Living on your own terms can be both rewarding and challenging and this is never truer than when it comes to living with batteries. Taking the decision to live remotely, for whatever reason, whether due to the love of solitude or whether to escape the rules and regulation of society the same dependency for power is ever-present. Batteries and inverters are often the most practical means to achieving this goal of taking the best society offers without all the conformity that goes along with it.
A power system designed around batteries offers many advantages, for one if taken care of they can last for a decade or more, they are reliable under most conditions, in this age of high energy costs they can be economical over the long-term; lastly they provide a family with power in a wide array of options and most people can adapt to their use and maintenance with a minimal commitment of time. The only real disadvantages are the upfront cost and the fact you are the utility company, – there is no one to call when there is a power outage!
Here we will go over the basics, what you will have to deal with eventually if you buy and maintain your own battery bank. We will not pretend to know all there is about batteries and inverters, only our personal experience of actually living off-grid for over 15 years, – there are literally hundreds or thousands of websites dedicated to batteries, PV, wind and inverters, here we will only cover the raw basics drawn from actual trial and error.
We have a battery bank of 12 batteries (Trojan L16RE-B 6 volt batteries) wired for a 24-volt system (Xantrex SW4024 inverter), we power the batteries from an array of tracking photovoltaic panels (solar panels) and a wind generator. Our backup power is a diesel generator, this resource powers the home when there is a lack of sun and wind, or when we have higher energy demands (also to run the water pump).
New batteries will last for roughly a decade if taken care of, though in our experience this has not been the case, we are on our second set and they tend to last us roughly 7-8 years, some of this is undoubtedly the result of a learning curve, new owners learning to adapt to their needs and demands, – for if you do not adapt to their needs they will demand your attention in a most unpleasant and costly manner.
First off, batteries are the centerpiece of any system, their efficiency sets the tone for how the entire power system operates, if they are healthy and well maintained they will be largely problem free and very cost effective, – to the degree they are not well taken care of you will encounter worsening costs and maintenance headaches. Worst of all these problems accumulate and they are not rehabilitatable, – meaning once they degrade they do not improve, they are like old age, once vigor is lost it is next to impossible to restore. So, great effort must be expended in preventive maintenance and supervision, – it is critical that water levels are maintained and batteries are protected from severe stresses (extreme heat, low charge exposure to extreme cold, over and undercharging, improper handling among others).
Foremost in your mind should be maintaining a schedule and personal safety, batteries are incredibly safe to work around if you follow proper precautions. Common perceptions of danger, the explosions (hydrogen gas) or electrocutions are typically exaggerated though basic precautions are always a good idea. ALWAYS wear eye protection, I use goggles and I never forget to wear them, not so much for the fear of hydrogen explosions as the possibility of splashing of battery fluids, or some contamination that can get into my eyes, which often enough gets on hands and arms. I always try to wear long sleeves also, but your best tool is concentration, – pay attention to metal tools and grounding.