. If
your charging source was a solar array via a solar regulator you would want a further stage other than
disconnection. When a battery is full it can be maintained full at a lower voltage then the absorption voltage. The
advantage of this is that there will be less water loss, the battery will last longer etc. Typically the voltage on a 12
volt battery would be further reduced to around 13.5 volts.

Sometimes a forth stage is added, usually on battery chargers designed for permanent (live) connection to a
battery bank. This will be a slightly lower voltage than the float stage.

Some useful information


A battery will only efficiently take a certain amount of current, regardless of state of charge. This is called
acceptance current. You can work this out easily for flooded lead acid batteries; it is usually around 10% of the
batteries capacity in amp/hours @ C100.
A 100 amp/hour battery will efficiently take a 10 amp charge. Which of course begs the question; what if I have a
huge size battery charger connected instead. Typically if you connected say a 50 amp battery charger to a 100
amp/hour battery you would do no harm, what would happen is the terminal voltage would rise very fast to the
regulation voltage and the battery charger regulator would taper off the charge rate to something the battery
could accept like about 10 amps. The other more common way is to have a battery charger that is less than large
enough, again no problems, it will of course just take longer to charge the battery than it would take with an
appropriately sized charger.

Charging while consuming


It is common practice to charge a battery bank while you are drawing power from it. This is a time when a large
capacity charger on a small battery bank will work highly efficiently. An electrical load on your batteries will always
get its supply from the highest voltage source. If you are charging the batteries the highest voltage source will be
the battery charger, no matter what form it takes. Power will flow from the charging source to your load using the
battery as a buffer.

Finally...
Charge efficiency is a term you may come across. A modern, good quality lead acid battery in new condition has
an efficiency of around 96%. As it ages this efficiency will drop slowly to around 92%. Simply put if we push in 10
amps for one hour into a battery, about 9.2 - 9.6 amps will be stored.
Alternator based
charging

In a residence were everything is powered by the inverter. Normally the batteries are charged by my solar array, if
I want to use a power intensive device like a wood circular saw, or if the weather remains cloudy for several days
you may start up an engine turning a 24 volt 55 amp alternator and bingo, up goes the voltage.

21
The solar trade calls this "direct charging" and it is probably about the most efficient way to charge batteries using
mechanical (engine powered) means.

Direct Charging is also what you will do if you own a caravan or use a battery for energy in a recreational vehicle or
4WD. Basically it goes like this in a vehicle: While traveling you use your vehicle alternator or auxiliary alternator to
charge you battery bank. When stationary the solar panels take over. Commercially available direct charging plants
are certainly available however it is comparatively easy to make your own. Full information on doing just that is
available on request, email us at info@clamorepower.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spam
bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Monitoring your
solar system

System monitoring of some kind is essential to ensure reliable performance and long life of your solar system
components.
The main component of your power station will be your battery and your battery capacity will be the most
important thing to understand so system monitoring really means knowing the state of charge, or lack thereof, in
your battery. You can choose simple like an accurate digital voltmeter or get a little more hi-tech and use a
purpose built monitoring system.

Monitoring via a voltmeter only


A digital voltmeter can provide very useful system information and was once the only device I used to monitor my
entire solar system.

Using only a voltmeter can be a bit confusing and a little time spent understanding battery terminal voltage is time
well spent even if you decide to install something slightly more sophisticated to monitor your power system.

For the purposes of this lesson we will look at a 12 volt battery, technically speaking I should talk about 2 volt cells
and "voltage per cell" but for the benefit of folk like me "plain speak" with a common voltage is a little easier to
understand.
For a 24 volt system you will of course double all the figures here, for 48 it will be four times the 12 volt numbers.

22
Lets grab a hypothetical 12 volt battery "off the shelf" supplied (as all batteries should be) full of charge. It has a
smallish capacity of let's say ... 120 amp/hours. As you will discover later on down the track, voltage variations
under load and charge will differ a little depending on the capacity of the battery.

Grab a digital volt meter ...


But a word of warning here ...we are talking hypothetical, not actual and frigging around with battery terminals
and charging devices as I am about to list could well be a tad dangerous without some basic safety rules being
followed. In this case you don't need to actually grab a battery even if that is what I am saying! Just read on
instead...

If we measure the voltage of fully charged 12 volt battery with nothing connected it should be around 12.6 volts.

If we connect a reasonable load to the battery, let's say 6 lights, the voltage will drop to around 12.1 but the
battery is still full of charge at this point. Let's turn off the lights so we don't send the battery flat ... The voltage
should slowly return to something in the vicinity of 12.6

If we connect a charging source to the battery, for example an 80 watt solar panel that is in full sunlight or a
battery charger that is plugged in, the voltage will rise to about 15 - 16 volts if the charge supply is unregulated
and the battery is still full.

If the battery was flat, let's say about 60% had been used from it, we might see the following...
No load: 12 volts
6 lights: 11.0 volts
Charge connected: 13 volts

If the charge source stays connected you would see the voltage rise slowly until the battery was full and the
voltage had risen to around 15 volts.

The whole point of this is not to cause confusion, getting to know your battery capacity by voltage alone is not an
exact science but a matter of observation over a period of time and a wide variety of charge and load conditions.
The voltage will vary widely from about 10 volts right up to 16 volts depending on battery type and charge and or
load conditions. If you install a power system and monitor it via an accurate voltmeter you will learn (and quite
quickly) what is happening just by observing differing voltages at different times. It is not exact! No one can come
up with a perfect list of voltages relating to battery capacity and a batteries voltage will change no matter what
state of charge it is in if you add a load or a charging source. That said, here is a simple chart for the open circuit
(nothing connected) voltages of a 12 volt battery.

Full charge: 12.6


Half flat: 12.0
Fully flat: 10.5

If a lead acid battery ever measures zero volts (after a period of sitting idle) it is usually damaged beyond repair.

You could add a few more meters...


To compliment your digital volt meter you could add an ammeter to measure input and perhaps another to
measure output. For sure something to monitor the solar gain is a useful device, even just to see the differences in
input over varying conditions. If you are going to add all sorts of different meters though, it may well be more
economical to fit something a little more sophisticated than just a digital voltmeter and an ammeter to measure
solar input.

Using a dedicated system monitoring device

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There are a few very good devices on the market that will measure all inputs and all loads connected to your
battery and come up with a set of figures in easy to understand formats to let you know exactly what is happening
within the workings of your power station. They all work by measuring what goes in and what comes out of your
battery. In just about all applications this involves fitting a device called a shunt to one of your battery leads.

All about biodiesel

Once upon a time, long long ago a bloke named Rudolph Diesel thought he could change the world with a
revolutionary engine that ran on peanut oil. Pity he tried to sell it to both the French and English naval fleets for
their submarines, got mixed up in political intrigue and was next seen face down in the English Channel.

Still, despite all this his name is carried on with the diesel engine. The only difference is that the fuel companies
capitalized on his name, engine and a byproduct of the newly founded oil industry. The inevitable result was a fuel
called "diesel" and an engine modified to run on the new, less viscous stuff "they" decided "you" should use. Good-
bye peanut, hello money!

All this is very jolly and all, but you should know that it is still possible to run your modern computer controlled
direct injected turbo super charged intercooled piece of gizmoland on veggie oil, or at least on biodiesel made from
veggie oil. Any old diesel in fact will do, from today's hi-tech piece of trickery to yesteryears rattler. They will all
run on biodiesel!

You could spend a heap, start and stop you vehicle on diesel and run it on preheated straight veggie oil if you were
really keen. It is however a very easy process to convert veggie oil, in fact even used veggie oil into good diesel
fuel the trade has named "biodiesel" or "bio-diesel". This stuff is commercially available in Europe, America and to
a limited amount in Australia.

24
So how do you do this magic?
Picture an oil molecule? Now that's probably a bit hard, without a microscope you can't actually see one. Instead
let's look at a ping pong ball with three tennis balls stuck to the side. The three tennis balls are what we are
interested in; the ping pong ball is glycerin

A simple chemical reaction with a big name will separate these tennis balls from the ping pong ball. In fact this
chemical reaction will do a lot more. You will note when you get used veggie oil from the local fast food store that
it looks a bit yuk. Apart from the veggie oil you will have bits of cooking detritus like chip bits, crumbs, bits of
burnt stuff and other gunk that make the oil unsuited to healthy cooking. Performing this chemical reaction will
separate this stuff as well as the glycerin. What you will get is clean biodiesel separated from and lighter than the
glycerin and gunky stuff that once made up your used veggie oil.

This simple process with a big name is called transesterification! At right is a sample of transistorized veggie oil or
biodiesel, (keep reading for a recipe)! In this sample you can clearly see the clean biodiesel fuel above and
distinctly separated from the glycerin and cooking contaminants.

OK how do I perform this unpronounceable task?


Transesterification of veggie oil (making biodiesel) can be performed at home using a home made mixing tank and
two readily available ingredients. The mixing tank(s) I use are pictured below, the simple ingredients are methanol
and caustic soda. Methanol is a racing fuel available from fuel agents and specialized fuel providers, caustic soda
or lye is available from the cleaning goods section of your local supermarket.

Basically what you do is mix the caustic soda with the methanol and then mix the resultant brew into the veggie oil
then settle the resultant mix in a tapered bottom mixing tank. The biodiesel, which is lighter than the glycerin and
detritus, will sit on top of a totally separate layer of glycerin and contaminants.

Try at home now!

Here is a quick recipe to see if making bio-diesel is for you. You will need:
• Some vegetable oil, new or used, suggest cheapest new stuff you can buy.
• Some caustic soda, by a 500 gram container from your supermarket for about three bucks.
• Some methanol. Try the local petrol head car racing type or ask at you local service station. This will be
your hardest find. Methanol is easy to get if you want 20 or 200 litres, small quantities are harder to find.
For this experiment you need 200 ml. A model shop may also be able to help. Methanol is also used in
model engines. It must be pure however. (No additives)
• A glass jar with a screw top lid that will hold around 750 ml.
• A smaller glass jar and wooden stirring dowel.
• Accurate scales to measure in half gram increments.
• An accurate measure that will measure in ml.

