Battery Chronicles

Everybody has a battery in their life.  Computer.  Car.  Flashlight.  Batteries are ubiquitous in today’s world and I have my share.  Maybe more.  Definitely more than I want.  The reason I feel this way is simple – batteries are very, very complex.

I know what you are thinking, “No, they are not.  They are simple, you dolt!  Just put ém in right and all is well until they die.  Simple as pie!”

And that would be your first mistake.  Of course the typical battery user is blissfully ignorant and kept that way by the ease of switching dead-for-live and the cost of same.  A flashlight battery is five bucks and five minutes.  Things get a smidge more ‘challenging’ for some when the car battery goes on them but, even then, most people can swap over one cheap, light battery for another from Costco and, once again, life is good. 

Off-the-grid batteries are another beast altogether.  I have 16 of them as the foundation of my electrical system.  Eight of them weigh 125 pounds each.  The other eight are half that.  Remember: I live on a remote island.  125 pounds is heavy.  Together, I have about 500 amp hours of batteries at 48 volts weighing in at a total of 1500 pounds.  That is three banks of battery groupings wired into the inverter and the various charging sources from the generator to the solar panels to the wind turbine.  And that’s where the simplicity ends and the complexity begins.

One of the terminals in the mid-battery bank went all ‘flaky’ on me.  Imagine ‘flake’ tuna.  You can take a fork and flake off pieces of it simply by touching and prodding.  That is what was happening to one terminal in one battery in the middle of the battery bank.  Go figure.

So, I did try to figure.  I read and asked and investigated and the answers were all the same: “No idea.  Neér heard of such a thing.  Neér happened like that ever before my whole life and I been handling batteries since I was kid.  You sure you weren’t pokin’ at some tuna?”

“Geez.  Can’t really say.  I thought it was a 125 pound battery but you know how they all look like tuna in the dark, eh?  I’ll go back and check.”

It wasn’t tuna.  The battery terminal was all goofy and so I went to Vancouver where I get my batteries but it was too heavy to take so I just went with pictures.

Ernie runs Davidson Batteries on Broadway and I’ve been buying batteries there since I was 16 and had my first car.  Those guys are great.  Honest.  Fair.  And the benefit of the doubt always goes to the customer.  “I saw the pictures of it.  Don’t think it is the battery.  I think the terminal clamps are too loose.  Ya gotta tighten them clamps tighter than a tuna sandwich, you know?” “Yeah.  I know.  I tightened them.  Honest.  I think the battery is goofy.  Waddya wanna do?” “Well, we’ll replace it.  No problem.  But check them clamps.  Let me know, OK?”

So, I got home and checked the clamps.  They were tight.  But the more I looked, the more it did seem like the clamps were at fault.  I bought battery clamps at Lordco and ‘made in China’ jumped to mind.  I now think the metal the clamps were made of was the goofy part.

And therein lies the purpose of this story.  Something as simple as a battery not only has characteristics to it like the specific gravity of the battery acid, differences in similar batteries, peculiarities of charging cycles and ad infinitum but, when you add in all the bits and pieces that are involved in the system and the almost-always made-in-China-ness of the materials, something as simple as acid on lead gets complex.  Plus they are damned heavy to carry around.

Batteries; chapter one.  Expect more.

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