In their drive and enthusiasm for alternative energy, people often lose sight of a few critical concerns. Chief among these is the fact that alternative energy distribution is markedly different from that of fossil fuels. While the “use it or lose it” rule still applies to generated electricity, the nature of power generation means that high-capacity, long-lifecycle batteries are even more critical to creating and maintaining a functioning grid or private installation.
Fossil Fuels vs. Alternative Energy
One of the biggest differences between producing alternative energy and creating power from fossil fuel sources is that you can’t store most alternative energy sources. For example, windmills and solar panels only function when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Oil and gas, on the other hand, can be stored in secure containers until they’re ready for processing. Because generation is unavoidably intermittent, it’s critical that distribution systems be able to store energy for distribution when they’re not creating power.
Power Grid Considerations
Regardless how it’s created, electricity must be stored in batteries. In most cases, these batteries should be collocated with the generator in question.
As current travels through power lines, the resistance of the wires and electrical loads causes energy to be lost as heat. According to some statistics, transmission and distribution losses between 6 to 8 percent are actually considered normal with most power grids.
While such losses may not seem like much cause for concern when you’re generating huge amounts of excess energy via traditional power plants, they definitely add up. Smaller sources, like windmills and PV arrays, can’t always make up for the difference; intelligent storage and distribution is therefore a must.
People can’t simply attach random UPS batteries to their generators or panel arrays and link them directly into the grid. Power grid devices must meet standards established by bodies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). These organizations define reliability requirements pertaining to the North American power grid, and their regulations cover a huge range of equipment, set ups and operating techniques.
Even heavy-duty cells designed for industrial power storage, like EnerSys batteries, must meet compliance standards and be connected via appropriate load management circuitry. Such considerations are especially important when trying to feed power back into the grid, as load mismatches can cause transmission equipment failures or hazardous conditions.
Concerns for Homeowners
While most homeowners who run their own solar or wind power generators aren’t at risk of causing a massive brownout, they still have to worry about efficiency and safety. For instance, failing to perform appropriate UPS battery maintenance on a routine schedule can contribute to serious property hazards. Forgetting to charge the lead-acid batteries in a UPS could also result in permanent capacity losses.
While some smaller UPS models can be upgraded with swappable hardware acquired through UPS battery sales, larger devices should only be serviced by experienced professionals. In order to fulfill high voltage and current requirements, many units employ complex topologies consisting of combined cells. These arrays must be balanced properly in order to avoid risking the entire load. Without the proper expertise and testing equipment, it’s impossible to build a reliable system.
Although lead-acid cells are the technology of choice for the majority of private solar and wind installations, these cells pose potential hazards due to leakages and weather-induced degradation. Batteries that meet FERC and NERC standards for safety generally stand a better chance of resisting the forces of time and nature.
In order to combat potential environmental issues, many installations employ battery enclosures. These housings also protect the batteries from undue exposure to atmospheric moisture and debris. Because they’re designed to fit standard Deka batteries and other cells, they’re extremely convenient for homeowners who want to create custom alternative energy storage arrangements and still remain safe.
Regardless whether you choose storage options like EnerSys batteries or solar panels that incorporate their own cells, you must plan ahead. Check out the Sure Power, Inc. website for more tips and ideas on gaining energy independence.
References: ABB Inc. “Energy Efficiency in the Power Grid.” Available from click here  Sembler, R. “UPS Battery Maintenance 101.” Oct. 21, 2010. Electrical Construction & Maintenance. Available from http://ecmweb.com/ops-amp-maintenance/ups-battery-maintenance-101.