Does solar work?

Solar works very well when it is sunny out. It seems pretty straightforward, but it is a very crucial thing to understand. While you will get some degree of charge to the battery in the clouds and rain, it isn’t nearly enough power to keep a battery healthy in the long run.

Solar panels start around 17 volts collecting energy from the sun. This energy goes from the panel itself and then passes through what is called a charge controller. This controls the raw voltage down to around a controlled 14 volts, suitable for charging a battery.

The solar panel itself has two wires (positive and negative) that go into the charge controller. Then two different wires (positive and negative) come out of the charge controller to the battery itself. The voltage has now been controlled to the appropriate voltage for charging. 

Some charge controllers do a better job than others (more energy is passed through and less is wasted). It generally depends on how much you pay for them, but they all work to some degree.

Try not to let the volts of the battery, the amps of the charge ratings, and the watts of the solar get complicated. It’s just the industry trying to make you crazy. They all convert, and the formula is relatively simple once you get the hang of it.

(Pacific Batteries in Surrey and Maple Ridge can help you with this)

The 12-volt battery you want to charge has an amp hour rating. That’s how much energy it can store. The watts of the solar convert to how many amps the solar panel can put back in. You take out amps; you put in amps.

Example A – You have a deep cycle battery the size of a jug of milk that you want to use and recharge. It has a rating of 80 amp-hours. You are only supposed to use half of it for the long-term health of the battery. So you have an effective 40 amp hours available to use. (They also use reserve minutes capacity, but this also translates to amp hours, so we will ignore it for this blog)

The rule of thumb is to have your charge rate equal to about 10% of the battery’s amp-hour rating to keep your battery healthy and last the longest. In this case, your battery has an 80 amp hour rating.  

So you realize the best amount of charge is eight amps. To get that from a solar panel, the panel needs to be rated at about 160 watts. This is because every 100 watts of the solar panel gives you about five amps of charge in the bright sun. So now you have decided to get a 160-watt solar panel. This is going to provide you with about eight amps of charge per hour in the bright sun. This equals about 10% of the battery AH rating. OK, now we’re talking.

So now, when you drain your battery to halfway down (from 80AH down to 40AH), you need to put the 40AH back in.

Your 160-watt panel is put back in 8 amps per hour, and this means it will take about 5 hours to recharge your battery.

(8 amps x 5 hours = 40AH)

That’s awesome. It doesn’t take too long, and the battery chemistry is happy. If you are only taking 40AH out of your battery each day, and your solar can put back 40AH per day, it’s perpetual (in the sun) or for as long as your battery life is. (The battery lifespan depends on how much you spend on it – it can be anywhere from 3 years to 10 years)

Well done. You now have a great matched system for when it’s sunny.

Buuuuut now it’s raining. And now your solar panel can only provide about 1 amp her hour. This is simply not enough charge rate to keep the battery healthy even if you had the 40 hours to put it back in. The chemistry in the battery will start to fail. For a ballpark figure in less than a year, your battery will say OK, even with the trickle charge, without the higher amperage charge rate, I can’t function anymore. 

You would have to go up to 800 watts of solar to ensure you are getting the 8 amps per hour you need in the rain. 800 watts = 8 amps of charge in the rain)

Now 800 watts of solar panels is a lot for one battery. It can be done. Buy four 200 watt panels. But wait. In the sun these 800 watts of panels are now putting out 40 amps an hour. The heat produced by such a large charge on this little battery would cook it. It wants 8! 

Yes, some manufacturers say their panels work in all weather. And some do. Some will give you more than 1 amp. Maybe even 2. But you will be hard-pressed to find one that can reach that magic 8 number. And even if you did, it’s back to cooking the battery when it’s sunny.

You could disconnect most of the solar for the sunny times and reconnect for the rain, and if that’s what you have to do, that’s what you have to do.

So what can you power per day with your 80AH battery and your 160-watt solar panel in the sun?

A laptop through an inverter will use it all in 5 hours

A strip of LED lights will use it all in 24 hours

A microwave will use it all in 25 minutes

A fridge will use it all in 12 hours

There are a lot of variables but you can see one battery can’t store a ton of energy. Van dwellers know this and only use it for things they HAVE to. Typically LED lights, a radio, maybe a small fan, a cell phone recharge, and that’s about it.

