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Posted by Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 10/18/2015

Well now, the last few days have been most interesting. I'm gratified I was able to (at least for the time being) solve the problem at least.

I've mentioned several times before my profound disappointment with my Deka 8G8D Gel batteries. While they're a fine enough battery, they're just not right for an off-grid system -- they're temperamental, they're easy to overcharge, they need longer to recharge than we thought, etc. When we got these puppies four years ago I thought their 1,350 amps would be more than enough power for Tanglewood for any reasonable period of downtime and honestly, they would have if we hadn't made some mistakes configuring the charging system.

But as folks know if you've read my blog, I've had ongoing problems with the batteries since about the start of 2013. Their capacity had clearly been damaged, a result (we discovered) of an Equalization cycle that was run periodically (never do that on Gel batts) and over-discharging for a variety of reasons. I'd been getting by okay; earlier this year it seemed that they really began to degrade in performance, and as a result my generator was running more and more every night. It was getting very frustrating, and a bit of a pinch to the wallet constantly getting more propane.

Things came to a head a few days ago, when my solar guy was up to check the wiring for a problem I'd noticed and we noticed that some of the Gel batteries were actually bubbling! It sounded like they were boiling. They're not ever supposed to do that--they're basically filled with something like Vaseline in consistency and to be boiling/bubbling meant they were being WAY overcharged. Doing some testing we discovered that there were only three batteries that were actually holding any kind of charge at all -- the others were virtually dead! Yikes! Literally all of my overnight power was coming from the 225 amps those three batteries provided. No wonder my generator was running so much!

So I decided I'd had enough of this nonsense, and there wasn't any way I was going to get through the winter on those batts anyway. I have plans to install a new ~2,300Ah stack in the spring but there wasn't any time to get that ordered, delivered, and installed before winter came in, so I did the only other thing I could -- bought some conventional lead-acids.

I tasked Solar LeRoy with finding something quickly and he did exactly that -- Interstate Battery makes a fine L-16 lead acid that seemed perfect. It provides 420A of storage and at 6V per battery I needed eight of them. I'm not a huge fan of lead-acids of course, but with the new shed (ICF construction) I was no longer worried about it getting so cold that they would freeze, and so on Wednesday he and I went up to their facility and picked them up. It cost a cool $2,400 but frankly I didn't seem to have much choice, and besides (I told myself stoically) that's what emergency funds are for.

So today we hauled out the old batteries and hooked these new puppies up! They are extraordinary -- very easy to handle, good caps to keep the acid in, etc. I went ahead an bought a gallon of distilled water since I'm unfamiliar with lead acids at all and so don't know what their future water usage will be. They were fully charged when we got them (which is good because we were past most of the sunlight by the time we got done) and each tested quite well at ~7.5V per 6V battery. I had a bit of challenge in programming the settings since their documentation is a bit sparse, but I finally set up an Equalization cycle each week for Sunday and configured the Bulk/Absorb/Float numbers consistent with other L-16 batts.

We'll see how it goes. So far I'm remarkably pleased and the system is maintaining excellent voltage levels as I write this (definitely in the dark now). They'll get a proper workout tomorrow when they go through a full charge/discharge cycle, but given what I've seen so far I'm most impressed.

This was not what I'd planned to get, but it was the only workaround I could think of to get me through the winter successfully. Between their (vastly increased compared to what I was limping along on) capacity and the new Ecogen I'll have to do some tuning but I think things will work out fine over the next few months.

My biggest concern is that I'll need to monitor the temperature very carefully, and I've rigged up two small space heaters to kick on in the shed should the temps drop below 50 degrees F. I don't think I've got to worry as the equipment in there actually generates a fair amount of heat by itself but just in case...

So that's my solution, at least for the next 6 months or so. Down the road I'm still looking at the larger ~2,300Ah solution but I'll have time to change my mind about that if I'm particularly happy with these. At the very least, even if I were to build out a larger system based on these I'd have to figure out how to rack and stack them, and there are other issues to consider. We'll see.

For now I'm just happy to have found a solution!

Steven in Colorado


The old battery rack, cleansed of the Gel batts. I'm going to disassemble this since I don't need it at least for now.
The quick platform I build out of pieces of the old Shed for the batteries to sit on
The new L-16s in all their glory! At least hooking them up was pretty simple.
Closeup of the new battery label
The once proud Dekas, now sitting out on the floor of the old shed until I can haul them up the hill

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