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Top 13 Key-Features of a Battery Voltage Monitoring Device

Morgana Siggins
Morgana Siggins
Monitoring Specialist

How important is the health of your batteries? When your uptime is riding on your batteries, don't leave them unmonitored. By not monitoring your battery cells, you expose yourself to issues that can turn into big headaches. All it takes is a single bad cell or a fully discharged battery and your entire network can come to a screeching halt.

We've provided many battery monitoring solutions during our 30+ years in business, so we know that - when it comes to ensuring the most reliable network possible - you can't afford to cut any corners. To achieve superior reliability in your network and to greatly facilitate maintenance planning, you have to start monitoring your critical battery power.

Before you choose your battery monitor, you first have to know what you're looking for. So, let's dive in.


Monitor Your Battery Cells to Maximize your Network Reliability

Do you know the status of your remote site battery plants? Would you know if one individual jar was falling out of its ideal voltage or temperature range and possibly damaging other cells in the string? Are strap resistance and conductance important parameters to you?

At a lot of companies, battery cell monitoring is a commonly overlooked opportunity to reduce costs and improve reliability by facilitating maintenance planning.

If you've ever had battery failures in the past, you know just how painful they can be. Bad cells in a string can easily go undetected when not monitored (even a single bad jar can dramatically affect an entire string of batteries). An entire site could instantly go dark way before the estimated run time if your batteries aren't working properly.


The 5 Benefits of Monitoring Your Batteries

Leaving your battery cells unmonitored opens the door for too many problems - and many of them are easily avoidable. Here are 5 of the main benefits you'll see when you deploy your own battery monitoring system:

1. Prevent outages

The first and biggest benefit of battery monitoring is the ability to avoid, through maintenance, many power-related outages. When your battery cells are left unmonitored, all you can do is guess about their status. Creating a reliable network requires continuous network monitoring - otherwise, a small issue can quickly turn into a serious problem.

2. Detect problems with individual bad cells

A single bad battery jar can degrade the performance of an entire array of batteries. The good batteries compensate for the bad battery, thus putting them under load and reducing their life span. Monitoring the entire string is better than no monitoring at all - but it's not the most effective way to improve reliability. String voltage doesn't tell you how many cells have degraded and to what extent.

The ability to monitor resistance using a sophisticated conductance test for individual batteries can give you the information you need to determine exactly when a battery will need to be replaced. Plus, forecasting battery life is great for planning budgets and may help you detect a bad battery while it's still under warranty.

3. Avoid batteries completely draining power

Your batteries won't be very useful if they're unable to provide power. What's worse is that a discharged string can, in some cases, delay or prevent the site from coming back up - even after power has been restored. Discharging your batteries completely can also significantly reduce the total lifespan of the batteries. With a monitoring device in place, you can set thresholds for notifications. This means, if your battery capacity drops below a certain percentage, you'll receive a notification and can quickly respond accordingly.

4. Monitor Temperature Issues

It's not enough to only monitor voltage. Battery cells can get abnormally hot when they are failing. This is called thermal runaway and is a type of uncontrolled positive feedback. Temperature monitoring at each cell can help detect battery issues long before they can cause serious issues. Including temperature monitoring with your voltage monitoring is smart information to have when monitoring your battery cells.

5. Copper Theft

Copper theft is always an issue - even more so when you have unmanned sites. And a site with large amounts of batteries will also have large amounts of copper, making them prime targets for break-ins and theft. With a system that monitors individual battery jars, you will be notified when copper goes missing from your string.


13 Features You Need to Look For in a Battery Voltage Monitoring Device

A battery monitor won't be truly effective without the right features. It's far too common for a vendor to skimp on hardware/software features and cut corners to reduce costs, only to leave out the critical features needed for a truly effective monitoring system.

Don't settle for inadequate monitoring - make sure your battery monitor has these 13 must-have features.

1. Adequate Capacity

Some battery voltage monitoring systems don't support the capacity to handle large quantities of cells. It's absolutely essential that you have the ability to monitor each of your battery jars - otherwise you'll find yourself vulnerable to the weakest link of the battery string.

2. SNMP Support

What good is a battery voltage monitor if it has no way of reporting problems to you?

With a device that supports at least SNMP, you'll be able to receive SNMP traps to a master station to notify you if there's an issue with your batteries. This means you can easily bring battery monitoring of your unmanned sites under your SNMP monitoring umbrella. Notifications are the key to preventing outages caused by issues with your batteries. Without SNMP, integrating battery monitoring into your network can be a considerable challenge.

3. 24/7 Notifications

When it comes to monitoring your batteries - and therefore protecting your uptime - you want true flexibility. Having the capability to receive 24/7 notifications (via SMS text message, email, voice alerts, etc) about the status of your batteries can be the difference between an outage and keeping power to your gear.

