Storing Harvested Solar Power (Part #2)

storing solar powerThis is a series of articles where I talk about storing harvested solar power. Not large residential solar systems, but small and portable field-going solar systems.

In the first article in this series I talked about the particular needs of a portable field-going solar system and how they apply. I showed my own examples for you to consider and ponder. This article will go into the different types of storage that is available.

If you didn’t read the introduction to this series of articles you can do so here < click here to read the introduction article >

Let’s Review –

Pick your portable solar panel system. It can be as large as a Eco-Worthy 28w less-compact system or as small as a Anker A2421011 21w really compact system. This part of the system is the “harvesting” stage, you have to be able to turn the sun’s rays into electricity.

< click here to read about portable solar power systems >

Second –

Now that you have the sun’s rays turned into electricity -harvested- you have to be able to store that power. The unit that stores the power is commonly called a battery. I’ve previously identified several different batteries that I used for my emergency preparedness needs, you will have to do the same for your specific situation. However, I will go into much more detail in the coming weeks about different battery brands are the best. For now, Tenergy is the one brand I feel is best and the one I trust when it comes to rechargeable batteries.

But, what if you can’t directly charge the battery you are going to be using (i.e. flashlight battery)? The real dilemma is not wasting the solar power you can be generating and how to store that energy until you can charge your device battery. Of course I have an answer, that is what I am here for.

Types of Storage –

There are two basic types of storage of power; 1) internal batteries, 2) external batteries.

It’s not complicated…an internal storage capability is the battery that the device actually uses. Say a AAA battery for a headlamp. The battery is internal to the headlamp, meaning that the headlamp uses the battery that is being charged. External on the other hand is a power storage unit that can’t be used directly by the device itself. Example: A 12vDC car battery can’t be inserted into a headlamp. But, the 12vDC car battery can store power. Then that 12vDC car battery can be connected to a battery charger that can charge a rechargeable AAA battery. Once charged, that AAA battery can be inserted into the headlamp for use.

Bottom line…your store solar power in a battery that inserts directly into a device, or store solar power in a battery that can’t/doesn’t go into a device.

And please don’t get confused with all sorts of industry and fad terms…all stored power that preppers will use is stored in batteries. Actually, is there really any other practical way to store generated power? No, batteries are it.

Internal Storage of Power –

Remember, we are talking batteries here, primarily in my case AAA & AA batteries batteries. However, there can be a case made for rechargeable “C” & “D” cell batteries…and yes, even Li-ion batteries such as the RCR123A. But, fundamentally we are talking about the batteries themselves, whatever brand or size of rechargeable battery you use, they have to be recharged.

There are only two ways to realistically recharge internal batteries; 1) 110vAC power, 2) non-110vAC power. And in case you didn’t know, 110vAC is normal house power supplied by a utility company. In a preparedness situation 110vAC power could also be provided by a generator system.

110vAC Battery Chargers  –

What I was looking for with this kind of charger was two-fold, ability to charger batteries via; 1) using 110vAC power when it is available, 2) using 12vDC power for emergencies or field use. You may be asking why both voltages…legitimate question. I want the capability to charge my batteries under normal conditions and as quickly as possible…hence, 110vAC power capability. But, if the regular utility power goes out I want multiple ways to be able to charge my batteries; 1) using my portable Honda generator, 2) 12vDC power available through car batteries, 3) my portable power box, 4) solar panel. “Redundancy” being a priority to me. The old “Two is one, one is none, three is a good start” mentality.

Mission Statement –

“Ability to charge standardized field operation batteries via 110vAC or 12vDC power.”

Requirements & Restrictions –
  1. Must be able to operate on 110vAC power for extended periods of time without damage to the unit or the batteries.
  2. Must have the capability to operate on 12vDC without modification to the unit.
  3. Must be able to charge AA and AAA rechargeable Ni-MH and Ni-CD batteries.
  4. Must have sufficient safety features to prevent damage to the batteries, the unit, or the area around the unit.
Test Units –
  • FrePow 8-slot
  • Tenergy TN160
  • Foxnovo F08
  • AccuPower IQ-338
  • BlueTech AV-1000
  • MaximalPower FC1000
  • Ansmann PL8
  • SunLabz SL00056

Each unit was tested against the Mission Statement, Requirements & Restrictions, features, and price. Units were tested recharging batteries via 110vAC and 12vDC. The 12vDC test was done via a 110vAC -> 12vDC power supply to ensure no variation in power such as solar power fluctuations or 12vDC battery charge level or condition. The purpose of the testing was to test the charger unit itself not a solar panel / charger combination. I did test with a 12vDC solar panel unit just to ensure compatibility and that it would in-fact work. These test units all ranged from being able to charge 8 batteries – 16 batteries.

FlePow –

Compact, sleek, and good looking unit. Nothing fancy about this unit and no frills or thrills. Both size batteries (AA & FlePow battery chargerAAA) were easy to insert and were held steady in the charger tray. Each charging station assessed the batteries individually and began charging within 5 – 6 seconds. The LCD screen was easy to read and made sense without any directions or instructions needed.