Example B: Now lets say you wanted to use ALL of the above each day (24 hours) AND have the solar put it back.

The laptop (via inverter)  will use 40AH for its 5 hours of use

The LED light strip will use 10AH for its 6 hours of use

The fridge will use 80AH for its 24 hours of use

The microwave will use 40AH for its 25 minutes of use. 

That totals 170AH per 24 hours.

So now you need a battery that has a 340AH rating. (we recall you should only drain lead-acid batteries 50% down)

For bonus points, AGM batteries can go more like 75% down- so if you buy AGM batteries, the formula changes – to more like a 225AH rating required.

One common size lead-acid 12-volt battery is rated up to 110AH. So you would need 3 of them, and they would reach 330AH. Half of that is usable, leaving 165AH. Close enough. This is awesome. 170AH out, 170AH in. Now you can use all your stuff, and the batteries can store enough energy for you to do so each day.

Now we need to charge them back up with solar. Following the 10% charge rate rule, we want 33 amps of charge. With solar being five amps per 100 watts, we need 7 x 100-watt panels to reach 35 amps. We have to put that 170AH back. At 35 amps an hour, we are looking at about 5 hours of direct sun from 700 watts of solar panels. (the critical part is the charge rate, not the amount of time it takes to put it back in, other than it has to be done while the sun is out and in time to use it all again the next day.)

Sweet. Now we have a more extensive setup that lets you use all your stuff, and the solar put it back, the charge rate is reasonable, the time needed to do it is good, everything is good.

Annnnd then it rains.

Just the way it is.

Typically with a camper that you take out twice a year, you would charge your batteries right up by plugging in before you leave. You can go about five days with 110AH if you are being moderate in your usage. No heaters, no AC, no fridges (or use a propane fridge) avoid the microwave, avoid the Keurig, avoid anything you can. The solar you do have, even in the rain, helps top them up and lets you stay out a little longer. 

By the way, your solar doesn’t care if it is two 12 volt 110AH batteries or two 6 volt 220Ah batteries. (We do, the two x 6 volts will last longer than two x 12 volts of the same AH rating in years for about the same price)

The magic system is:

1. BLAST (plug in – built-in chargers usually have up to 40 amps of charge rate available)

2. USE

3. TOP UP (solar, genny, drive)

4. REPEAT.

Plugging in is always the best way to charge. Solar helps. Using the genny helps. Driving helps. Anything helps. But you HAVE to get that 10% rule of charge rate back into it at least once a month, or your batteries will go south fast and typically, none of these methods can do that very well year-round.

For the record, driving and using the alternator to charge the batteries puts a small charge rate into the batteries. Say maybe four amps. So yes, they get charged, but no, they don’t reach the correct charge rating for long-term health. 

So now that we are aware of the limitation’s of solar, let’s look at some basic rules of thumb as to why it IS a good idea to use solar:

  1. Any amount of charge going into a battery helps keeps them from freezing.
  2. Any amount of charge going into a battery helps you stay out longer
  3. A well matched system lets you go all summer long
  4. Sizing solar to battery banks is relatively easy – Pacific Batteries Surrey and Maple Ridge can help you with this.
  5. Once you have bought the solar package they provide free energy and last a very very long time
  6. If you can’t plug in, it’s one of your few options

* All of the figures used here are approximate. They have to be. Every device used varies on how much power it uses. All time frames depend on the type of the battery, the type of the battery charger, the type of the solar brain box, the type of the solar panels, and the type of the inverter  used.

* This is all OK. If it’s off grid survival it needs to be dead on. If it’s camping these figure are close enough. Happy Camping

Choosing a motorcycle battery

Motorcycle batteries come in a variety of constructions for a variety of motorcycles. The older ones are flooded lead acid and typically are white and you can see the battery acid inside them. These generally start with a YB prefix for the part number and are usually found in older motorcycles. They don’t have a lot of cranking power but the motorcycles they go in don’t need a lot.

They can be upgraded to an AGM battery of the same physical size, but more cranking power and a better all around battery for about the same price. AGM stands for Absorbed Glass Matt and these mats in the battery literally absorb the liquid making them spillproof and withstand more vibration.

