The True Cost of a Battery

Tom Shannon, Director of Business Development • BatteryDAQ, Inc.

It is an established practice for design engineers to follow a process for selecting the best battery for a project or application, by submitting the choices through a balanced approach that compared technical requirements and goals, to cost and ongoing maintenance requirements.

The established process includes several factors including: application and duty cycle outlooks, system interface and communication issues, geographic location and ease of visitation, environmental conditions, initial price, installation cost, ongoing maintenance cost, and replacement schedule and cost.

Perhaps some of these considerations can be jumbled in order, but matching the application with a suited battery is of utmost importance.  Expectations and requirements for usage, along with high/low temperatures could well foil all other considerations from the start, unless they are accurately assigned from the beginning.

Next, decisions should be made on battery vendor’s claims of life for the batteries designed for the application.  To best estimate the actual cost, after the initial price, of a battery, design engineers should assess the following:

  • CalculationsEnsure initial price includes the batteries, racks,and freight.
  • Installation complexity, if different for various battery types being considered
  • Maintenance commitment and difficulty.
  • Replacement timelines for the various battery types (5, 7, 10, 12, or more years?)
  • Reliability reality of battery manufacturers and models.
  • Negotiate and compare vendor warranties

After performance requirements and varying costs are compiled for the battery choices, short, medium and long term costs can be calculated.  It is at this point that the objective portion of the equation meets the subjective estimates.

In order to formulate the truest evaluation of battery cost, there are several things that should happen on a continual basis.

  • Consult maintenance technicians on current, and any known future procedures for maintaining battery strings.  Some of these will include:
    • Increased or decreased visitation schedules
    • Changes to other system maintenance schedules
    • Current workload and future estimates
    • Personnel number and levels of expertise
    • Wages/benefits
    •  Site and battery maintenance prioritization
  • Research new maintenance tools.  Some of these will include:
    • Time saving techniques
    • Upgraded environmental conditions
    • Site monitoring requirements
    • Battery monitoring advances that save time, effort, and money

When all of these considerations have been reviewed and calculated, before a final choice can be comfortably decided, the results must pass the final criteria.  That criteria consists of only one question, which is: where does this choice rank on the requirement that the power does not go off?

If the answer is not high enough to grant a purchase, the process does not necessarily have to begin again.  Nor, does the best choice to answer the question need to be made.

Remember, the subjective considerations within the process can change.  The real exercise to establishing the true costs of batteries lies in uncovering new technologies that can improve operational efficiency and effectiveness, by positively impacting battery maintenance needs, extending service life and aligning with overall company goals.

One such technology is continuous battery monitoring.  For the most part, batteries used for backup power have not changed much over the decades.  Admittedly, some improvements have been achieved and manufacturers would argue battery performance and reliability have improved.  OK.  That is fair.  But, does an end-user, who does not deploy comprehensive battery monitoring, for the investment they have made in battery backup power, enjoy any real feeling of confidence that those batteries will work as needed, when needed?  The answer has been, and remains, no.

But, the cost!  But, the cumbersome wiring! But, the flood of raw data that only experts can understand! But, the cost of ongoing maintenance!

The fact is, these are all outdated objections, for not implementing continuous battery monitoring.  While batteries continue to lack a built-in mechanism to independently communicate their state-of-health, battery monitoring has evolved dramatically over the years.  So much so, that if UPS manufacturers, end users, and service companies have not conducted a recent thorough review of available Battery Monitoring Systems (BMS), it is past time to do so.  Why?  Because, every one of the objections listed above have been rendered obsolete.

Beyond the UPS marketplace, BMS technology and lowered costs have actually broken through the glass ceiling for remote site monitoring for the telecom and utility markets.  Battery cabinets can be easily and affordably monitored and actionable data can be presented to end users for immediate decision making.

The process to review BMS manufacturers that offer a comprehensive state-of-health solution can be done with little effort.  The name brand manufacturers may be easily contacted.  But, a quick online search will bring forth a few other solid choices, whose Customer advocates are eager to learn more about applications and configurations.  What’s more, some manufacturers will make available trial systems, if the opportunity presents itself.

In order to meaningfully conduct such a search, it is essential to commit to the reality that backup battery power is in place to protect hardware, data, and services that are exponentially more important and more valuable than the simple cost of batteries.

Ultimately, the true cost of batteries goes beyond what was paid.  The true cost can be found in what they protect, and what happens if they don’t work as needed, when needed.

It’s nice to know the power will stay on, when the grid goes down.

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