Put 500 ml of veggie oil in your big jar. In your small jar put 100 ml of methanol. Into this mix in 2 grams of
caustic soda. Use the wooden dowel to alternately crush caustic against the jar bottom and stir into methanol. This
will take around 3 - 5 minutes.

Caution: Caustic and methanol mixed together is poisonous and a skin irritant, use gloves and eye protection.
Perform this task near a water supply and immediately flush any skin contact with water.

Add your methanol/caustic mix to your veggie oil, screw on cap and shake for 3 - 5 minutes.

25
Bingo! You have just made some biodiesel. Put your jar aside to settle and look at the separation! New oil will
result in clearish glycerin; used cooking oil will separate black glycerin. Check my picky. This sample was made
from used cooking oil and has actually been settling for 24 hours; however, the glycerin should become apparent
after around 20 minutes.

Biogas

Biogas is generated when bacteria degrade biological material in the absence of oxygen, in a
process known as anaerobic digestion (in the abscence of oxygen). Since biogas is a mixture of
methane (also known as marsh gas or natural gas, CH4) and carbon dioxide it is a renewable fuel
produced from waste treatment. Anaerobic digestion is basically a simple process carried out in a
number of steps that can use almost any organic material as a substrate - it occurs in digestive
systems, marshes, rubbish dumps, septic tanks and the Arctic Tundra. Humans tend to make the
process as complicated as possible by trying to improve on nature in complex machines but a
simple approach is still possible, as I hope you see in this website.

Conventional anaerobic digestion has been a "liquid" process, where waste is mixed with water to
facilitate digestion, but a "solid" process is also possible, as occurs in landfil sites.

Methane is difficult to liquefy, since it has a critical point of -82 degrees Celsius. Biogas burns
with a hot blue flame and can be used for cooking, lighting and to run refrigerators. It is also
possible to run engines on the gas, diesel engines being suitable, and realising a substitution of
some 80% of the diesel normally consumed. A 100% substitution is possible in the case of petrol
engines. The difference is due to the absence of a spark plug in the diesel engine necessitating the
injection of some diesel to effect ignition. The sludge that remains after digestion can still be used
as high quality fertiliser, so there is no waste. See Fig 1.

26
Fig 1. Closed Loop of Biogas Production and Use.
Apart from getting biogas and fertiliser, decomposition and fermentation of organic material in
biogas digesters improves sanitation because the gas and the slurry/sludge obtained does not
usually smell, and moreover breeding site for flies, gnats and mosquitoes, which transmit disease
e.g. malaria, are eliminated. Most of the pathogens are also killed during the fermentation process
What can Biogas do?
1 m 3 of biogas can:
• cook three meals for 4 people or
• provide 7 hours of lighting or
• run 300 litre fridge for 3hrs or
• run a 2 horse power engine for 1 hr or
• generate 1.25 kWh of electricity
Put in other words; the following are guide values for the composition of biogas for:
- Cooking: 0.25 m 3 per person per day
- Lighting: 0.12 m 3 per hour per lamp
- Driving engines 0.30 m 3 per kWh
There are many advantages of biogas over wood as a cooking fuel:-
• Less labour than tree felling
• Trees can be retained
• Biogas is a quick, easily controlled fuel
• No smoke or smell (unless there is a leak - then you need to know
anyway!) so reduced eye/respiratory irritation
• Clean pots
• Sludge is a better fertiliser than manure or synthetic fertilisers (and
is cheaper then manufactured products)

27
• Reduced pathogen transmission compared to untreated waste
Biogas in Vehicles
Once upgraded to the required level of purity (and compressed or liquefied), biogas can be used
as an alternative vehicle fuel in the same forms as conventionally derived natural gas: compressed
natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG)

A 2007 report estimated that 12,000 vehicles are being fueled with upgraded biogas worldwide,
with 70,000 biogas-fueled vehicles predicted by 2010. Europe has most of these vehicles. Sweden
alone reports that more than half of the gas used in its 11,500 natural gas vehicles is biogas.
Germany and Austria have established targets of 20% biogas in natural gas vehicle fuel.

In the United States, biogas vehicle activities have been on a smaller scale. Examples include a
landfill in Whittier, California, that fuels vehicles with CNG derived from the landfill (also see
the EPA's Clean Fuel Facility page) and an Orange County, California, landfill that produces
LNG for use in transit buses. Several DOE-sponsored projects also have developed biogas
vehicle technologies—see the Research and Development section.

Interested in a bio-gas system then reach us at info@clamorepower.comThis e-mail address


is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or call us at +263
912 716 594 ; +263 11 702 454 or +263 4 293 6650

How Lead Acid Batteries Work


Here is a short run-through of how lead-acid batteries work. I'll start with some basics and work
my way up - hence the absence of an alphabetical order. Depending on your familiarity with the
subject, you may want to scroll down more or less.
Voltage

Voltage is an electrical measure which describes the potential to do work.


The higher the voltage the greater its risk to you and your health. Systems
that use voltages below 50V are considered low-voltage and are not
governed by an as strict (some might say arcane) set of rules as high-voltage
systems.

Current

Current is a measure of how many electrons are flowing through a conductor.


Current is usually measured in amperes (A). Current flow over time is defined
as ampere-hours (a.k.a. amp-hours or Ah), a product of the average current
and the amount of time it flowed.

Power

28
Power is the product of voltage and current and is measured in Watts. Power
over time is usually defined in Watt-hours (Wh), the product of the average
number of watts and time. Your energy utility usually bills you per kiloWatt-
hour (kWh), which is 1,000 watt-hours.

What is a Lead-Acid Battery?

A lead-acid battery is a electrical storage device that uses a reversible


chemical reaction to store energy. It uses a combination of lead plates or
grids and an electrolyte consisting of a diluted sulphuric acid to convert
electrical energy into potential chemical energy and back again. The
electrolyte of lead-acid batteries is hazardous to your health and may
produce burns and other permanent damage if you come into contact with it.
Thus, when dealing with electrolyte protect yourself appropriately!

Deep Cycle vs. Starter Batteries

Batteries are typically built for specific purposes and they differ in
construction accordingly. Broadly speaking, there are two applications that
manufacturers build their batteries for: Starting and Deep Cycle.

• As the name implies, Starter Batteries are meant to get combustion


engines going. They have many thin lead plates which allow them to
discharge a lot of energy very quickly for a short amount of time.
However, they do not tolerate being discharged deeply, as the thin
lead plates needed for starter currents degrade quickly under deep
discharge and re-charging cycles. Most starter batteries will only
tolerate being completely discharged a few times before being
irreversibly damaged.
• Deep Cycle batteries have thicker lead plates that make them tolerate
deep discharges better. They cannot dispense charge as quickly as a
starter battery but can also be used to start combustion engines. You
would simply need a bigger deep-cycle battery than if you had used a
dedicated starter type battery instead. The thicker the lead plates, the
longer the life span, all things being equal. Battery weight is a simple
indicator for the thickness of the lead plates used in a battery. The
heavier a battery for a given group size, the thicker the plates, and the
better the battery will tolerate deep discharges.
• Some "Marine" batteries are sold as dual-purpose batteries for starter
and deep cycle applications. However, the thin plates required for
starting purposes inherently compromise deep-cycle performance.
Thus, such batteries should not be cycled deeply and should be
avoided for deep-cycle applications unless space/weight constraints
dictate otherwise.
Regular versus Valve-Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) Batteries
Battery Containers come in several different configurations. Flooded Batteries
can be either the sealed or open variety.

29
• Sealed Flooded Cells are frequently found as starter batteries in cars.
Their electrolyte cannot be replenished. When enough electrolyte has
evaporated due to charging, age, or just ambient heat, the battery has
to be replaced.
• Deep-Cycle Flooded cells usually have removable caps that allow you
to replace any electrolyte that has evaporated over time. Take care not
to contaminate the electrolyte - wipe the exterior container while
rinsing the towel frequently.
VRLA batteries remain under constant pressure of 1-4 psi. This pressure helps
the recombination process under which 99+% of the Hydrogen and Oxygen
generated during charging are turned back into water. The two most common
VRLA batteries used today are the Gel and Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) variety.
• Gel batteries feature an electrolyte that has been immobilized using a
gelling agent like fumed silica.
• AGM batteries feature a thin fiberglass felt that holds the electrolyte in
place like a sponge.
Neither AGM or Gel cells will leak if inverted, pierced, etc. and will continue to
operate even under water.
Battery Cells

Battery Cells are the most basic individual component of a battery. They
consist of a container in which the electrolyte and the lead plates can
interact. Each lead-acid cell fluctuates in voltage from about 2.12 Volts when
full to about 1.75 volts when empty. Note the small voltage difference
between a full and an empty cell (another advantage of lead-acid batteries
over rival chemistries).

Battery Voltage

The nominal voltage of a lead-acid battery depends on the number of cells


that have been wired in series. As mentioned above, each battery cell
contributes a nominal voltage of 2 Volts, so a 12 Volt battery usually consists
of 6 cells wired in series.

State of Charge

The State of Charge describes how full a battery is. The exact voltage to
battery charge correlation is dependent on the temperature of the battery.
Cold batteries will show a lower voltage when full than hot batteries. This is
one of the reasons why quality alternator regulators or high-powered
charging systems use temperature probes on batteries.

Depth of Discharge (DOD)

The Depth of Discharge (DOD) is a measure of how deeply a battery is


discharged. When a battery is 100% full, then the DOD is 0%. Conversely,

30
when a battery is 100% empty, the DOD is 100%. The deeper batteries are
discharged on average, the shorter their so-called cycle life.

For example, starter batteries are not designed to be discharged deeply (no
more than 20% DOD). Indeed, if used as designed, they hardly discharge at
all: Engine starts are very energy-intensive but the duration is very short.
Most battery manufacturers advocate not discharging their batteries more
than 50% before re-charging them.