In the AGM line there is a term called factory activated which means the factory puts the acid in and seal the battery and charge it before they ship it. There are some applications that have to have this, such as a sea doo where the battery is mounted on it’s side and it HAS to be spill proof.

Most AGM motorcycle batteries are shipped from the factory without the acid in them. They are supplied with an easy to use container full of acid for the battery store or the end user to fill them up and charge them. This means the battery can sit on the store shelf for years and not go bad as it hasn’t been activated until it is needed. These ones can be mounted on their side as well, but we have a little less faith they won’t spill as the sealing lid isn’t quite as good as the ones the factory uses.

In either case the sealing strip is NEVER removed and the water or acid is NEVER added.

The part number for these usually have a suffix of BS meaning bottle supplied. It is very easy to fill them, and nowhere near as dangerous as some people may think. They give you the exact amount in the bottle pack for that exact battery and it’s as simple as pushing the bottle pack on to to the openings of the battery that are designed to take it. Once the acid is put in, the battery immediately becomes about 50% charged, and then putting it on a small battery maintainer finishes the job. (Everyone should have a small battery maintainer at home to put on their motorcycle battery in the off season anyways)

A lot of times the question from the customer is “ Is it ready to go?” and it can be a balance for the battery store to have them filled and ready to go, versus having to scrap them if that particular part number did not sell that season. Most places will adjust their prices to offset the inevitable scrapped ones, here at Pacific Batteries we do not, we just try to encourage people that if they do need to fill one, it really is quite easy.

Gel motorcycle batteries are also available and they generally have a little higher cranking power. There is not a lot of difference between the GEL and the AGM – the gel’s just gel the liquid instead of absorbing it into a a mat – with a similar result. The GEL’s have a small advantage in how long you could run the stereo with the bike off, and maybe a bit more crank, but as a whole unless the price is a lot better, the AGM does the job very well.

The next step up is lithium batteries. Their three main advantages are much less weight, slower discharge time, and can sit for much longer without being charged. Lithium is the lightest metal on earth and can store a lot of energy. They charge quicker, and deliver a lot more cranking power than a lead acid battery. They typically last twice as long as a lead acid battery and they are a lithium iron construction, NOT lithium ion like your cell phone. They are referred to as LiFePO4 and are much less dangerous to use and handle with excellent thermal and chemical stability.

It used to be the battery did not have a built in management system (BMS) and the early versions had a high failure rate. This was typically user caused by not using the appropriate charger with the BMS built in to the charger. They progressed to where the battery management system was built into the battery itself, and regular chargers could be used (with some exceptions) causing much lower failure rates.

The down sides are that some bikes won’t charge them as you ride if they aren’t at least 13.1 volts at idle and 13.6 volts at speed. Also, while you can use a regular battery charger on them, you have to be careful it doesn’t have an automatic desulfation, repair, recondition, or recovery mode. Another drawback is if you mess up, it’s an expensive mistake compared to lead acid. They are more of a universal fit in general, and you are provided with stuffing material to fill the battery box as needed.

Getting to know your lithium battery matters, they read differently than a lead acid battery with full being 14.34 volts not under load, and 12.86 is critical to not go below which is about 20% of juice left in it.

If you decide to go with lithium it is probably best to buy the appropriate charger meant for the battery.

So it all depends on your motorcycle and your riding habits. There is absolutely nothing wrong with AGM motorcycle batteries, and for your average rider they are the best all around bet. If you have a sport bike and each pound matters, or if you just like the idea of less battery changes, or if you have a high amount of accessories then moving up to the lithium is probably a good idea.

Regardless of your choice the brand matters. All lead acid batteries have to be made the same size as their part number dictates. A YTX14AH-BS for example has to be the same dimensions no matter who makes it. The prefix doesn’t mean a lot, the 14 refers to amp hours (which is a little odd because it is the CCA that starts the bike, the AH is how long it will go with the bike off and accessories running) the AH refers to the polarity and the BS just means bottle supplied.

We supply the CCA rating to all our motorcycle batteries.

An AGM battery for say a Harley is typically a part number YTX20HL-BS. The H stands for heavy duty. The L stands for which side the negative terminal is on. You can get a YTX20L-BS the exact same size with a little less crank. The bike manufacturer provides the cranking power required, so you can purchase the spec’s they provide. It is generally a good idea to go a little higher with the “H” model because as the bike ages, some power transfer is lost.

