When it comes to electric power generation, particularly in emergency and standby applications, it can be critical that power is uninterrupted. Many companies invest in UPS systems to prevent disruptions in electricity but rely on their generator set(s) to start and support their electrical loads, ensuring a constant supply of power during outages. Starting battery condition can be the difference between an efficient transition of power; and disastrous consequences from power loss, caused by the inability to start the engines.
The majority of generator failure-to-start problems are due to batteries in poor condition. Insufficient charges due to short run periods, or chemical deterioration over time leave batteries depleted and unable to start engines. Even with proper maintenance, as batteries age they will lose their ability to hold a proper charge and will need replacement to avoid starting issues.
Proper maintenance procedures and testing intervals will help ensure failure to start conditions due to poor battery quality, do not occur. Testing the output voltage of a starting battery is not enough to determine the capability of the battery when under load. In order to correctly assess starting battery conditions, a digital voltmeter, hydrometer, manual battery load tester or battery analyzer should be used to determine battery life.
Starting battery type will dictate the method of testing. If a sealed battery is being tested, a digital voltmeter and a manual load tester will determine battery condition. If the battery used requires maintenance, a temperature compensating hydrometer will test specific gravity and confirm the battery’s state of charge; but should still be load tested, along with verifying output voltage using a digital voltmeter. The alternative is a battery analyzer. It will confirm the condition of the battery as well as the state of charge; it is not dependent on the battery being charged before testing, and compensates for temperature.
Depending on generator charging system and features, starting battery life and condition may be monitored electronically; this however is no substitute for manual inspection and should not replace visual evaluation.
When inspecting and testing batteries:
- Always take proper safety precautions to avoid injury
- Inspect batteries for corrosion, abnormally warm temperatures and swelling
- Use baking soda and water solution to clean corrosion if present. Coating terminals in light silicon grease or petroleum jelly will slow corrosion buildup.
- When adding water to a battery, be sure not to overfill, and use distilled or demineralized water. Tap water will have an adverse effect because of its minerals and impurities.
- Test battery when fully charged. It is recommended that the surface charge be removed or the battery has set for an extended period (12 hours) before testing. (Does not apply to battery analyzer).
- When testing specific gravity, hydrometer readings should not vary more than .05 between cells.
- Always verify that the charging system is connected and working properly.
Too often starting battery maintenance and testing are neglected procedures which can lead to battery failure. The most common service calls for generators are failure to start due to battery failure. With so much riding on the ability of your investment to start and maintain your electrical loads, why take a chance with improperly maintained starting batteries?
A few things to consider:
- Are proper maintenance procedures in place to monitor battery condition on a consistent basis?
- Are the proper tools readily accessible to monitor and test battery condition?
- When replacing batteries, are replacements of equal size and rating, recommended by the manufacturer being used?
- When inspecting batteries, are other components of the starting and charging system being inspected to ensure there are no breaks in wire/ cable insulation or loose connections?
With proper maintenance procedures in place, combined with the appropriate diagnostic equipment; failure to starts issues due to poor battery condition can easily be avoided. Due diligence is a must when there is so much relying an efficient transition of power.
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