Battery Storage Capacity

The Amp-hour (Ah)


Capacity of a battery tries
to quantify the amount of
usable energy it can store
at a nominal voltage. All
things equal, the greater
the physical volume of a
battery, the larger its total
storage capacity. Storage
capacity is additive when batteries are wired in
parallel but not if they are wired in series.

Most marine, automotive, and RV applications use


12V DC. You have the choice to either buy a 12V
battery or to create a 12V system by wiring several lower-voltage
batteries/cells in Series.

When two 6V, 100Ah batteries are wired in Series, the voltage is doubled but
the amp-hour capacity remains 100Ah (Total Power = 1200 Watt-hours).

You may decide to wire batteries in series because a single 12V battery with
the right storage capacity is simply too heavy, unwieldy, or awkward to lift
into place. Batteries consisting of fewer cells (and hence lower voltage) in
series can provide the same storage capacity yet be portable. It is not
unusual to see solar power installations where the battery bank consists of a
sea of 2V batteries that have been wired in series.

Two 6V, 100Ah batteries wired in Parallel will have a total storage capacity of
200Ah at 6V (or 1200 Watt-hours).

Battery banks consisting of 12V batteries wired in parallel are often seen on
OEM installations in boats and RVs alike. Such banks are simple to wire up

31
and require a minimum of cabling.
However, the wiring must have
the capacity to deal with a full
battery bank.

You should fuse each battery


individually in such a bank to
ensure that a battery gone bad
will not affect the rest of the bank.

Battery banks wired in Series-


Parallel are even more
complicated. Here, four 6V cells
are wired in two "strings" of
12VDC that were then wired in
parallel. Using 6V, 100Ah
batteries, this system will have a storage capacity of 200Ah at 12V or
2,400Wh.

Since such a system has more wiring, it is very important to group "strings"
logically and to label everything. Furthermore, it is a very good idea to fuse
every "string" of series-wired batteries to ensure that a problem in one part
of the battery bank does not take the whole bank down.

We use Group GPL4C batteries exclusively on our boat. Since these batteries
have a nominal voltage of 6V, we have wired them in series for the starter
bank (2 batteries) and series-paralell for the house bank (4 batteries).

Despite advances in instrumentation, the battery industry mostly still


advertises amp-hours as a capacity measure instead of watt-hours. Hopefully,
the battery and marine power instrumentation industry will make a transition
to Watt-hours (Wh) in the future.

Available Capacity versus Total Capacity

Since batteries depend on a chemical reaction to produce electricity, their


Available Capacity depends in part on how quickly you attempt to charge or
discharge them relative to their Total Capacity. The Total Capacity is
frequently abbreviated to C and is a measure of how much energy the
battery can store. Available Capacity is always less than Total Capacity.

Typically, the amp-hour capacity of a battery is measured at a rate of


discharge that will leave it empty in 20 hours (a.k.a. the C/20 rate). If you

32
attempt to discharge a battery faster than the C/20 rate, you will have less
available capacity and vice-versa. The more extreme the deviation from the
C/20 rate, the greater the available (as opposed to total) capacity difference.

However, as you will discover in the next section, this effect is non-linear. The
available capacity at the C/100 rate (i.e. 100 hours to discharge) is typically
only 10% more than at the C/20 rate. Conversely, a 10% reduction in
available capacity is achieved just by going to a C/8 rate (on average). Thus,
you are most likely to notice this effect with engine starts and other high-
current applications like inverters, windlasses, desalination, or air
conditioning systems.

For example, the starter in an engine will typically quickly outstrip the
capacity of the battery to keep cranking it for any length of time. Hence the
tip from mechanics to wait some time between engine start attempts. Not
only does it allow the engine starter to cool down, it also allows the chemistry
in the battery to "catch-up". As the battery comes to a new equilibrium, its
available capacity increases. A very elegant equation developed in 1897 by a
scientist called Peukert describes the charging and discharging behavior of
batteries.

The Peukert Effect

As you can see below, the Peukert equation in its simplest form consists of
several factors.

Peukerts Equation: I n x T = Cmax


where

• I is the current (usually measured in amperes)


• T is time (usually measured in hours)
• n is the Peukert number / exponent
• Cmax is the storage capacity of the battery measured in amp-hours at 1
ampere draw. Usually, the C/100 capacity comes close to this. Adding
10% to the 20-hour rating (also known as C/20) usually comes close
also.

For a more accurate calculation, you need to modify the equation to account
for the fact that most battery capacities are measured using higher currents
than the 1 ampere draw that Peukert used. The folk at Smartgauge.co.uk
have a good and comprehensive explanation on their site, with lots of
examples. Thus, the equation would have to be re-written as (I x Hact / Cact)n x
T = Hact, where Hact is the actual hour rating (i.e. over how many hours the
battery was drawn down) and Cact is the available battery capacity (in amp-

33
hours) at that draw. Most batteries' storage capacity is published assuming a
constant 20-hour draw, i.e. with Hact being 20. Assuming 20-hour ratings, the
equation would thus simplify down to (I x 20 / C20)n x T = 20

Either way, the available current is dependent on the rate of discharge and
the Peukert exponent for the battery. The closer the exponent is to 1 (one),
the less the available capacity of a battery will be affected by fast discharges.
Peukerts numbers are derived empirically and are usually available from
manufacturers. They range from about 2 for some flooded batteries down to
1.05 for some AGM cells. The average peukerts exponent is 1.2 though the
exact number depends on the battery construction and chemistry.

The following image shows the dramatic impact of the Peukerts exponent on
the available capacity of a 120Ah battery, depending on the ampere draw. As
you can see, the lower the Peukerts Exponent, the lesser the effect on
available capacity. Note the dramatic difference in Available Capacity
between the average flooded cell (n = 1.20) and a deep cycle AGM (n = 1.08)
with high-current applications.

In the above picture, note how the low exponent battery (topmost curve) has

34
more than four times the available capacity over a high-exponent battery
(lowest curve). This chart uses a linear scale.

When the time comes to charge a battery, the Peukerts effect also comes
into play. The capacity of a battery to absorb a charge during the bulk phase
is also dependent on it's Peukerts number. This is one of the reasons why
AGM cells can be bulk charged at much higher rates than either Gel or
Flooded cells.

Reserve Minutes

Reserve Minutes are a measure of how long your battery can sustain a load
before it's available capacity has been completely used up. This measure is
especially useful for folks who want to run inverters, fridges, and other large
loads. The following chart has a logarithmic time scale (minutes) - hence, the
non-linear nature of the Peukert effect is smoothed out quite a bit.

Note how batteries that have a high Peukerts Exponent will quickly run out of
capacity with high loads. Here, the low-exponent battery will last over 100
minutes with a 50 ampere load, while the high-exponent battery will last
about 20 minutes. Thus, anytime you deal with large loads relative to the

35
battery capacity available, chose a low-exponent battery. This is why many
wheel-chairs and other electrically motorized vehicles use AGMs.

This chart answers why starter batteries are built to have a low Peukerts
exponent. Otherwise, they'd simply not be able to crank an engine for more
than a few seconds. However, the thin plates that allow flooded cells to work
as starter batteries also make them too fragile for deep-cycle use.

Conversion Efficiency

The conversion efficiency denotes how well a battery converts an electrical


charge into chemical energy and back again. The higher this factor, the less
energy is converted into heat and the faster a battery can be charged without
overheating (all other things being equal). The lower the internal resistance
of a battery, the better its conversion efficiency.

One of the main reasons why lead-acid batteries dominate the energy
storage markets is that the conversion efficiency of lead-acid cells at 85%-
95% is much higher than Nickel-Cadmium (a.k.a. NiCad) at 65%, Alkaline
(a.k.a. NiFe) at 60%, or other inexpensive battery technologies.

Battery Life

Battery manufacturers define the end-of-life of a battery when it can no


longer hold a proper charge (for example, a cell has shorted) or when the
available battery capacity is 80% or less than what the battery was rated for.
The life of Lead Acid batteries is usually limited by several factors:

• Cycle Life is a measure of how many charge and discharge cycles a


battery can take before its lead-plate grids/plates are expected to
collapse and short out. The greater the average depth-of-discharge,
the shorter the cycle life.
• Age also affects batteries as the chemistry inside them attacks the
lead plates. The healthier the "living conditions" of the batteries, the
longer they will serve you. Lead-Acid batteries like to be kept at a full
charge in a cool place. Only buy recently manufactured batteries, so
learn to decipher the date code stamped on every battery... (inquire
w/manufacturer). The longer the battery has sat in a store, the less
time it will serve you! Since lead-acid batteries will not freeze if fully
charged, you can store them in the cold during winter to maximize
their life.
• Construction has a big role in battery life too, some designs are better
at preserving batteries than others and the suitability of a design for a
given application plays a role also. For example, flooded lead-acid cells
will typically fare worse than their VRLA cousins in operations that
involve a lot of jerky motion - the immobilized plates in VRLA cells will
be stressed less than suspended plates in cheap flooded cells.

36
• Plate Thickness helps - the thicker the plates, the more abuse, charge
and discharge cycles they can take. Thicker plates will also survive any
equalization treatments for sulphation better. The heavier the battery
for a given group size, the thicker the plates are, so you can use
weight as one guide to buying lead-acid batteries.
• Sulphation is a constant threat to batteries that are not fully re-
charged. A layer of lead sulphate can form in these cells and inhibit the
electro-chemical reaction that allows you to charge/discharge
batteries. Many batteries can be saved from the recycling heap if they
are Equalized
In closing, the design life of a battery depends in part on its
construction, its type, the thickness of the plates, its charging profiles,
etc. All these factors come together to determine just how long your
battery may ultimately serve you.
Equalization

Sulphation layers form barrier coats on the lead plates in batteries that inhibit
their ability to store and dispense energy. The equalization step is a last
resort to break up the Sulphate layers using a controlled overcharge. The
process will cause the battery electrolyte to boil and gas, so it should be only
done under strict supervision and with the proper precautions.