A company like YUASA is recognized as making good batteries, They cost more because they cost more to build. There are a ton of off shore brands and some work pretty good, some not so much. About the only way you can know is when the battery store themselves test them before they sell them like we do.

The number one cause for motorcycle battery failure is not using a battery maintainer for the off season.

Happy Riding

What is the best way to store my batteries?

battery recycling

Batteries are containers that store energy. This energy self discharges as time goes on. The longer the battery sits unused, the more energy that is lost. It does not have to be hooked up for this to happen and it has to be offset by putting more energy back in.

Typically in a car the alternator puts this energy back in as you drive. Depending on the size of the battery and the strength of the alternator is how long it takes. The RPM of the motor typically has to be up around 2000RPM for the alternator to deliver the amperage the battery needs to charge. This can take up to 30 minutes. This is why it is recommended to drive at higher speeds for longer, to give everything a chance to do the best it can.

Just starting the car up once a month for 10 minutes will eventually lead to battery failure. By starting it you have drained more energy from the battery. Now at idle speed the alternator is expected to not only put back the energy it just used to start the car, it has to put back what self discharged energy was lost while it was sitting. The alternator can not do this at those RPM’s for that length of time, leaving the battery to continue to be in a weaker state, eventually leading to failure.

A battery charger is the way to combat this. If you were to put a decent quality battery charger on the battery once a month overnight, it can put that lost energy back into the battery much better, and it will keep your battery at it’s maximum lifespan.

There is a difference between a battery charger and a battery maintainer. Much like it sounds, a battery maintainer only keeps the battery at it’s current state of charge. If the battery is charged up to 100% when the maintainer is put on, it keeps the battery at 100%. If the battery maintainer is put on at 80% state of charge, it is not typically strong enough to bring it up to 100%, it usually only maintains it at 80%. While this is a good thing, it is not as good as keeping the battery at 100%.

A good way to get the most you can from a stored battery is to use a decent battery charger that switches from charging to maintaining automatically. Something like the Genius 5 from Noco will do just that.

For motorcycle and quad batteries, they are much smaller than a car battery, and need less strength from a charger. While your car battery will appreciate 5 amps of charge/maintainer, your smaller battery will be happy with less than 1 amp. You can put the maintainer on in the off season and just leave it on and it will keep your smaller battery charged all winter. You don’t have to leave it on, you can unplug it for a week and then put it back on for a night, and do that for the entire off season, whichever way works better for you.

When it comes to deep cycle batteries like in your RV it is the same system but higher power going in. It takes about 15 to 20 amps of charge to give a lot of energy back to the battery. Most RV’s have a built in chargers at something like 30 or 40 amps. If you can plug in for a night every couple of weeks in the off season this is ideal. You can leave it plugged in all winter, the only danger is if your built in charger malfunctions and continues to charge the batteries when they are full, it can lead to destroying the batteries.

If you can’t plug in then an alternate method must be used. You can use an independent battery charger of sufficient strength plugged into a generator. This isn’t ideal, but is better than nothing. The last 20% of charging takes a long time and uses a lot of gas, so it’s generally best to shut it off at the 80% mark and then when you can plug in, do so. Also if the generator has a built in DC port they typically aren’t that great. You are better off to plug a decent battery charger into the AC outlet.

Solar is another option. It doesn’t work very well in the winter, and even in the summer you need enough watts to give it an actual deep charge, but anything is better than nothing. To get 20 amps of charge from solar you would need about 400 watts of panels. This is for one pair of six volt batteries.
Batteries do not like cold, and they do not like heat. It does help to have solar even in the winter as any current going through the batteries will help keep them from freezing.

Wheelchairs and mobility scooters and electric mopeds are also things that have batteries not in use year round. They too need to have their batteries kept in good condition by charging them up. For these ones plugging the charger that comes with them in once a week or even once a month is a good idea. When the green light comes on saying that they are charged up, unplug it, and then plug it back in periodically to keep them topped up.

There is a distinct difference in the type of battery you have and how long it takes to charge. A starting battery like in your car does not take as long to charge because it is typically not as drained as “deep” as a deep cycle battery. Same for motorcycle and quad batteries.