There was no attempt to charge defective or fully discharged batteries by the unit. The charger automatically senses between Ni-MH & Ni-CD batteries. Charging rate on AAA batteries is 250mA, for AA batteries it is 500mA. It is absolutely impossible to do a battery charge test “time to charge” on the charger, there are simply too many variables involved to make it objective. I can give you a range: 1000mAH AA battery about 2 hours, 500mAH AAA battery about 1.5 hours. Higher mAH batteries will increase charge time proportionately.

Here’s what made me mad…this unit was available with and without rechargeable batteries. Of course I paid the additional money for the unit with the batteries. Ah, one problem…no batteries came with the unit. And of course the unit is no longer available…FlePow gone!  Live and learn.

Needless to say…Do NOT buy this unit. Well, technically you can’t. But, if you could, don’t…because they don’t keep their word.

Tenergy TN160 –

Compact, sleek, and good looking unit. Nothing fancy about this unit and no frills or thrills. Both size batteries (AA & Tenergy TN-160 battery chargerAAA) were easy to insert and were held steady in the charger tray. Each charging station assessed the batteries individually and began charging within 5 – 6 seconds. The LCD screen was easy to read and made sense without any directions or instructions needed.

From the manufacturer:
•    12 channels PWM switching fast charger with MUC control; accurate voltage detection ensures no over-charging and under-charging
•    12 independent charging channels for individual charging and detection: AA & AAA, NIMH/ NICD can be mixed when charging. AA & AAA, NIMH/ NICD can be mixed when charging.Tenergy TN-160 battery charger
•    8 hours safety timer ensures extra safety.
•    Over-heat, over-current, short-circuit, & reverse polarity protection, (mechanically) ensures that charger and batteries will not be damaged when users insert batteries with reversed polarity.
•    Large LCDs indicate charging status.
•    Charger comes with refresh function
•    Input: 100-240v AC (Works Everywhere in the World).
•    Suitable only for1.2v AA/AAA NIMH/NICD batteries.

I really like the automatic protection built into this unit, especially the safety timer that shuts down the unit after 8-hours of operation. During testing the batteries never got hot and that is a really good thing. Heat is what damages batteries more than just about anything (operating environment) else. The unit won’t recognize damaged or fully discharged batteries.

Foxnovo F08 –

This thing is a hunk of plastic and electronics, there is nothing sleek or compact to it. There is no fancy LCD screen to look at, simply a series of flashing yellow status lights. When I was inserting the batteries (AA & AAA) it wasn’t the easiest thing to do. First off you have to move the spring-loaded negative contact manually to get each battery to seat in the charging cradle. And here is the stupid part…the positive contact is this little “nub” piece of metal. If you look at the positive contact on a battery it too is a little “nub” of metal. Try putting two little “nubs” together and see how that works for you! It was fairly easy to bump one battery while inserting another. Bumping a battery more than just a minimal amount and the positive “nub” contacts decontacted. Yes, decontacted is a word I made up. Once the batteries were all in-place they were fine.

From the manufacture:

  • Capable of charging 8 batteries of different sizes, types and capacities at the same time; Each of the eight battery slots charges independently
  • LCD indicators lights shows the charging process of every batteries
  • Automatically identifies Li-ion, Ni-MH and Ni-CD rechargeable batteries.
  • Automatically detects battery status and selects the appropriate voltage and charge mode. Automatically stops charging when complete
  • Come with a US-plug adapter for indoor use.
  • Adopts negative voltage control technology to improve charge efficiency.
  • Excellent features of heat dispersion and reverse polarity protection. Protect opposite connection and short circuit, 0 voltage alarms
  • Compatible with batteries: Li-ion 26650, 22650, 18650, 18500, 18490, 17670, 17650, 17500, 16340, 14500, 10440, Ni-MH and Ni-CD A, AA, AAA, C, SubC

Here’s where this unit is way cool…charging time. This unit is at least 30% faster charging batteries. This is due to a 30% higher charging rate than the other units tested. And no, there wasn’t any noticeable battery heat indicating that the higher charging rate was damaging the batteries.

And then there are additional cool features to this charger; 1) charges a long list of Li-ion batteries, 2) charges C, SubC, & D size batteries. That makes this unit considerably more versatile than the other units tested. If you are wondering about the Li-ion feature I can tell you that is will recharge the rechargeable version of the CR123A (RCR123A). The CR123A is a popular battery for flashlights and weapons’ optics.

The testing showed that the unit charged all the batteries of different brands and sizes in record time. It only took the unit a mater of 2 – 3 seconds to analyze the batteries current charge and begin the charging process. There is no fancy LED screen to indicate much of anything. There is a series of four lights that shows current charge. They flash to indicate that charging is taking place at a specific level (25%, 50%, 75%, & 100%). When the battery is fully charged all four yellow lights glow steady.

Periodically a blue light will flash in the upper right-hand corner on the face of the unit. I have absolutely no idea what that means. So you wonder why I didn’t refer to the instructions??? Ah, there aren’t any. Yup, no instruction guide of any kind with the unit. I searched all over the Internet looking for a user guide and nothing. But, fortunately the unit is pretty simple to use…so instructions aren’t really needed.

