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Anyone familiar with uninterruptible power systems (UPSs) understands that the heart of any device is its batteries. For decades, backup solutions have been powered almost exclusively by the tried-and-true veteran of the industry, valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries. But in recent years, a new player has been carving a niche in the market — and is now setting the stage to potentially overpower the VRLA authority. Here are six important things you need to know about this promising newcomer, lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technology:
l The use of Li-ion batteries is still limited. Despite significant advantages afforded by the unique chemistries and cell packaging of lithium-ion batteries, their deployment in UPSs remains relatively narrow. However, this is expected to change as the batteries’ manufacturing costs continue to decrease, their benefits become more widely understood, and manufacturers create compatible UPSs.
l They pack more power into a smaller footprint. Delivering multiple times more energy and power density than their VRLA counterparts, Li-ion batteries are smaller, lighter, recharge faster and have double or more the lifespan. It is estimated that a lithium-ion battery system for a UPS will occupy 50 to 80 percent less floor space and weigh 60 to 80 percent less than a comparable lead-acid system. In addition to space savings, the reduced footprint also translates to a reduction in cooling requirements and far greater installation flexibility.
l They have lower maintenance requirements and a longer lifespan. Li-ion batteries reduce maintenance burdens by eliminating the need to periodically cycle batteries to calibrate runtime, coupled with their impressive lifespan of 10 or more years. In fact, in many cases, by the time Li-ion batteries need to be replaced, the UPS will also have reached its own end of life. Even more, Li-ion batteries include sophisticated battery management systems (BMSs) that automatically collect and report data to accurately understand the system’s health and status. In contrast, VRLA batteries rely on chemistry that makes it difficult to accurately predict when they’re going to fail — not very helpful if you discover this during an unexpected power loss that takes down your critical load.
l Their upfront cost is higher than VRLA batteries. Currently, the installed cost of a Li-ion system will run roughly 1.5 to 3 times higher than a comparable VRLA solution, but experts predict this gap will narrow considerably. In fact, increasing demand, technology enhancements and manufacturing efficiency have already significantly driven down the cost of Li-ion-based systems, with further reductions projected. Combined with its strong performance advantages, Li-ion battery technology has evolved over the past several years into a financially viable solution for many applications.
l They offer lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Li-ion batteries deliver exceptional value when it comes to operating expenses (OPEX), mainly due to their lifespan being roughly double that of VRLA systems. In fact, a recent analysis found that over a 10-year period, Li-ion-based UPS systems (as of 2016) will produce TCO that is 10 to 40 percent lower than that of a VRLA system, with those numbers expected to improve dramatically in the coming months and years. Li-ion batteries not only slash the cost and burden of replacements, but also mitigate the risks of down time or load interruption during maintenance.
l They’re safe. Already widely deployed in hundreds of millions of smart phones and portable electronic devices — not to mention electric cars — lithium-ion batteries don’t contain mercury, lead, cadmium or any other material considered to be hazardous. Over the years, chemistry changes and enhancements in cell packaging have made these batteries more stable, while manufacturing procedures are now well established. Furthermore, the BMSs included with Li-ion batteries ensure they don’t overcharge or overheat.