On the other hand applications with deep cycle batteries in them like your RV, or wheelchair, or electric scooter will indeed take longer as they are drained more “deeply” than the starting type. Another big factor is how many amps the charger you are using has. If it is a small amp charger it will take a lot longer than a big amp charger.

No matter what batteries you have, car, truck, quad, scooter or lead acid or AGM, they all lose energy when stored, and even more when there is a small drain from say the cars computer, all of them need to have that energy put back in or the batteries health will deteriorate.

Here at Pacific Batteries we can explain to you all of your options to keep your batteries healthy and happy.

Battery Recycling

battery recycling

Pacific Batteries cares about having a green planet. To help this we are a designated recycling center designed to keep batteries out of landfills. We collect the dead batteries and send them for processing to recover the lead, plastic, and battery acid to be reused. The end result is more batteries can be made without using more of the earth’s resources, and it keeps harmful pollutants from getting into the earth.

We recycle lead acid and AGM and GEL car and truck and RV and boat and motorcycle batteries. We will also take household amounts of AA type batteries for proper disposal.

As part of our efforts to encourage reducing waste we will PAY you for any scrap batteries you bring to us for recycling. The price depends on the size of the battery and global demand for recycled lead. If you have a large amount of scrap batteries we can arrange to come and get them and transport them with fully licensed staff and trucks to do so.

We care about a green earth and as proud members of the CBA and Call2Recycle we are always doing our part to help.

battery recycling
battery recycling
battery recycling

What deep cycle battery should I use?

battery blog

Deep cycle batteries are meant to be drained down and charged back up repeatedly. They have thicker lead plates inside them that can withstand this. The size and what they are made of dictate how far down you can drain them, and how often. Each time a battery is drained down and then recharged is one cycle. The deep part of deep cycle refers to them being deeply drained and then deeply charged back up.

All deep cycle batteries get stronger as they break in, so don’t be afraid to work them to get them to their peak performance.

A regular car battery is NOT a deep cycle, they are meant to be slightly discharged by starting the car, and then topped back up by the alternator. A starting battery will not last long if used as a deep cycle.

It typically starts with a 12 volt Group 24 deep cycle battery. This is about the size of a typical car battery. The group number refers to the size of the battery. All manufacturer’s have to follow the exact measurements when they make the battery for physical dimensions for it to be called a Group 24. They are all rated in amp hours, meaning how many hours will they last at a one amp draw. Some companies use reserve minutes or reserve capacity, this is the same thing, just a different rating system.

The three most common 12 volt deep cycle battery sizes are:

Group 24 is about 10 inch length x 7 inch width x 9 inch height and 80 amp hours
Group 27 is about 12 inch length x 7 inch width x 9 inch height and 90 amp hours
Group 31 is about 13 inch length x 7 inch width x 9 inch height and 100 amp hours.

Only the length is different and all have round posts as well as studs on each battery to connect to.

All lead acid batteries should only be drained down 50% for the health of the battery. This means when calculating how long the battery will last in the above examples the Group 24 has 40 available amp hours, the Group 27 has 45 available amp hours,and the Group 31 has 50 available amp hours.

If I was going camping and I wanted to know how long my battery would last, I would have to know how many amps the things I want to use will take from the battery. For example a radio might say 200 watts on it. This converts to about 2 amps. This is per hour.

So if I had a Group 24 deep cycle, I would know it would last 20 hours using that radio. (40 available hours divided by the 2 amps the radio uses per hour.) If that was the only thing I would be using, and I only listened to the radio 2 hours a day, I would know I could go 10 straight days (20 hours use) before my lead acid Group 24 deep cycle battery would be half drained and need to be charged back up.

The second part is how many times the battery can do this over it’s lifespan. This is where cost comes into play. An inexpensive Group 24 or 27 or 31 likely has somewhere around 100 cycles for it’s lifespan. If you were to use it every second weekend for that radio, it would conceivably last you about 4 years.

For the price this is actually not bad. For perspective on the other end of the spectrum is lithium 12 volt 100AH batteries with an insane 3500 cycle count. A lithium battery can be drained 100%. In theory you could use this battery for that radio for 50 straight hours, recharge it, and do this for 20 years non stop. These batteries cost up to ten times more than a regular lead acid.