It is much more tricky to equalize a VRLA battery than a flooded battery with
removable caps. However it apparently can be done as described at the
Ample Power web site. Since I do not have the space here to describe the
Equalization process in detail, I'd consult some of the links on the index page
instead.

Gassing

Batteries start to gas when you attempt to charge them faster than they can
absorb the energy. The excess energy is turned into heat, which then causes
the electrolyte to boil and evaporate. The evaporated electrolyte can be
replenished in batteries with removable caps such as most flooded deep-
cycle batteries. Many car batteries are sealed and thus need to be replaced
when their electrolyte evaporates over time.

Since AGM and Gel cells are always sealed, it is very important to guarantee
they are not overcharged. The only way to ensure this is to use a
temperature-compensated charging system. Such chargers use a
temperature probe on the battery to ensure that the battery does not get too
hot. As the battery heats up, the charging current is reduced to prevent
thermal runaway, a very dangerous condition.

Thermal Runaway

37
This is a very dangerous condition that can occur if batteries are charged too
fast. One of the byproducts of Gassing are Oxygen and Hydrogen. As the
battery heats up, the gassing rate increases as well and it becomes
increasingly likely that the Hydrogen around it will explode. The danger
posed by high Hydrogen concentrations is one of the reasons that the
American Boat and Yachting Council (ABYC) requires that batteries be
installed in separate, well-ventilated areas.

Self-Discharge

The self-discharge rate is a measure of how much batteries discharge on


their own. The Self-Discharge rate is governed by the construction of the
battery and the metallurgy of the lead used inside.

For instance, flooded cells typically use lead alloyed with Antimony to
increase their mechanical strength. However, the Antimony also increases
the self-discharge rate to 8-40% per month. This is why flooded lead-acid
batteries should be in use often or left on a trickle-charger.

The lead found in Gel and AGM batteries does not require a lot of mechanical
strength since it is immobilized by the gel or fiberglass. Thus, it is typically
alloyed with Calcium to reduce Gassing and Self-Discharge. The self-
discharge of Gel and AGM batteries is only 2-10% per month and thus these
batteries need less maintenance to keep them happy.

Battery Group Size

To further complicate matters, manufacturers for marine batteries make


them in all sorts of sizes and voltages. Battery case sizes are typically
denoted by a "Group Size" which has nothing to do with the actual size of the
battery. For example, Group 8D batteries are much larger than Group 31
batteries. Here are some examples:

Table of Battery Group Sizes, Voltages, and Approximate Exterior Dimensions:

Battery Group

GPL4 Units
21 24 27 30H 31 4D 8D T105 L16
C

Voltage 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 6 6 6 Volts

Length 8.19 10.25 12.06 13.5 13 20.75 20.62 10.38 10.35 11.62 inches

Width 6.81 6.81 6.81 6.81 6.72 8.75 10.95 7.13 7.06 7 inches

Height 8.75 8.87 8.75 9.25 9.44 9.88 10.17 11.2 11.57 17.56 inches

38
Note: Dimensions are approximate and vary by manufacturer. Consult
manufacturer data sheets for exact dimension of container, location and type
of terminals, etc.

The group size will merely indicate the approximate exterior dimensions
(including terminals) and voltage of the battery in question. However, the
exact dimensions can only be directly obtained from each manufacturer.
Nickel-Cadmium Cells

Several people have inquired about NiCad cells for Marine environments. I am
not a great fan of them due to their toxicity and their low power conversion
efficiency. See my NiCad info page for more information about the pros and
cons of NiCad technology for marine applications.

Battery Types: Flooded versus AGM and Gel


On the kinds of batteries we may use on board:
The most common kind of battery in Marine use today is the lead acid battery. Using an
electrolyte consisting of sulphuric acid, these cells can store impressive amounts of electrical
energy in a relatively small space. This energy is stored in chemical form within lead grids
mounted inside the battery. The reliance on lead grids and paste explains the great heft of lead-
acid batteries.
The battery universe is further divided along the lines of battery construction. Currently, there
are three common lead-acid battery technologies: Flooded, Gel, and AGM.
• Flooded or Wet Cells are the most common lead-acid battery-type in use
today. They offer the most size and design options and are built for many
different uses. In the marine business, they usually are not sealed so the user
can replenish any electrolyte the battery vented while charging the battery.
Typically, the cells can be access via small ~1/2" holes in the top casing of
the battery.

The plastic container used for flooded cells will have one or more cells
molded into it. Each cell will feature a grid of lead plates along with an
electrolyte based on sulphuric acid. Since the grid is not supported except at
the edges, flooded lead-acid batteries are mechanically the weakest
batteries.

Since the container is not sealed, great care has to be taken to ensure that
the electrolyte does not come into contact with you (burns!) or seawater
(chlorine gas!). The water needs of flooded cells can be reduced via the use
of Hydrocaps, which facilitate the recombination of Oxygen and Hydrogen
during the charging process.

39
• Gel Cells use a thickening agent like fumed silica to immobilize the
electrolyte. Thus, if the battery container cracks or is breached, the cell will
continue to function. Furthermore, the thickening agent prevents
stratification by preventing the movement of electrolyte.

As Gel cells are sealed and cannot be re-filled with electrolyte, controlling the
rate of charge is very important or the battery will be ruined in short order.
Furthermore, gel cells use slightly lower charging voltages than flooded cells
and thus the set-points for charging equipment have to be adjusted.
• Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries are the latest step in the evolution of
lead-acid batteries. Instead of using a gel, an AGM uses a fiberglass like
separator to hold the electrolyte in place. The physical bond between the
separator fibers, the lead plates, and the container make AGMs spill-proof
and the most vibration and impact resistant lead-acid batteries available
today. Even better, AGMs use almost the same voltage set-points as flooded
cells and thus can be used as drop-in replacements for flooded cells.

Basically, an AGM can do anything a Gel-cell can, only better. However, since
they are also sealed, charging has to be controlled carefully or they too can
be ruined in short order.
Gel and Absorbed Glass Mat batteries are relative newcomers but are rapdily gaining acceptance.
There are some very compelling reasons to use VRLAs:
• Gel and Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries can dispense charge at a higher
rate than flooded cells due to their lower Peukerts exponent. Deep-cycle
Flooded Cells cannot deliver more than 25% of their rated amp-hour capacity
in amps without plummeting Available Capacity.
○ Deep-Cycle Flooded cell battery manufacturers recommend a 4 to 1
ratio between battery bank size and the largest load encountered on
board.
○ AGM and Gel cell manufacturers recommend a ratio of at least 3 to 1, a
significant difference for loads such as the engine starter or windlass.
• Virtually no gassing under normal operating conditions: Unlike flooded cells,
gel cells and AGMs are hermetically sealed and operate under pressure to
recombine the oxygen and hydrogen produced during the charge process
back into water. You find VRLAs in the bilges of high end yachts such as
Hinckley, Hans Christian, Island Packet, etc.. Every boat benefits from a low
center of gravity over the keel (good for righting purposes) and the minimal
venting requirements make it possible.
• The ability to put VRLAs in the bilges (they can operate under water should
you hole yourself) also lengthens their lives: For every additional 15 degrees
of heat over 77 deg F, lead acid battery life (regardless of type) is cut in half
(batteries self-destruct with time, you can only slow that process). Chances
are, the bilges are the coldest place on board (outside the freezer) and the
keel provides protection.
• VRLAs can operate in any orientation (although you may lose some capacity
that way) and even if a container is broken, a VRLA will not leak. This is a
feature particularly important to blue water sailors who may encounter

40
survival storms - you don't want to coat the inside of your boat with sulfuric
acid if you ever get rolled. Proper (heavy duty) battery restraints are a must,
regardless of battery type.
• Gel cells and AGMs require no maintenance once the charging system has
been properly set up. No equalization charges (usually), no electrolyte to
replenish, no specific gravity checks, no additional safety gear to carry on
board in order to protect yourself. If you want to be anal retentive about
VRLAs you can load test them. However, proper charge control and
protection is much more important with VRLAs because once fried it is
impossible to revive them.
• The charge acceptance of AGMs can burn up an alternator if the charging
system is not adequate for extended runtimes at full power. The larger the
battery bank and the harder the charger is made to work, the more attention
I would pay to ensuring that the charging system can handle the currents for
extended periods of time. This caveat does not really apply to low-duty
applications like starter banks, since they usually need so little charge to be
topped up. Even the puny alternators found in Jet Skis should be able to
handler an AGM starter battery, as long as that battery is just used for that -
starting.
• On the other hand, if you need a large house bank and want to rely on a
single charge source for much of the power, I'd aim for a high quality charge
system from a respected company such as Ample Power, Balmar, Ferris,
Hehr, JackRabbit Marine, SALT, etc. Ensure that the alternator receives
enough cooling air as a hot alternator will produce less energy than a cool
one and last longer to boot. AGMs and to a lesser extent gel cell systems can
benefit from using the thermal alternator protection offered by the Balmar
MaxCharge series of regulators, particularly if you expect to bulk charge your
system for extended periods of time and don't have good engine
compartment ventilation.
• The higher charge efficiency of AGMs allows you to recharge with less
energy: Flooded cells convert 15-20% of the electrical energy into heat
instead of potential power. Gel-cells lose 10-16% but AGMs as little as 4%.
The higher charge efficiency of AGMs can contribute to significant savings
when it comes to the use of expensive renewable energy sources (wind
generators, solar panels, etc.) as your charging system can be 15% smaller
(or just charge faster).
• While flooded cells lose up to 1% per day due to self-discharge, VRLAs lose 1-
3% per month. Why employ a solar charger to trickle-charge your battery
banks if you don't have to?
• High vibration resistance: The construction of AGMs allows them to be used in
environments where other batteries would literally fall to pieces. This is
another reason why AGMs see broad use in the aviation and the RV industry.
Thus, there are some significant differences between battery types in terms of features and
construction. However, there are also some very important figures to consider when it comes to
choosing the right battery: Various capacities, cost, warranty, etc. The following table tries to
summarize across brands using batteries as close to the 8D Group Size as possible
Comparison of Battery Types using several different measurements

