What Type of Battery is Best For Off Grid Living?

Unsure what type of battery is best for off grid living? We break down the best batteries to use when you live off grid.

Harold Thompson


Harold Thompson


Oct 26, 2023

What Type of Battery is Best For Off Grid Living?

What Type of Battery is Best For Off Grid Living?

When you live off grid, you generate your own power. And that means off-grid life hinges on the availability of back-up power, like batteries. These energy storage units make the consumption of clean, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind a feasible reality. Below, we break down the best batteries to use for living off-grid.

Solar Battery Voltage for Off-Grid Systems

Solar-specific batteries typically come in 12V, 24V, and 48V configurations, and your chosen voltage influences the overall system design. For context, standard vehicles utilize 12V batteries, which offers an easy backup charging source, while larger vehicles like trucks, buses, RVs, and boats typically run on 24V batteries.

EV batteries are much higher voltage, with configurations between 400-800V with plug-ins designed specifically for charging at home. For example, the Ford F-150 Lightning battery  is a 400V system that can be used as a backup power system to power your whole house at an extra $3,000 cost. It's been compared to having 7-9 Tesla Powerwalls in your garage, ready at a moment's notice.

In the U.S., the F-150 Lightning is the only EV to support V2H charging functionalities, but the Nissan Leaf has vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging capabilities. Both Tesla and GM have plans for bi-directional charging cars (like The Lightning). And other cars like Hyundai's Ioniq 5, Kia EV6, and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV have vehicle to load (V2L) technology, which allows you to provide AC power for charging home appliances or even a separate stationary battery.

To learn more about using EVs as a backup power source for your off-grid solar system, check out this article from The Driven - it's meant for Australian audiences, but it explains a few of the complications in using EVs in this way, as well as a timeline for when it's going to become easier to use vehicle to home (V2H) systems. In Australia, it seems like 2025 at the earliest (but probably a few years after for widespread access). In the U.S., the infrastructure and cars will probably start to become more widely available in earnest by 2024 to 2025.

Energy Storage Solutions for Off-Grid Life

Okay, now that the voltage configurations and EV options have been explained, let's get to the batteries. The batteries detailed below all have a role to play in off-grid living. Select the right fit for the right use case to make your off-grid solar system as robust as possible.

The Top Types of Off-Grid Battery

Among off-grid living enthusiasts, several types of batteries gain favor due to their unique properties.

Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP): The LFP battery, a recent breakthrough in battery technology, differs from lithium-ion batteries in its chemistry. They swap the toxic cobalt in lithium-ion batteries for a mix of iron phosphate and graphite, improving the environmental friendliness of battery usage. LFP batteries provide efficient energy storage, extended lifespans, and reliable performance across a wide range of temperatures.

In most off-grid situations, they are the top-tier choice due to their rapid charging, enhanced lifespan, and lower environmental impact. They offer high energy density, lightweight designs, and long lifespans, all without succumbing to the memory effect or demanding extra maintenance. Although the initial cost may be higher, their overall efficiency and longevity offer a cost-effective solution for those constructing an off-grid smart home ecosystem.

Lithium-Ion Batteries: Renowned for their high energy density, lithium-ion batteries find use in everyday electronic devices, residential solar systems, and electric vehicles. Their compact size and long lifespan (up to 20 years) make them a preferred choice for weight and size-conscious applications. Modern manufacturing advancements and widespread usage have significantly reduced their production costs.

Lead Acid Batteries: Lead acid batteries, made of lead, lead oxide, and sulfuric acid, are common in cars, golf carts, and boats. Their cost-effectiveness and resilience to deep discharges make them a popular choice, despite their size, weight, and maintenance requirements. Lead acid batteries come in three main variants: flooded lead acid, gel lead acid, and AGM lead acid, each with its unique advantages, applications, and limitations.

Nickel Cadmium Batteries: Nickel-cadmium batteries are suitable for portable devices requiring durable power sources, and are robust, resilient in cold temperatures, and have a long lifespan. However, their energy density falls short of lithium-ion or LFP batteries, and they suffer from the "memory effect," limiting their full recharge capability. Additionally, their cadmium content presents environmental concerns.

Eyeing the Future: The Emergence of Sodium-Ion Batteries

Sodium-ion batteries (Na-io, or SIBs) are emerging as a potential contender to displace LFP batteries in home energy storage. Although sodium batteries are still in their early stages, this technology utilizes the plentiful, affordable, and non-toxic element of sodium, which might lead to a more cost-effective, sustainable, and safer alternative to existing battery technologies.

Sodium-ion batteries function similarly to lithium-ion counterparts but replace lithium with sodium ions. As sodium is more abundant and more evenly distributed globally, this technology could reduce dependence on specific geographical regions (such as Chile and Australia, where most lithium comes from) and help address the ethical issues associated with some lithium mining operations.

The Chinese battery powerhouse CATL has led the charge in sodium ion development, capitalizing on sodium's abundance and geographical dispersion to create a battery costing around 30% less than the widely used LFP battery. However, the current energy density of Na-ion batteries falls short compared to their Li-ion counterparts.

In response to soaring lithium and other battery materials prices over the past two years, numerous cell manufacturers have joined forces with CATL to create a robust Na-ion supply chain.

Nearly 30 Na-ion battery production plants are currently in operation or under development, projected to boast a combined capacity exceeding 100 GWh. For perspective, the International Energy Agency (IEA) pegs the present Li-ion battery manufacturing capacity at about 1,500 GWh.

Given Na-ion cells' potential insensitivity to rising lithium, cobalt, and nickel costs, industry watchers expect the lower pack cost could convince manufacturers to switch from Li-ion applications.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) projects the energy density of sodium-ion batteries in 2025 will match that of LFP in the early 2020s, which accounted for a significant share of global battery demand at the time. BNEF also forecasts a surge in sodium-ion use in cars starting in 2025, predicting deployments exceeding 15GWh that year.

Blend lithium and sodium batteries together?

Progress has been made in bringing sodium batteries to market sooner rather than later. Researchers at Arizona State University are exploring the blending of lithium and sodium in a single battery as a means to solve supply issues, potentially leading to cheaper batteries and a more secure supply chain. The team is characterizing lithium-sodium materials and gauging their stability, with promising preliminary results.

Across the Pacific, researchers at Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications are making strides in the development of high energy density SIBs in a solid state form. They are working on optimizing NaxMM'(PO4)3 cathodes, which hold potential for a three-electron reaction and high operating voltage, crucial for improving energy density in SIBs. The team has synthesized carbon-coated high-energy Na4MnCr(PO4)3, marking a significant step towards enhanced cyclic stability in solid-state sodium metal batteries.

What does all this mean for your off grid home? It means while LFP is the best option today, SIBs (or sodium batteries) could be more widely available over the next couple years. In fact, there are some exciting startups working on this technology as we speak.

The primary challenge lies in optimizing the performance of sodium-ion batteries, with a focus on enhancing energy density and the number of charge cycles to levels comparable with lithium-ion or LFP batteries.

While the future of this technology seems promising, it requires further research and development before it becomes a dominant force in the off-grid energy storage arena, particularly for off-grid living situations.

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