Best solar batteries for micro and mini grids in Africa 2020

Running out of power is not a good look

The three most common solar batteries 

1. NMC - Nickel Manganese Cobalt. Last up to 30 years.

2. LiFePO- Lithium Ferrous (Iron) Phosphate. Last 10-20 years.

3. Lead Acid batteries. Last up to 10 years.

NMC batteries in a nutshell

Performance and longevity

NMC batteries are leading the industry with batteries lasting up to 30 years. NMC can be fully discharged, meaning you can drain the batteries from 100% to 0% over and over, and they will still last 8,000 cycles. When designing your home storage system, it is wise to purchase an abundance of battery space, so that you're not almost running out of power each night.

Durability

NMC can operate up to 50C/ 122F without being damaged, and they have an automatic shut off when the atmospheric temperatures become unsafe. 

Price

NMC batteries are typically about 20-50% more expensive than the LiFePO

batteries, and last about 50% longer, about 10-15 years longer, depending

on the brand. By contrast, NMC batteries are double the price of Lead

Acid batteries, but last 3-4 times as long, and are much safer. 

Environment and human impact

NMC does not win in this category. Manganese and Cobalt are mined heavily in the DRC Democratic Republic of Congo, and has an extremely poor track record on employing children. These batteries are extremely difficult to recycle. Tesvolt offers a recycling program in Germany, but this has yet to reach every country on the planet. Tesvolt is likely to extend their recycling program over the life of this battery. Tesla Powerwall does not currently offer recycling in Africa.

Our top rated NMC pick

We recommend Tesvolt, which is programmed to work seamlessly with SMA inverters, who are the leading manufacturer for the micro and mini grid inverters.

To LiFePO or not to LiFePO, that is the question

Performance and longevity

The best LiFePO batteries have up to 8,000 cycles at Depth of Discharge (DoD) at 90% and can be nearly fully discharged without being damaged. 

Durability

 LiFePO can operate up to 50C/ 122F without being damaged and they have an automatic shut off when the atmospheric

temperatures become unsafe. making the LiFePO one of the safest batteries to operate, especially in hot climates found in Sub Saharan and continental Africa.

Price

LifePO batteries are 50% cheaper than NMC batteries, and last 50% less cycles than NMC batteries. Given the fact that solar technology will dramatically change in the next 20 years, and pricing is expected to continue to decrease, LiFePO are AMG's recommended battery.

Environment and human impact

LiFePO are a high quality, endurance battery, with low environmental impact on production and on end-of-life recycling. LiFePO are made of non-toxic materials, use commonly available materials including copper, iron, and graphite and contain no rare earth metals, making them an environmentally conscious choice. Less energy is consumed in mining and processing of materials. Phosphate salts are also less soluble than metal oxides, so they are less likely to leach into the environment. Disposal causes minimal harm. LiFePO is environmentally friendly compared to other batteries. LiFePO has the cleanest environmental bill of all the batteries out on the market, and therefore is AMG's recommended choice. 

Our top rated LiFePO pick

 BYD, one of the largest battery makers in the world, with a solid track record. BYD is engineered to configure to most of the leading inverters, prefers 90% maximum discharge but can withstand many full discharges in their lifespan, making them a high performance choice. BYD recycles their batteries making them a great cradle to grave product. BYD is cost effective, making this a high value brand.

Best choice for battery for any micro or mini grid is the LiFePO.

Lead Acid batteries

Performance and longevity

Lead acid batteries are the most commonly found battery in Africa. There are many types of Lead Acid batteries, with the most popular being deep cycle, AGM, gel, to OPZ listed in order of low to high longevity. 


When it comes to this class of batteries, the brand is incredibly important. Just because a battery is called "Lead Acid" doesn't mean that all lead acid batteries are the same. Quite the contrary. The chemical composition and structure inside determines if a battery will last 3 months to 10 years.

Lead acid batteries that are extremely cheap are usually just that. Most of the batteries imported to Africa last on average 1 year, with higher performing batteries lasting 3 years. Their brands are often called things like "solar battery" or "lead acid battery."

 

We recommend lead acid batteries from brands that last 7-10 years, noting that longevity is a function of how the system is configured, how much discharge the charge controllers are set to, and the atmospheric temperature and conditions. The quality control tests are extremely important, as battery manufacturers will actively test their batteries and be able to prove to you that they can last their stated life expectancy. 

Durability

Lead Acid batteries are very susceptible to heat. Every time the temperature goes beyond 25C / 122F, the battery cells are irreparably damaged, shortening the lifespan. Additionally, it is not uncommon in hot areas for these batteries to explode, creating severe burns and injuries. Lead acid batteries are best in cooler, shaded, and well ventilated areas. Air conditioned rooms are ideal. 

Price

One of the main reasons to buy lead acid batteries is the low entry level price. These batteries are 50% cheaper than LiFePO and 100% cheaper than NMC. However, when you consider the need to replace these batteries multiple times in 20-30 years, the cost per kWh is exponentially higher than both LiFePO and NMC. Lead Acid batteries are ideal for projects that are in beta mode, wanting to test a concept or business plan. However, for long lasting projects, lead acid batteries are not the best long term strategy. 

Environment and human impact

Lead Acid batteries are one of the oldest battery technologies on the market. As such, there are more developed ways to recycle these batteries. However, in most places in Africa, recycling does not exist for these batteries and most are discarded on people's land where the chemicals eventually leak into ground water. Sometimes the acid is used by carpenters to mix wood stain colors. In any case, due to the danger the acids create, these batteries do not get the environmental or human safety awards. 

Our top rated Lead Acid pick

Our battery experts recommend the following brands, due to their reputation for high performance and longevity: Trojan, Rolls, and Deka.

How should I store my equipment?

It is best to have a well ventilated, cool, and dust-free environment for all equipment. LiFePO and NMC batteries can safely operate up to 50C/ 122F, while lead acid batteries start having permanent damage after 25C/ 77F. If the system is large, a containerized system may be the best option to control the atmosphere surrounding the equipment, including a humidifier to prevent static, ventilation, and in some cases, air conditioning. 

Security is often an issue. We recommend having steel, lockable, frames for the equipment. Most equipment is very heavy, so when they are locked together, they become less movable.

Visit us at

E: info@AfricanMiniGrids.com

P: +1-415-484-6850

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