41
VRLA Flooded
Comparing physical West Premium Premium
attributes between VRLAs Lifelin Marine Inexpensiv Surrette Surrette
and Flooded Cells e AGM e Trojan
Gel 400 500
(8D) (2xT105)
(8D) (HT8DM) (12CS11PS)

Amp-hour capacity (20hr


255 225 225 221 342
rate)

Warranty 1/5 1.5/5


0.5/3 Years 2/5 Years 3/7 Years
(Replacement/Pro rated) Years Years

Life Cycles (@ 50% DOD) 1,000 500 500 1,250 3,200

Initial Purch. Cost


387 449 152 246 683
(USD/12V set)

Initial Purch. Cost


$1.52 $2.00 $0.68 $1.11 $2.00
(approx. $/Ah)

Energy Density (Ah/in^3) 0.111 0.098 0.136 0.097 0.076

Weight Factor (Ah/lb) 1.614 1.424 1.815 1.348 1.257

Max. net replenishment


during bulk charge,
accounting for charge
1550A* 177A 85A 85A 85A
limits, efficiency and
assuming a 400Ah battery
bank

I tried to level the playing field by selecting as many group 8D batteries as possible. The two
exceptions are the Trojan T105's and the Surrette 12CS11PS (no series 500 Group 8D battery is
manufactured by Surrette for the marine market). The larger battery size is to the advantage of the
Surrette, although it does not impact results greatly. The Trojan T105's were used because I was
not able to find ready pricing on the Trojan 8D. I would expect results to be somewhat
comparable.
*Concorde Batteries used to claim no charge limit on its web-site, while
Windsun.com claims 4x amp-hour capacity. I limit charge current in the cost model
to 100% of amp-hour capacity just to be on the safe side.

Energy Storage per unit Weight and Volume

42
Here is one of the classic comparisons that people like to make: How much charge the battery
can store per unit weight and per unit volume. As you can see, the Trojan T105 comes out ahead
in both departments due to its low weight and compact construction. However, this construction
technique will also lead to a lower cycle and overall life.

Purchase Cost per unit Weight and Volume

43
As we can see from this chart, the purchase cost per amp-hour and purchase cost per cycle still
make the Trojan T105 look like the most attractive battery. Thus, if you are strapped for weight,
space, and cash, such a battery might be ideal. The Trojan product has thin lead plates that make
these batteries lighter but also shorter lived. Rolls advertises very long pro rata warranty
replacement periods for their premium line that are indicative of the confidence they place in
their product.
Premium cells are handicapped by lower energy storage density but offer longer lives and greater
resistance to the self destructive habits of lead acid batteries: Thicker lead plates and a more
complicated product make it possible. Hence, premium cells usually have a higher resistance to
vibration, are easier to service, and have higher cycle lives than their budget competition. Many
boat owners are willing to put up with the initial purchase price in return for reliability and not
having to replace them every few years.

So what is a "Marine" Battery?


Perhaps it's shocking condiering their retail prices, but most batteries sold through marine
hardware stores do not qualify as premium batteries. Pay close attention to what you're buying.
Batteries are not created equal and brand or price are not the primary indicator for quality. For
example:
• Rolls/Surrette make a range of flooded batteries from the super-premium
500/CS series to the mid-range 300 series that is meant to compete with
Trojan, Exide, etc.

44
• WestMarine is offering AGM batteries with a shorter warranty period and
higher price than Lifeline AGMs.
Thus, Caveat Emptor! Try to get as much information about your prospective marine batteries
before you buy or you'll be sorry. Furthermore, consider that premium batteries usually only
exist in non-standard form factors. For example, you will probably have to make some custom
modifications to properly mount/restrain the tall and heavy Rolls/Surrette 500 series (18"+ high,
min. 128 lb+ each).
However, life cycle costs are not just a function of the initial purchase costs. You should also
consider the fuel/engine wear savings of using VRLAs over flooded cells. AGMs offer the
highest charge acceptance, efficiency, and a reasonably long life which makes them generally a
better bargain (see results in cost model section). Unfortunately, there are fewer shapes and sizes
of VRLAs to chose from (relative to the flooded cell universe anyway), and less familiarity and
presence world-wide. On the other hand, VRLAs can be shipped anywhere by air. Flooded cells
have to be bought locally or delivered by surface transport.
I used DEKA gel cells in the past for comparisons, but West Marine recently brought out a
private label 6V gel cell series that they claim will sustain over 1,000 "full discharges". Given
that reputable brands never claimed more than 600 cycles in the past, the West Marine claim
may be a bit dubious. Due to West Marine's return policy, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
West Marine also released a set of private label AGMs. Unless I missing something, these are
very expensive and have a much lower cycle life than the Lifeline competition manufactured by
Concorde Batteries. Thus, I don't see why anyone would want to buy a West Marine AGM.

Can I Mix AGMs and Flooded Cells?


While several sources state that you can mix AGMs with regular flooded cells, I would not
recommend it (gel cells have sufficiently different set points to make them totally incompatible
with flooded cells or AGMs). Ideally, your house bank would consist of a number of identical
batteries wired in series and/or parallel that were manufactured on the same day.

So how can I save money with AGMs?


There are many attributes that determine the true cost of a battery technology. Much like
incandescent versus compact fluorescent light bulbs, your choice of battery technology may cost
you less up front but will cost you more over the life of the product. For example, the faster,
more efficient bulk charging that AGMs and gel-cells allow will lead to reduced wear and tear on
your charge source (engine, gen-set, etc.). More on all that later down. Suffice to say that I do
not believe the T105 to be a bargain.

How about Nickel-Cadmium Cells?


They have their place. Usually in power plants where there is lots of excess energy,
etc. Learn more about them on my Nickel-Cadmium page.

45
Sizing a Lead-Acid Battery Bank
(Gel,AGM, or Flooded)
Industry recommendations for house battery bank sizing range from 3x to 4x of anticipated daily
needs. This sizing also allows you to replenish the daily needs using a bulk charge in a minimum
of time (batteries can be bulk charged until they are 80% full). Typical installations are also sized
so that the battery does not discharge below the 50% mark that marine battery manufacturers
typically use in their life-cycle estimates (the deeper you discharge a lead acid battery, the
shorter its life).
Once batteries are 80% full a typical 3 stage charger will switch to absorption mode, where
currents are much lower and charge time per unit energy necessarily longer. Thus, in order to
minimize charge time while maintaining acceptable battery cycle life, you want to cycle the
battery from 50% or more to 80% full.
• Flooded cells are usually bulk-charged at an ampere rate of about 25% of
amp-hour capacity. For example, let's say you have to replace 100 Ah every
day and chose to install a 400 amp-hour house battery bank. Using the 25%
ratio, the maximum charge acceptance (the rate at which the battery can be
safely charged) of your flooded battery during bulk charging would be around
100A. Assuming you have no other charge sources on board, after losses and
other loads you would want to consider a 120 ampere (hot) rated alternator.
• If you use Gel cells, you can bulk charge with twice the current that flooded
cells can sustain. A 400 amp-hour bank composed of gel cells can safely
enjoy the benefits of a 200A charge source and bulk charge in less than 1/2
the time of a flooded cell (due to its higher charge conversion efficiency).
Here, multiple small frame or a single large frame alternator may be ideal in
order to reduce charge time and engine wear.
• The Lifeline AGM, is not current limited at all during bulk charging according
to Concorde, the manufacturer. Theoretically, you could make your bulk
charge time as short as you would like. In practice, people are charging AGMs
with currents of up to 4x the amp-hour capacity. Accounting for conversion
efficiency that would be 18x faster than your typical flooded cell but you'd
have to install a charge system capable of delivering 1600 amperes to the
battery bank (it would take about 5 minutes per day to replenish the 100 Ah
with a 20 kW gen-set). In the real world, two large frame alternators may be
more appropriate from a weight/cost standpoint.
Some important points to Remember When charging Batteries:
Any time your charge system is significantly smaller in ampere capacity than the charge
acceptance of your battery banks, you need to ensure that the charging system can handle
extended periods of maximum output. For example, the alternator that was easily capable of
dealing with 400 amp-hours of flooded cell capacity could burn up when you switch to AGMs
since AGMs can bulk absorb a lot more charge. However, installing a 4x bigger flooded cell
bank could have the same effect.
The charge system has to be properly sized and protected to safely charge your batteries.
Assuming you use your engine to charge, a KKK-rated alternator helps, as does thermal
management. Alternators should be well ventilated and may even benefit from the Balmar
MaxCharge system that senses alternator temperature to avoid costly burn-ups. At the very least

46
use a good 3-step external regulator such as the Next-Step from Ample power. Your batteries
and your wallet will thank you.
Lastly, fully recharge your banks from time to time (at least once a month) to ensure that
sulphation does not set in. Sulphation can be removed through an equalization process, which is
basically a controlled overcharge. Unfortunately, equalization attacks the lead plates and will
weaken them over time. Furthermore, it is quite dangerous (the electrolyte will start to boil) and
should only be done in controlled conditions and under strict supervision. Thus, equalization
should be used as a last resort only.
VRLA batteries like Gel and AGM cannot be equalized using the same settings as wet cells. The
electrolyte in them cannot be replenished the way it can in wet cells. Thus, any charger you
attach to VRLAs should have the equalization circuit turned off (many chargers have a Gel and
AGM setting for just that purpose). Most modern regulators have one way or the other of
achieving this, whether it is a set of dip switches, a menu, or adjustment screws.
For the adventerous (or desperate) among us, VRLAs can be equalized under very controlled
conditions. I recall instructions on how to do it over at Ample Power but don't seem to be able to
find them right now. Since VRLAs are unlikely to need equalization, this step should be a last
resort only (prior to recycling the batteries.