I like this unit.

AccuPower IC-338 –

This unit is sleek, compact, and way more intelligent that me. Yeah, surprising…right? Seriously, this unit has a ton of options for you and your batteries. The batteries fit in this charger like a glove, very nice engineering. The LCD screen is easy to read and back-lit as well.

From the manufacturer:

  • Fast Charge Li-ion or NiMH/NiCd Rechargeable batteries including most common 18650 size.
  • Test Li-ion NiMH/NiCd cells for actual capacity.
  • Automatic selection of NiMH/NiCd or Li-ion chemistry cells.
  • For use with the following: NiMH/NiCd: A, AA, AAA, sub-C, C-baby size
  • Li-ion: 26650, 22650, 19650 (protected 18650) 18650, 17670, 18490, 17500, 17355, 16340 (RCR123A), 14500, 10440
  • With the new AccuPower IQ338 charge or test most round cell batteries. Automatic selection of NiMH/NiCd or Li-ion chemistry cells. Includes the most common 18650 cells, can accept cells up to 70mm in length. Easy to use, easy to program, informative display.
  • Four indepentent channels programmed individually.
  • Easy to read large Backlit LCD display.
  • Digitally displays battery information.
  • Adjustable charging rate from 300 to 1000 mA.
  • Three modes of operation:
    •   Charge
    •   Fast Test
    •   Nor Test (Normal Test)
  • Delta Peak full charge detection for NiMH/NiCd cells.
  • 4.2V full charge for Li-ion cells. CC/CV charge profile.
  • 12V input powered and can be powered by an optional car adapter.
  • Worldwide voltage switching power supply.
  • Automatic detection of different battery type. NiMH/NiCd Vs Li-ion.
  • Thermal sensors to protect against overheat and overcharge.
  • USB charging socket. Supplies 5V 1000 mA.

So I figured out that this unit is actually a computer that also charges batteries. OK, on a more serious note, this is a great charger. However, it only has four slots for batteries. I wanted the ability to charge more batteries at one time than just four so I took some time and looked online to see if it has a bigger brother. It does, but the bigger brother is not the IC-338 with more slots, it is a carbon copy of the Tenergy unit.

And unlike the Foxnovo unit, the AccuPower unit does come with instructions…very, very good instructions. It explains how to take advantage of each unit feature.

I like this unit, just wish it handled more batteries at one time.

BlueTech AV-1000 & MaximalPower FC1000 –

You might be wondering why I am grouping these two chargers together for review purposes…GREAT QUESTION! Simple answer…they are the same unit other than a different name on them. Although there are two units being tested, I will refer to them as “unit” for the purposes of this article.

The unit solidly built, sleek, and compact. The LCD was clear and easy to read.

Comparison Chart –
Summary –

Let’s clear up one thing right off the bat…The FlePow and the Tenergy chargers are made by the same company in China, SunLabz. SunLanz simply does what’s called “private label” manufacturing. In addition to SubLabz selling their own chargers they market them to other companies such as Tenergy who then sell them under their brand. Since that is the case I ordered a SunLabz 16-bay charger for testing. I will add it into the mix as soon as it comes it.

You also might be wondering why I only picked three units to test. Valid question. I only wanted units that were both 110v/12v, were rated decently on Amazon, and had the safety features that I was looking for. If they didn’t meet that basic criteria then I wasn’t even interested in trying them. I also wanted to test high-capacity units (8 – 16 batteries) and low capacity units (4 batteries).

The ability to charge the other types and sizes of batteries could prove to be a real benefit in long-term emergencies and disasters. In terms of grid-down, the ability to recharge the rechargeable CR123a batteries (RCA123A) could prove really valuable. It should be noted that I am NOT a proponent of the CR123a batteries (rechargeable or standard), I only use and recommend AA & AAA batteries.

I can’t recommend the Foxnova unit, it simply cooks the batteries with too much heat.

 

Note: “PWM” – Pulse Width Modulation is the most effective means to achieve constant voltage battery charging. PWM regulation tapers the voltage according to the battery’s condition and recharging needs. PWM has recently surfaced as the first significant advance in battery charging.

  • Ability to recover lost battery capacity.
  • Dramatically increase the charge acceptance of the battery.
  • Maintain high average battery capacities (90% to 95%) compared to on-off regulated state-of-charge levels that are typically 55% to 60%.
  • Reduce battery heating.
  • Automatically adjust for battery aging.
  • Self-regulate for voltage drops and temperature effects in charging systems.

 

 

 

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One thought on “Storing Harvested Solar Power (Part #2)

  1. 3rd try so I’ll keep to one point. There is a new solar panel called the TalentCell 24 watt Solar Panel. What seems to make this special is the 3 output ports, including 1 15V DC. Comes with all the necessary cables, AND, it can be connected to a second TalentCell for a total of 48 watts. The panel is under $75.00.

    I know nothing whatsoever about this panel but I am seeing it on a couple of 2016 top 10 lists, so I hope that you will seriously look at this one.

    In the meantime, Now back in stock, so I just connected here to Amazon for one of the Eco-Worthy panels. Thank you again for this advice

    Like

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