So if you have a lighter amp draw, and don’t go out all that often, a 12 volt deep cycle battery works just fine.

If you have a higher amp draw, and want to stay out camping longer between charges, the most common way to go is with a pair of 6 volt batteries referred to as golf cart batteries with a 225 amp hour rating and about 350 cycles. The radio example above would have this pair of batteries last 56 hours. (225AH divided by 2 = 112 available amp hours. Divide this by the 2 amps per hour the radio is using = 56 hours of radio use)

At 2 hours a day of radio use the pair of 6 volt lead acid batteries would go 28 straight days before they reached 50% down and time to recharge.

A pair of 6 volt lead acid batteries weigh about 120 pounds. This is a lot of lead, and the more lead, the longer they can store energy.

A lot of considerations come into play. If you really are just using LED lights and a radio, just about any battery can handle it. On the other hand if you are using a fridge, microwave, heater, fan, coffee maker, toaster and so on, not only will the lighter duty 12 volt batteries not last long between charges, they can’t handle high amps being pulled out like a pair of 6 volts can, and will have a shorter lifespan.

They are made as 6 volts because it is difficult to move 120 pounds of lead around. This way it only takes one cable to join the two 60 pound 6 volts and turn them into 12 volts and is very simple to do and they are easier to manhandle.

So basically a 12 volt deep cycle lead acid is best suited for lighter loads, and a relatively shorter lifespan for less cost. A pair of 6 volt lead acid batteries are more suited for a longer time between charges, and/or a heavier load being drawn out at once.

The cost per 6 volt battery can be as little as about the same as a Group 31, or twice as much depending on how robust they are built. The two 6 volts have the edge on two 12 volts with equal amp hours, as they are built more sturdy in general.

There is another type of battery, available in 12 volts or 6 volts, and these are called AGM batteries. These have additional ingredients including a matting that absorbs the water and acid making them spill proof. They also can not produce any gas when charging making them much safer to be inside the van or camper with you. They are completely maintenance free. This type of battery can be drained down 70% and cost about twice as much as a regular lead acid battery, depending on their amp hour rating.

If you are a van dweller, or need to stretch your time between charging, or don’t want to have to check the water and top the batteries up, or need it to be spill proof, then these are the way to go. Same as the lead acid, they come in 12 volt or 6 volt and various amp hour ratings.

So in a nutshell, the 12 volt deep cycle lead acid is the least expensive and does a decent job for lighter use and shorter times between charges. The pair of lead acid deep cycle 6 volts bumps this up to heavier loads and longer times between charges. The AGM 12 volts increase available time out, and the 6 volt AGM’s even more. They both are safer and less hassle to maintain than their lead acid counterparts. The lithium’s are top of the line, and do everything as good as it gets. Now comes how to charge any of these batteries back up. Most RV’s have built in chargers. They are usually rated somewhere around 30 to 40 amps of charge. The better ones do it in stages, which is the healthiest for the battery. When you are plugged in, the charger takes care of charging the batteries, and the higher amp charging rate allows to battery or batteries to be deeply charged. If you were only to use a trickle charger of say 2 amps, while this would eventually top the batteries back up, but it isn’t that good for the health of the battery to only receive this small of a charge rate.

You can also plug a battery charger into a generator. It isn’t the most efficient but it will work. You should use a minimum of a 5 amp charger for the smaller 12 volt deep cycles, and a minimum of 15 amp charger for the pair of 6 volts.

A vehicle alternator can be used to charge them while you drive, but this is very low amperage charge and eventually will lead to early battery failure.

Solar does work too, but generally they are best for topping up the batteries to stay out longer. It depends on how many watts of solar panels you have. If you have 100 watts and a single 12 volt Group 24 deep cycle, the 5 amps the panel puts out in the bright sun is enough of a charge rate for good health of the battery. The same panel for a pair of 6 volt batteries does not produce enough amperage for long term battery health, this would require more like 400 watts of panels.

In an ideal world you would charge the battery up before you go camping, drain it as you use it, use the solar/genny/alternator to put some of that energy back in, then charge it back up with higher amps when you get home by plugging the RV in or using a higher amp battery charger, then do it all again.

Asking a battery specialist what is the best way to go for your particular use is always a good idea, and here at Pacific Batteries, we are always happy to help you sort it out.