Latest Update on Tuesday, March 15, 2

What is Solar Energy?

Solar energy takes advantage of the sun's rays to generate heat or electricity. It is an infinitely
renewable resource and unique for its ability to generate energy in a quiet, clean, and consistent
manner. Can't beat the sun for being oh-so-cool!

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How do solar photovoltaic cells work?

In layperson terms, photovoltaic cells are comprised of a semiconductor material such as silicon. Added to the silicon are the
elements phosphorous and boron which create conductivity within the cell and activate the movement of electrons. The electrons
move across the cell when activated by the sunlight's energy into the electrical circuit hooked up to the solar panel.

47
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What is the difference between solar panels versus building integrated


photovoltaic (BIPV) products?

Solar panels are flat panels of photovoltaic arrays mounted on a roof or a pole to capture the sun's rays. Building integrated
photovoltaic materials are PV arrays that are integrated into the building material itself, primarily windows, roof tiles, or walls.
Solar panels work well for retrofits or remodels while BIPV are appropriate for new construction or a major renovation.

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How much does a solar electric power system cost?

A 2kW solar electric system will cost approximately $40,000. That total includes the cost for all
components - solar panels, panel mounts, and inverter - and labour associated with installation. It
does not however, reflect all the avoided costs, such as sundries, mileage etc etc.

Go to our SOLAR PRODUCTS page for more information, visit our LOAD CHART page to get
an estimate dependent on your needs.

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How much will I really save on my utility bills from a home electric solar power
system?

Of course this is a relative question. It depends, in part, on how much electricity you use and how efficient the appliances are that
you operate. That said expect to generate excess electricity in the summer (when days are long) which can potentially offset the
energy you use from the grid in the winter. A combination of energy efficient appliances and light bulbs can help reduce your
homes energy bill by over two-thirds.

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What's the difference between solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems?

48
While both types of solar systems capture energy from the sun, solar photovoltaic systems use photovoltaic panels to produce
electricity. Solar hot water, or thermal, systems capture sunlight to heat water for domestic use, to heat a swimming pool, or for a
radiant heating system.

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What are solar hot water systems?

Solar hot water systems, broadly termed solar thermal systems, use the sun's energy to heat water. Solar hot water systems can be
used to heat a hot water tank or to warm a home's radiant heating system. Swimming pools and hot tubs use a modified solar hot
water system for heating water.

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How do pool heating systems work?

Pool heating systems use a modified solar hot water system to capture the sun's rays to heat your pool or hot tub.

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Can I use solar power to heat my home?

Absolutely! Radiant heating applies solar thermal technology. Transferring solar energy through pipes into an under floor radiant
heating system is a wonderful way to stay warm. Radiant floor systems are typically 40 percent more efficient than their forced
air counterpart and can be zoned to match thermal comfort to each room.

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How much maintenance do solar energy panels require?

Solar photovoltaic panels require little maintenance - no need to wash or dust. It is, however, important to place panels where
they will remain clear of shade and debris. Thus you will have to wipe them off if too much snow or leaves fall on them.

49
Solar hot water collection arrays don't need much attention either. It does help to periodically use a window wash brush,
biodegradable soap, and water to clean the tubes.

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Do I need special insurance requirements?

Standard homeowner's insurance policies usually suffice to meet electric utility requirements. However it is important to discuss
this with your insurer before installing a system.

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What if I'm the first person I know to install a photovoltaic system on my home?

First off, congratulations! Secondly, there are plenty of resources out there. If you happen to be one of the first in your area to
install a solar PV system, you can work with your contractor to successfully install your photovoltaic system.

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When should I seek a solar professional?

Although solar energy systems work in parallel with conventional residential electrical and plumbing systems, there are quirks in
the process well suited to seeking out professionals who specialize in solar power installation. Solar installation professionals can
help you determine the type and size of system most suited for your needs.

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What should I ask a solar professional installer?

Solar professional installers can take the guess work out of installing a solar power system. Whether you are considering solar
photovoltaic, solar hot water, or solar heat for your pool, a solar pro can help you determine the type and size of system that will
work best and guide you through the process.

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50
How can I calculate the cost and payback time from a solar power installation

You can estimate how much a solar electric or solar hot water system may cost if you determine your current energy needs and
costs and compare against your future anticipated use. Once you have a sense of how much energy you use, you can evaluate the
cost of purchasing and installing one or both of the technologies.

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How long will it take to install a solar power system in my home?

Planning, configuring, and doing any custom ordering for your solar energy system can take up to a few weeks. However, the
installation process itself can typically be completed in only a few days time, in many cases even less.

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Will I need a building permit to install a solar energy system in my home?

It is important to check with your local authority if any codes exist that govern the mounting of solar panels, water heaters etc.

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How much space do I need for a solar photovoltaic system?

In bright sunlight, a square foot of a conventional photovoltaic panel will yield 10 watts of power. That's a helpful rule of thumb
for calculating a rough estimate of how much area you might need. For example, a 1000 watt system may need 100 - 200 square
feet of area, depending on the type of PV module used.

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How many solar panels do I need for an electric solar power system?

51
The size of the photovoltaic system is correlated to your home's energy-use needs, available space for a system, and overall costs
for the system components and installation. Solar contractors in your area can help determine the best size for your solar
photovoltaic system.

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How much shading is too much for solar photovoltaic panels?

Unfortunately shading a photovoltaic system dramatically decreases its output. Just shading the bottom row of wafers alone
amounts to an 80% reduction in efficiency. So above all, don't shade your array!

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How do I know if solar panels will work on my home?

Take a look at the position of your home on its lot - and particularly your roof. Ask the following
questions:

Is there good southern exposure? Orienting solar panels to the south maximizes the
effectiveness of energy collection.

Is the exposure free of trees or buildings that could shade the panels or drop debris on
them? Shading photovoltaic panels dramatically reduces their effectiveness.

What is the pitch of your roof? Most roofs, from flat to 60-degrees can accommodate
photovoltaic panels.

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Do I need to have south facing exposure to have a solar energy system?

Although southern exposure increases the effectiveness of a residential solar power system, your home may still work for solar
power without having south facing exposure.

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52
What other factors are important to consider when installing a home solar
energy system?

The location of your home and the local climate will play into where you place and how you install your solar electric or solar hot
water system. Wind speeds, heavy snow loads, and salt water can all affect a solar array. Understanding how those inputs effect
performance will determine the types of mounts or how the arrays are angled. A solar pro in your area is likely quite
knowledgeable about your local conditions and can help you design that works well for you.
Biogas FAQ
• What is biogas?
• What is a biodigester?
• What material can I use to feed a biodigester?
• What is the production capacity of a biodigester?
• How does climate affect biogas production?
• What is the most cost-efficient way to create a biodigester?
• Why put steel wool in the biodigester tubing?
• How do you remove the digested material from the biodigester?
• What can I use the digested waste for?

What is biogas?

Biogas is a gas produced by anaerobic digestion (in the absence of oxygen) of organic material, largely comprised of methane
(about two-thirds). Biogas is often called "marsh gas" or "swamp gas" because it is produced by the same anaerobic processes
that occur during the underwater decomposition of organic material in wetlands.

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What is a biodigester?

A biodigester is a tank that processes the organic material that produces biogas. A biodigester can come in different shapes and
sizes, depending on the needs of the people using it and the local possibilities in building materials.

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What material can I use to feed a biodigester?

53
In theory, any organic material can be decomposed anaerobically to produce biogas, but some materials work better than others.
In general, materials need to be rich in energy and easily digestible. Manure works very well, coming from cows, pigs, or horses.
Biodigesters can be fashioned from septic tanks, but the waste production is often not enough to produce enough biogas, and
cleaning agents (bleach etc.) kill the anaerobic bacteria necessary for digestion. Plant material can be used, but acidic matter
should be avoided, for they disturb the anaerobic processes. Plant matter is also often low-energy and slow to digest, creating a
number of difficulties for digesters relying solely on such material.

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What is the production capacity of a biodigester?

This is probably THE MOST frequently asked question, and is the most difficult to answer for the following reasons:
• Biogas production varies with the type of material you use to feed the biodigester
• Biogas production varies with the temperature of the mixture inside the tank
• Biogas production varies with the acidity or alkalinity of the mixture inside the tank
• Other factors, such as defects in construction, can make true measurements of biogas production very difficult
To give an answer, though, the best estimate we can give is what it has been measured in cooking time. Biodigesters here that
measure 1.9 meters X 1.5 meters X 3 meters, that work well, will produce about six hours of cooking time daily. This should be
sufficient for all the cooking for a large family.

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How does climate affect biogas production?

Tropical climes generally have no problems with temperature because the anaerobic bacteria thrive in higher temperatures. If you
live in a more temperate climate, you may need to heat the tank during colder months. If temperatures within the tank reach
temperatures below 20°C, the biogas production slows down. Under freezing conditions, you will not have digestion-only a big
poopsicle.

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What is the most cost-efficient way to create a biodigester?

54
This will depend largely on the supply of certain materials that you have in your area. If you have access to affordable cement, I
would recommend that you make a tank with cement. However, if you have very clay-like soil, you can maintain a biodigester
tank in pure dirt with good clay

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Why put steel wool in the biodigester tubing?

Steel wool (about three pieces) is placed in the tubing that carries the biogas to the kitchen in order to filter out impurities in the
biogas. Biogas often contains elements that can stain the bottoms of pots and pans. Steel wool is not necessary, but is
recommended.

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How do you remove the digested material from the biodigester?

If the mixture in the tank is at the same level of the exit tube, anything introduced through the entrance tube will force the same
volume out the exit tube on the other end. Ureka!

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What can I use the digested waste for?

The digested material that comes out the exit tube of the biodigester is a liquid material that accumulates near the surface of the
tank and is eventually forced out as more undigested material enters the tank. This liquid can be used as a convenient growth
stimulant for nearby plants. In rural Costa Rica people often plant banana trees or vegetable gardens around their biodigesters,
taking advantage of this great organic material.

