Tuesday, February 2, 2021

(Battery) Back That Thing Up, part 1: Why Batteries?

Our benevolent editrix got to asking me questions over the weekend about large battery backup power solutions. She's curious about what it would take to reasonably back up her home, and if going battery is worth it compared to the alternatives. Since this kind of thing is pretty much my professional wheelhouse, I decided to make a series out of it. 

Providing for your own emergency power needs basically falls into two categories: you can generate it with fuel, or you can supply it from batteries. Yes, I am aware that power can be generated by windmills, water wheels, and various other sources, but those solutions are esoteric, incredibly specific, and often unreliable. I'm also aware that solar panels are a thing, but they only make power when the sun shines, so if you want the lights to be on after dark, we're back to batteries.

Generators are great. They're the gold standard for backup power, and for good reason: they're a tried and true technology that can be set up so that no user input is required for backup power; if the grid goes dark, the generator senses this and starts itself. They also supply more power than batteries and will keep supplying that power as long as they have fuel. If natural gas is an option for you, then you have virtually limitless power, but it will be expensive.

Generators do have serious downsides, though. They're somewhat noisy, so running one at night might upset your neighbors. They also create toxic exhaust like any other internal combustion engine, so they have to be placed in such a way to keep that exhaust and heat from entering or damaging your home. Along with that placement, even fairly compact generators aren't exactly small; you either have to store a large, heavy unit somewhere until you need it, or you have a permanent machine placed near your home to deal with. 

As with all engines, generators require regular maintenance. Regular oil changes are a concern, and permanent generators have an "exercise" cycle to deal with, where they will start themselves up and run for a period of time on a regular basis to keep everything functioning correctly.

Batteries don't have exhaust, they don't need much by way of maintenance, and they're silent as a church mouse. They're a bit limited in output, however, and they also tend to cost a bit more. 

If you want to take advantage of the benefits batteries offer, the first step is to determine how much battery you need. Consider carefully what you need to be running; you might get a few nice-to-haves on top of your needs, but focusing on the essentials will maximize your battery life. In addition to the amount of power you'll draw from your batteries, you need to consider how long you'll be drawing that power. Where I'm at, power outages are generally resolved within 24 hours; a friend of mine in hurricane country this year was without power for more than a week, and Erin tells me that's not an uncommon thing. Batteries used for backup power are sized in watt-hours or amp-hours, and those numbers are key to determining how much battery you need. 

Next week, we'll look at how long some common loads can be run on very popular backup systems.


No comments:

Post a Comment

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.