The Deep Cycle batteries used in cars, RVs or Boats are designed to be discharged and then re-charged hundreds or thousands of times. These batteries are rated in Amp Hours (ah) – usually at 20 hours and 100 hours. Simply stated, amp hours refers to the amount of current – in amps – which can be supplied by the battery over the period of hours.
For example, a 350ah battery could supply 17.5 continuous amps over 20 hours or 35 continuous amps for 10 hours.
To quickly express the total watts potentially available in a 6 volt 360ah battery; 360ah times the nominal 6 volts equals 2160 watts or 2.16kWh (kilowatt-hours). Like solar panels, batteries are wired in series and/or parallel to increase voltage to the desired level and increase amp hours.
The battery should have sufficient amp hour capacity to supply needed power during the longest expected period “no sun” or extremely cloudy conditions. A lead-acid battery should be sized at least 20% larger than this amount. If there is a source of back-up power, such as a standby generator along with a battery charger, the battery bank does not have to be sized for worst case weather conditions.
The size of the battery bank required will depend on the storage capacity required, the maximum discharge rate, the maximum charge rate, and the minimum temperature at which the batteries will be used. During planning, all of these factors are looked at, and the one requiring the largest capacity will dictate the battery size.
One of the biggest mistakes made by those just starting out is not understanding the relationship between amps and amp-hour requirements of 120 volt AC items versus the effects on their DC low voltage batteries.
For example, say you have a 24 volt nominal system and an inverter powering a load of 3 amps, 120VAC, which has a duty cycle of 4 hours per day. You would have a 12 amp hour load (3A X 4 hrs=12 ah).
However, in order to determine the true drain on your batteries you have to divide your nominal battery voltage (24v) into the voltage of the load (120v), which is 5, and then multiply this times your 120vac amp hours (5 x 12 ah). So in this case the calculation would be 60 amp hours drained from your batteries – not the 12 ah. Another simple way is to take the total watt-hours of your 120VAC device and divide by nominal system voltage.
Using the above example;
3 amps x 120 volts x 4 hours = 1440 watt-hours divided by 24 DC volts = 60 amp hours.
Lead-acid batteries are the most common in PV systems because their initial cost is lower and because they are readily available nearly everywhere in the world. There are many different sizes and designs of lead-acid batteries, but the most important designation is that they are deep cycle batteries. Lead-acid batteries are available in both wet-cell (requires maintenance) and sealed no-maintenance versions. AGM and Gel-cell deep-cycle batteries are also popular because they are maintenance free and they last a lot longer.