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What is a Battery?

A battery, can be any device that stores energy for later use. The word battery, is limited to an electrochemical device that
converts chemical energy into electricity, by use of a galvanic cell. A galvanic cell is a fairly simple device consisting of two
electrodes (an anode and a cathode) and an electrolyte solution. Batteries consist of one or more galvanic cells.

55
A battery is an electrical storage device. Batteries do not make electricity, they store it. As chemicals in the battery change,
electrical energy is stored or released. In rechargeable batteries this process can be repeated many times. Batteries are not 100%
efficient - some energy is lost as heat and chemical reactions when charging and discharging. If you use 1000 watts from a
battery, it might take 1200 watts or more to fully recharge it. Slower charging and discharging rates are more efficient. A battery
rated at 180 amp-hours over 6 hours might be rated at 220 AH at the 20-hour rate, and 260 AH at the 48-hour rate. Typical
efficiency in a lead-acid battery is 85-95%, in alkaline and NiCad battery it is about 65%.

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What is sulfation of batteries?

Sulfation is the formation or deposit of lead sulfate on the surface and in the pores of the active material of the batteries' lead
plates. If the sulfation becomes excessive and forms large crystals on the plates, the battery will not operate efficiently and may
not work at all. Common causes of battery sulfation are standing a long time in a discharged condition, operating at excessive
temperatures, and prolonged under or over charging.

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What are some of the major types of lead acid batteries?

Batteries are divided in two ways, by application (what they are used for) and construction (how they are built). The major
applications are automotive, marine, and deep-cycle. Deep-cycle includes solar electric (PV), backup power, and RV and boat
"house" batteries. The major construction types are flooded (wet), gelled, and AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat). AGM batteries are
also sometimes called "starved electrolyte" or "dry", because the fiberglass mat is only 95% saturated with Sulfuric acid and there
is no excess liquid. Flooded may be standard, with removable caps, or the so-called "maintenance free" (that means they are
designed to die one week after the warranty runs out). All gelled are sealed and a few are "valve regulated", which means that a
tiny valve keeps a slight positive pressure. Nearly all AGM batteries are sealed valve regulated (commonly referred to as
"VRLA" - Valve Regulated Lead-Acid). Most valve regulated are under some pressure - 1 to 4 psi at sea level.

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How long will my battery last?

The lifespan of a battery will vary considerably with how it is used, how it is maintained and charged, temperature, and other
factors.

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How to connect a battery in Series?

56
The positive terminal of the first battery is connected to the negative terminal of the second battery, the positive terminal of the
second is connected to the negative of the third, etc. The voltage of the assembled battery is the sum of the battery voltages of the
individual batteries. So the batteries are connected: + to - to + to - to + to -, etc. The capacity of the battery is unchanged.

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How to connect a battery in Parallel?

The positive terminal of the first battery is connected to the positive terminal of the second battery, the positive terminal of the
second is connected to the positive of the third, etc. and The negative terminal of the first battery is connected to the negative
terminal of the second battery, the negative terminal of the second is connected to the negative of the third, etc. So the batteries
are connected: + to + to + and - to - to -. In this configuration, the capacity is the sum of the capacities of the individual batteries
and voltage is unchanged. For example, if you take 5 6V 10AH batteries and connect the batteries in series, you would end up
with a battery array that is 30 Volts and 10AH. If you connect the batteries in parallel, you would end up with a battery array that
is 6 Volts and 50AH. By the way, this is how ordinary auto batteries are made. 6 2volt cells are put in series to give 12v battery
and the 6 cells are just enclosed in one case. Many ni-cad batteries are done the same way.

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What is a Starting battery?

Starting batteries (sometimes called SLI, for starting, lighting, ignition) are commonly used to start and run engines. Engine
starters need a very large starting current for a very short time. Starting batteries have a large number of thin plates for maximum
surface area. The plates are composed of a Lead "sponge", similar in appearance to a very fine foam sponge. This gives a very
large surface area, but if deep cycled, this sponge will quickly be consumed and fall to the bottom of the cells. Automotive
batteries will generally fail after 30-150 deep cycles if deep cycled, while they may last for thousands of cycles in normal starting
use (2-5% discharge).

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What is a Deep Cycle Battery?

Deep cycle batteries are designed to be discharged down as much as 80% time after time, and have much thicker plates that a
standard automotive battery.

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What is a Marine battery?

Marine batteries are considered a "hybrid" battery which actually fall between the starting and deep-cycle batteries. Marine
batteries are usually rated using "MCA" or Marine cranking amps which is rated 32 degrees F, while CCA is at zero degree F.
(For more information on CCA, CA & MCA, please see below)

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What is a Sealed Maintenance Free Battery?

Sealed batteries are known as maintenance free batteries. They are made with vents that (usually) cannot be removed. A standard
auto or marine maintenance free battery is sealed, but not fully leak proof. Sealed batteries are not totally sealed since all batteries
must allow gas to vent during charging. There are sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries that are non-spillable. Please information on
our SLA batteries, see AGM and Gel batteries below.

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What is an AGM or Absorbed Glass Mat Battery?

The newer type of sealed nonspillable maintenance free valve regulated battery uses "Absorbed Glass Mats", or AGM separators
between the plates. This is a very fine fiber Boron-Silicate glass mat. These type of batteries have all the advantages of gelled,
but can take much more abuse. These are also called "starved electrolyte." Just like the Gel batteries, the AGM Battery will not
leak acid if broken.

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What are the advantages of the AGM battery?

The advantages of AGM batteries are no maintenance, sealed against fumes, hydrogen, leakage, or non-spilling even if they are
broken, and can survive most freezes. AGM batteries are "recombinant" - which means the Oxygen and Hydrogen recombine
inside the battery. These use gas phase transfer of oxygen to the negative plates to recombine them back into water while
charging and prevent the loss of water through electrolysis. The recombining is typically 99+% efficient, so almost no water is
lost. Charging voltages for most AGM batteries are the same as for a standard type battery so there is no need for special
charging adjustments or problems with incompatible chargers or charge controls. Since the internal resistance is extremely low,
there is almost no heating of the battery even under heavy charge and discharge currents. AGM batteries have a very low self-
discharge rate (from 1% to 3% per month). So they can sit in storage for much longer periods without charging. The plates in
AGM's are tightly packed and rigidly mounted, and will withstand shock and vibration better than any standard battery.

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What is a Gel Cell Battery?

A gel battery design is typically a modification of the standard lead acid automotive or marine battery. A gelling agent is added to
the electrolyte to reduce movement inside the battery case. Many gel batteries also use one way valves in place of open vents, this
helps the normal internal gasses to recombine back into water in the battery, reducing gassing. "Gel Cell" batteries are non-
spillable even if they are broken. Gel cells must be charged at a lower voltage (C/20) than flooded or AGM to prevent excess gas
from damaging the cells. Fast charging them on a conventional automotive charger may be permanently damage a Gel Battery.

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What is the Reserve Capacity rating (RC)?

The reserve capacity of a battery is defined as the number of minutes that it can support a 25 ampere load at 80°F until its
terminal voltage drops to 1.75 volts per cell or 10.50 volts for a 12V battery. Thus a 12V battery that has a reserve capacity rating
of 100 signifies that it can be discharged at 25 amps for 100 minutes at 80°F before its voltage drops to 10.75 volts.

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What is the CCA rating?

The cold cranking ampere (CCA) rating refers to the number of amperes a battery can support for 30 seconds at a temperature of
0°F until the battery voltage drops to 1.20 volts per cell, or 7.20 volts for a 12V battery. Thus, a 12V battery that carries a rating
of 600 CCA tells us that the battery will provide 600 amperes for 30 seconds at 0°F before the voltage falls to 7.20V.

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What is the marine cranking rating (MCA)?

The marine cranking ampere (MCA) rating refers to the number of amperes a battery can support for 30 seconds at a temperature
of 32°F until the battery voltage drops to 1.20 volts per cell, or 7.20 volts for a 12V battery. Thus, a 12V battery that carries a
MCA rating of 600 CCA tells us that the battery will provide 600 amperes for 30 seconds at 32°F before the voltage falls to
7.20V. Note that the MCA is sometimes referred to as the cranking amperes or CA.

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What is the difference between MCA and CCA?

The marine cranking ampere (MCA) rating of a battery is very similar to the CCA rating; the only difference is that while the
CCA is measured at a temperature of 0°F, the MCA is measured at 32°F. All other requirements are the same - the ampere draw
is for 30 seconds and the end of discharge voltage in both cases is 1.20 volts per cell.

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What is HCA rating?

The full form of HCA is hot cranking amperes. It is the same thing as the MCA or the CA or the CCA, except that the
temperature at which the test is conducted is 80°F.

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What is the pulse cranking amp rating (PCA)?

Unlike CCA and MCA the pulse cranking ampere (PCA) rating does not have an "official" definition; however, we believe that
for true engine start purposes, a 30 second discharge is unrealistic. With that in mind, the PCA is a very short duration (typically
about 3 seconds) high rate discharge. Because the discharge is for such a short time, it is more like a pulse.

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What is the Amp Hour (Ah) rating?

An amp-hour is one amp for one hour, or 10 amps for 1/10 of an hour and so forth. It is amps X hours. If you have something that
pulls 20 amps, and you use it for 20 minutes, then the amp-hours used would be 20 (amps) X .333 (hours), or 6.67 AH. The
accepted AH rating time period for batteries used in solar electric and backup power systems (and for nearly all deep cycle
batteries) is the "20 hour rate". This means that it is discharged down to 10.5 volts over a 20 hour period while the total actual
amp-hours it supplies is measured. Sometimes ratings at the 6 hour rate and 100 hour rate are also given for comparison and for
different applications. The 6-hour rate is often used for industrial batteries, as that is a typical daily duty cycle. Sometimes the
100 hour rate is given just to make the battery look better than it really is, but it is also useful for figuring battery capacity for
long-term backup amp-hour requirements.