Even if you have a 7x24 NOC (Network Operations Center), receiving on-the-fly and mobile notifications can give you an edge in avoiding preventable outages. Look for a battery monitor that can alert you via emails, SMS text messages, etc. With flexible alerts that can notify you out of the office, you can be assured you won't feel blindsided by a battery maintenance issue.

4. Continuous Inductance Measurements

Your monitoring device should be able to monitor internal resistance of the battery cell, which increases as the battery loses the capability to provide power. Other systems may support conductance. This is pretty much the same result, as conductance is the inverse of inductance.

But beware of systems that don't support either of these approaches for monitoring internal resistance.

5. Historical Trending

A battery monitor with an analog logging feature will allow you to graph historical trends of your battery monitoring data from the web page. With graphical data, you'll be able to analyze your battery performance information and observe degradation patterns with your batteries. If you ever need to reference past data about your battery parameters, you'll have the historical information at your disposal.

6. Accurate Voltage Measurement

If your battery voltage monitor can't accurately measure voltage and temperature, then you might as well have no monitoring at all. An effective battery monitor will be able to provide you with accurate readings within 1% of the actual value. With an accurate battery monitor, you can be assured that you truly know the status of your batteries.

7. Web Interface

A device with a web interface will present you with powerful network management tools. Instead of driving all the way out to your site to configure or manage your device, you can do it right from your desk. This can save you on fuel costs and expensive man-hours.

You may be a large company with an enterprise-grade SNMP manager, but a web interface lets you drill down when you need to. An intuitive and easy-to-use web interface is head-and-shoulders above any other method to manage your battery monitoring.

8. Flexible Battery Support

You want your battery monitor to have the ability to work with different battery types and voltages. All batteries are not the same. They have different orientations, connectors, and different voltage ranges - for instance, you might have a standard string of batteries or a string with four 12V cells and proprietary connectors. You need a battery monitoring system that is physically adaptable to your requirements.

9. Local Voltage Isolation

You need sensors that isolate voltage locally at the battery. That is why sensors at each cell report data digitally rather than via analog. This allows for more accurate battery readings and creates a much safer environment. Keeping the voltage reading local reduces the risk of inadvertently shorting an analog connection line and thus shorting the battery. This means you don't have to deal with the hazards of transporting battery voltage over any span of considerable distance.

10. Battery Lifespan Tracking

Unfortunately, battery jars typically have a lifespan of about five years, depending on the battery and manufacturer. It's not uncommon for an expiring cell to be forgotten about, only to create a liability in your power supplies. This is a serious problem if you're using batteries as your primary power supply, and even more severe if your batteries are your backup.

Through the use of inductance tests, your monitoring device should warn you that a cell needs to be replaced. The inductance measurement is an indication of the ability of a battery to produce more electrical current.

11. Streamlined Network Monitoring

When it comes to maintenance, most technicians are responsible for a wide variety of systems and networks. In order to promote efficiency, prevent missed alarms, and reduce downtime, the ability to monitor your power supplies in the same manner as your environmental sensors can be a valuable asset.

Look for a device that combines multiple features to streamline your system. For example, Auto-calibration eliminates the need to calibrate the acceptable battery level range. Over the course of 30 days, the Sentinel collects data and uses it to auto-calibrate your system's unique range of acceptable averages. Not only do you no longer have to calibrate the equipment yourself, but it is also specific to your equipment. The custom calibration makes the range more accurate.

12. Internal Resistance Testing

Also known as "Strap Testing", this process allows for the measurement of the health of individual cells in your network of batteries.

This testing is a necessity for any well-designed battery monitor. By measuring the resistance in the wire, or "strap" connecting the individual cells, the device is able to detect any open or loose connections. Having connection points that are not secure can reduce the current capacity and cause excess heat within your battery network.

13. Company Expertise

When you're choosing a vendor, don't take chances. Be skeptical. Ask the hard questions. Above all, look for experience. Don't just take a sales rep's word. Ask how many systems they've worked with, how many protocols they can integrate, and check for client testimonials.

Any system you buy should be from a reputable company with years of experience in the field. They should offer support and expertise, and a money-back guarantee.


Fix The Problem Before It Becomes a Bigger One

As you know, if you've ever had battery failures in the past, a single bad cell can damage the whole string if you don't catch it early. Beyond battery damage, you can have a site unexpectedly lose power if your battery plant is malfunctioning or even just full discharged.

As an experienced network monitoring solutions provider, we understand that many of the traditional techniques for monitoring batteries don't really work. Of course, a simple voltage measurement for the entire string is much better than nothing, but it doesn't help you diagnose the health of each cell individually.

If you decide that what you need is a battery monitoring tool that's capable of monitoring both voltage and temperature at each battery cell that's easy to install and wire up, just give us a call and we'll be glad to help you.

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