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Lithium Iron Phosphate Batteries Are Uniquely Suited To Solar Energy Storage: Here’s Why

23 May 2020 - lithium iron phosphate batteries LiFePO4 battery Lithium ion batteries

As the solar power industry pushes the boundaries of clean, renewable energy, more and more households and businesses are relying on the sun for fuel. But the sun only shines for part of the day – so, like many other energy setups, solar power needs a storage solution to be completely viable as a single source. While adding battery storage to a solar array adds to the initial installation cost, utilizing energy storage increases the efficiency of solar panels, so in the long term, it decreases the per kWh cost to consumers.

For the last two decades, most energy storage solutions (ESS) have used lithium ion batteries as their main backup source. Lithium ion batteries are inexpensive, readily available, and, as more devices and even vehicles have come to rely on them, they have saturated the battery market. As this saturation occurs, it contributes to both the availability of lithium ion and a further decrease in cost. Additionally, lithium batteries last longer and can be easier to install than available alternatives, like lead-acid batteries. So it’s easy to see why lithium ion has been the battery of choice for solar plus storage systems. 
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New technology is inevitable, and like any industry, solar energy systems must be ready to adapt. One promising battery emerging is the lithium iron phosphate battery (LiFePO4 battery). While lithium iron phosphate batteries have both advantages and disadvantages, there are several features that make this solution a great fit for solar energy storage, in particular. 
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Less Cell Density

Cell density is a description of how much power is stored in a given space. A higher density means a battery can run longer. This means that lithium iron phosphate batteries will have to be slightly larger to hold the same amount of energy as a regular lithium ion battery. 
This may seem like a disadvantage, but in most cases, the small amount of extra storage needed is well worth it. A lower cell density makes the batteries less volatile. Lithium iron phosphate batteries are highly unlikely to overheat or worse - catch fire, even if they are overcharged. Since solar power setups are often installed in homes or office buildings, safety is a top priority. The advantage is stability is particularly pronounced in higher temperature environments, and situations where a high voltage (like the ability to run a microwave or refrigerator) is needed.

Longevity

The chemistry makeup of the electrolyte used in lithium iron phosphate batteries allows them to last significantly longer than the standard lithium ion variety. The longer shelf life is helpful in solar situations, where setups are designed to backup the power in a home or business for years. Longer shelf life means less expenses to the homeowner and a lesser chance that your battery will go out at just the wrong moment. Lithium iron phosphate batteries are also practically maintenance-free, so they can be installed in attics, crawl spaces, outbuildings, or other out-of-the way spaces that may be inconvenient to access. 

Environmental Advantages

Many solar customers are looking to make less of an impact on the environment. Solar energy may be cleaner than fossil fuels, but batteries are not typically earth-friendly. Luckily, lithium iron phosphate batteries offer some mitigating factors that make them more environmentally friendly than other batteries on the market. 

While basic lithium ion batteries contain hazardous materials that make them difficult to dispose of in a responsible way, lithium iron phosphate batteries are not considered toxic. They contain common and readily available materials like iron, graphite and copper. This makes them easier to recycle – in fact, some lithium iron phosphate batteries are already made from recycled materials. The common resources also take less energy to mine and process.

The non-combustible nature and long life already mentioned also help mitigate the environmental impact of lithium iron phosphate batteries. Because they won’t overheat, even if they’re not properly disposed of, they are safer in landfills than their lead-acid cousins. And a longer shelf life means lithium iron phosphate batteries in solar plus storage installations won’t be replaced as often, using even less energy to process materials. 

With their increased safety, longer life span, and environmental advantages, lithium iron phosphate batteries are uniquely suited to the solar power industry. Consumers will undoubtedly be happy with this alternative to other battery options on the market.

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