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What is a VOLT?

A Volt is the unit of measure for electrical potential.

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What is a WATT?

A WATT is the unit for measuring electrical power, i.e., the rate of doing work, in moving electrons by, or against, an electrical
potential. Formula: Watts = Amperes x Volts.

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What is a WATT-HOUR (Watt-Hr, WH)?

A WATT-HOUR is the unit of measure for electrical energy expressed as Watts x Hours.

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What is an Electrolyte?

In a lead-acid battery, the electrolyte is sulfuric acid diluted with water. It is a conductor that supplies water and sulfate for the
electrochemical reaction.

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Can batteries freeze?

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In a partially discharged state, the electrolyte in a lead acid battery may freeze. At a 40% state of charge, electrolyte will freeze if
the temperature reaches approximately 16.0°F. The freezing temperature of the electrolyte in a fully charged battery is -92.0°F.

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How can a standard automotive or marine battery's state of charge be accurately


measured?

The state of charge of a lead acid battery is most accurately determined by measuring the specific gravity of the electrolyte. This
is done with a hydrometer. Battery voltage also indicates the level of charge when measured in an open circuit condition. This
should be done with a voltmeter. For an accurate voltage reading, the battery should also be allowed to rest for a period sufficient
to let the voltage stabilize.

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Does my deep cycle battery develop a memory?

Lead acid batteries do not develop any type of memory.

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Do batteries self-discharge when not in use?

All batteries, regardless of their chemistry, self-discharge. The rate of self-discharge depends both on the type of battery and the
storage temperature the batteries are exposed to. However, for a good estimate, wet flooded deep cycle batteries self-discharge
approximately 4% per week at 80°F.

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Is there a maximum temperature for charging lead acid batteries?

When charging lead acid batteries, the temperature should not exceed 120°F. At this point the battery should be taken off charge
and allowed to cool before resuming the charge process.

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Are lead acid batteries recyclable?

Lead acid batteries are 100% recyclable. Lead is the most recycled metal in the world today. The plastic containers and covers of
old batteries are neutralized, reground and used in the manufacture of new battery cases. The electrolyte can be processed for
recycled waste water uses. In some cases, the electrolyte is cleaned and reprocessed and sold as battery grade electrolyte. In other
instances, the sulfate content is removed as Ammonia Sulfate and used in fertilizers. The separators are often used as a fuel
source for the recycling process.

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Where do I recycle my old batteries?

Old batteries may be returned to the CLAMORE POWER, an automotive service station, a battery manufacturer or other
authorized collection centers for recycling.

Need to know more..........................send us and email to


What is an inverter?

An inverter takes DC power (battery or solar panel, for example) and converts it into AC "household" power for running
electronic equipment and appliances that require 220v to operate.

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How is an inverter different to a UPS?

A UPS typically includes the battery and battery charger in one stand-alone unit. However, there are UPSs that use external
batteries, such as the ones available from Olson. One of the key benefits of these UPSs is that their back-up time is infinitely
extendable.

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Is it better than a generator?

It depends on the application. When not much power is consumed, as is the case in homes and various businesses like banks and
furniture shops, a battery back-up is hands-down the better solution. The AMF panel of a domestic back-up generator alone costs
more than the whole UPS system, installation included.

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What if I want a DC output to run such things as a laptop from a car cigarette
lighter, or telephone equipment at -48 volts?

Then you want a DC/DC converter. We do not stock these,but they can be available in 1 to 2 months

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What is the difference between sine wave and modified sine wave?

Alternating current (AC) has a continuously varying voltage that swings from positive to
negative. This has great advantages in power transmission over long distances. Power from your
power company is carefully regulated to be a perfect sine wave, because that is what naturally
comes out of a generator, and also because sine waves radiate the least amount of radio power
during long distance transmission.
On the other hand, a sine wave is expensive to make in an inverter, and many sine wave
techniques use heavy, inefficient transformers. The most inexpensive way to make AC is to
switch the DC on and off--a square wave. A modified sine wave is scientifically designed to
simulate a sine wave in the most important respects so that it will work for most appliances. It
consists of a flat plateau of positive voltage, dropping abruptly to zero for a while, then dropping
again to a flat plateau of negative voltage, back to zero for a while, then returning to the positive
voltage. This pause at zero volts puts more power into the 50HZ fundamental than a simple
square wave does, so it is called "modified sine wave" instead of "square wave."

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Can I use a modified sine wave inverter for my medical equipment?

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For Medical equipment, oxygen generators, etc. talk to the manufacturer of the equipment. Our
inverters are never tested or rated with medical equipment, and we don't guarantee that they will
work to save your life. For these applications we recommend pure sine wave inverters.

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What about square wave inverters?

These old-fashioned inverters are the cheapest to make, but the hardest to use. They just flip the voltage from plus to minus
creating a square waveform. They are not very efficient because the square wave has a lot of power in higher harmonics that
cannot be used by many appliances. The modified sine wave is designed to minimize the power in the harmonics while still being
cheap to make.

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How do I know if I need a sine wave, or if I can live with a modified sine wave?

The following gadgets work well with a modified sine wave: computers, motor-driven appliances, toasters, coffee makers, most
stereos, ink jet printers, refrigerators, TVs, VCRs, many microwave ovens, etc.
Appliances that are known to have problems with the modified sine wave are some digital clocks, some battery chargers, light
dimmers, some battery operated gadgets that recharge in an AC receptacle, some chargers for hand tools (Makita is known to
have this problem). In the case of hand tools, the problem chargers usually have a warning label stating that dangerous voltages
are present at the battery terminals when charging. We would like to add to this FAQ any appliances that you have had trouble
with, or had success with, using modified sine wave inverters. Please mail us at info@clamorepower.comThis e-
mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Why do I hear buzzing on my stereo when using a modified sine wave inverter?

Some inexpensive stereos use power supplies that cannot eliminate common-mode noise. These would require a sine wave
inverter to operate noise-free. Filters are also commercially available, and not too expensive.

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Why don't I measure rated voltages when using a multimeter on my modified
sine wave inverter?

The rated voltage is an RMS (root mean square--they square the value to make sure it is always positive, then average it, then
take the square root of the average to make up for having squared it in the first place) measurement. Most multimeters are
designed to give correct RMS readings when applied to sine waves, but not when they are applied to other waveforms. They will
read from 2% to 20% low in voltage. Look for a voltmeter that brags' about "True RMS" readings.

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How should I select the right size inverter?

First add up the power ratings of all the appliances, then buy the next larger inverter! At least
that is the simple answer. Note, however, that some appliances, such as table saws,
refrigerators, and microwaves have a surge requirement. Clamore Power inverters are designed
to supply such surges, but since every appliance has its own requirements sometimes you will
need to get a bigger inverter than you would otherwise think. Note that the inverter isn't the only
consideration when you are pondering the mysteries of start-up surges. The battery must also be
able to supply the surge power, and the cables must be able to supply the increased current
without dropping the voltage too much.

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How is a microwave rated for wattage?

When you buy a microwave oven you want to know how intense the microwave field is, not how much the oven draws from the
wall. So a microwave oven that boasts 600 watts on the box, will often have 1200 watts on the boilerplate in the back. Don't be
fooled!

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Are stereo amplifiers rated the same way?

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Stereo manufacturers are bigger liars than politicians. Sometimes they use peak output power (milliseconds), sometimes they use
power drawn from the wall, but often they just look at the competition's carton front and add 10%. However the truth is available:
look at the boilerplate sticker, which has been evaluated by standards organization.

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Why do I need such humongous cables to the battery when a small cord takes the
AC output fine?

Power is volts times amps (Watts = V x A). So if you have a lot of voltage you don't need many amps. Roughly you need 12
times as much current from the 12 volt battery as you need from the 220 volt AC outlet. Current is what causes cables to heat up,
not voltage. That is why they use thousands of volts in power transmission grids. The thing to do when you have lots of current is
to lower the resistance of the cable. The larger the wire the lower the resistance. Think of the cable as a water pipe. A big pipe
(wire) can carry more water (current or amperage) with less pressure (voltage), and will present less pressure (voltage) drop from
one end of the pipe to the other.
Another consideration is how far the cable has to run from the battery to the inverter. Long cable runs are expensive, either in
copper or efficiency, or both.

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Why would you use a 24 volt inverter instead of a 12 volt inverter?

At a given power rating a 24 volt inverter will need half the current as a 12 volt inverter. This makes the entire system more
efficient, and since high current transistors are expensive, the inverter will be cheaper. Many trucks and busses run their
complete electrical systems on 24V.

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Should I use aluminium wire, or must I use copper?

Aluminium is cheaper and lighter, but it also has higher resistance for a given gauge, and is more
difficult to connect to. If you are an expert in such things, or know one, and need the advantages
that aluminium gives, go ahead. If not, why not use the best conductor, copper? (Silver is slightly
better, but it is cheaper to use a larger diameter copper).

Make sure to use good insulation, 90°C rated or better. Also, running two sets of parallel wires
instead of one can cut down on the wire heating due to more surface area.

Make sure to follow all applicable electrical codes. Inverters must be grounded properly, and

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treated with respect, since they put out potentially lethal voltage. A lot of smart people have
worked for 100 years to develop rules which will keep you out of trouble if followed. These rules
are called the national electrical code, and your friend the electrician should have it memorized
(or knows where to look it up).

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Should I use a laser printer with an inverter?

Only if you must. Most laser printers have an issue with modified sine waves, and often don't function properly. To boot, they
use up a surprising amount of power (due to the heated rollers), and will discharge your battery faster than you expect, even on
standby. If you do, make sure the inverter is rated for the power of the printer plus computer plus monitor. It doesn't do any good
to have your computer brown out as soon as the printer starts to print. Ink jet printers, on the other hand, use a surprisingly low
amount of power.

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