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The Storage Battery

What a storage battery does—The lead battery and the Edison battery—Economy of tungsten lamps for storage batteries—The low-voltage battery for electric light—How to figure the capacity of a battery—Table of light requirements for a farm house—Watt-hours and lamp-hours—The cost of storage battery current—How to charge a storage battery—Care of storage batteries.

For the man

who has a small supply of water to run a water wheel a few hours at a time, or who wishes to store electricity while he is doing routine jobs with a gasoline engine or other source of power, the storage battery solves the problem. The storage battery may be likened to a tank of water which is drawn on when water is needed, and which must be re-filled when empty. A storage battery, or accumulator is a device in which a chemical action is set up when an electric current is passed through it. This is called charging. When such a battery is charged, it has the property of giving off an electric current by means of a reversed chemical action when a circuit is provided, through a lamp or other connection. This reversed action is called discharging. Such a battery will discharge nearly as much current as is required originally to bring about the first chemical action.

There are two common types of storage battery—the lead accumulator, made up of lead plates (alternately positive and negative); and the two-metal accumulator, of which the Edison battery is a representative, made up of alternate plates of iron and nickel. In the lead accumulator, the "positive" plate may be recognized by its brown color when charging, while the "negative" plate is usually light gray, or leaden in color. The action of the charging current is to form oxides of lead in the plates; the action of the discharging current is to reduce the oxides to metallic lead again. This process can be repeated over and over again during the life of the battery.

Because of the cost of the batteries themselves, it is possible (from the viewpoint of the farmer and the size of his pocketbook) to store only a relatively small amount of electric current. For this reason, the storage battery was little used for private plants, where expense is a considerable item, up to a few years ago. Carbon lamps require from 3½ to 4 watts for each candlepower of light they give out; and a lead battery capable of storing enough electricity to supply the average farm house with light by means of carbon lamps for three or four days at a time without recharging, proved too costly for private use.

The Tungsten Lamp

With the advent of the new tungsten lamp, however, reducing the current requirements for light by two-thirds, the storage battery immediately came into its own, and is now of general use.

Since incandescent lamps were first invented scientists have been trying to find some metal of high fusion to use in place of the carbon filament of the ordinary lamp. The higher the fusing point of this filament of wire, the more economical would be the light. Edison sought, thirty years ago, for just the qualities now found in tungsten metal. Tungsten metal was first used for incandescent lamps in the form of a paste, squirted into the shape of a thread. This proved too fragile. Later investigators devised means of drawing tungsten into wire; and it is tungsten wire that is now used so generally in lighting. A tungsten lamp has an average efficiency of 1¼ watts per candlepower, compared with 3½ to 4 watts of the old-style carbon lamp. In larger sizes the efficiency is as low as .9 watt per candlepower; and only recently it has been found that if inert nitrogen gas is used in the glass bulb, instead of using a high vacuum as is the general practice, the efficiency of the lamp becomes still higher, approaching .5 watt for each candlepower in large lamps. This new nitrogen lamp is not yet being manufactured in small domestic sizes, though it will undoubtedly be put on the market in those sizes in the near future.

The Fairbanks Morse oil engine storage battery set

The tungsten lamp, requiring only one-third as much electric current as the carbon lamp, for the same amount of light, reduces the size (and the cost) of the storage battery in the same degree, thus bringing the storage battery within the means of the farmer. Some idea of the power that may be put into a small storage battery is to be had from the fact that a storage battery of only 6 volts pressure, such as is used in self-starters on automobiles, will turn a motor and crank a heavy six-cylinder engine; or it will run the automobile, without gasoline, for a mile or more with its own accumulated store of electric current.

The Low Voltage Battery

The 30-volt storage battery has become standard for small lighting plants, since the introduction of the tungsten lamp. Although the voltage of each separate cell of this battery registers 2.5 volts when fully charged, it falls to approximately 2 volts per cell immediately discharging begins. For this reason, it is customary to figure the working pressure of each cell at 2 volts. This means that a 30-volt battery should consist of at least 15 cells. Since, however, the voltage falls below 2 for each cell, as discharging proceeds, it is usual to include one additional cell for regulating purposes. Thus, the ordinary 30-volt storage battery consists of 16 cells, the last cell in the line remaining idle until the lamps begin to dim, when it is switched in by means of a simple arrangement of connections. This maintains a uniform pressure of 30 volts from the beginning to the end of the charge, at the lamp socket.

We saw in earlier chapters that the 110-volt current is the most satisfactory, under all conditions, where the current is to be used for heating and small power, as well as light. But a storage battery of 110 volts would require at least 55 cells, which would make it too expensive for ordinary farm use. As a 30-volt current is just as satisfactory for electric light, this type has become established, in connection with the battery, and it is used for electric lighting only, as a general rule.

Batteries are rated first, as to voltage; second, as to their capacity in ampere hours—that is, the number of amperes that may be drawn from them in a given number of hours. Thus, a battery rated at 60 ampere hours would give 60 amperes, at 30 volts pressure, for one hour; 30 amperes for 2 hours; 15 amperes for 4 hours; 7½ amperes for 8 hours; 3¾ amperes for 16 hours; etc., etc. In practice, a battery should not be discharged faster than its 8-hour rate. Thus, a 60-ampere hour battery should not be drawn on at a greater rate than 7½ amperes per hour.

This 8-hour rate also determines the rate at which a battery should be re-charged, once it is exhausted. Thus, this battery should be charged at the rate of 7½ amperes for 8 hours, with another hour added to make up for losses that are bound to occur. A battery of 120-ampere hour capacity should be charged for 8 or 9 hours at the rate of 120 ÷ 8, or 15 amperes, etc.

To determine the size of battery necessary for any particular instance, it is necessary first to decide on the number of lamps required, and their capacity. Thirty-volt lamps are to be had in the market in sizes of 10, 15 and 20 watts; they yield respectively 8, 12, and 16 candlepower each. Of these the 20-watt lamp is the most satisfactory for the living rooms; lamps of 10 or 15 watts may be used for the halls, the bathroom and the bedrooms. At 30 volts pressure these lamps would require a current of the following density in amperes:

Candle Power 30-volt lamp Amperes
8 10 watts 0.33
12 15 watts 0.50
16 20 watts 0.67

Let us assume, as an example, that Farmer Brown will use 20-watt lamps in his kitchen, dining room, and sitting room; and 10-watt lamps in the halls, bathroom, and bedrooms. His requirements may be figured either in lamp hours or in watt-hours. Since he is using two sizes of lamps, it will be simpler to figure his requirements in watt-hours. Thus:

Room Number

of lamps

of lamps

Kitchen 1 20 4 80
Dining room 2 20 2 80
Sitting room 3 20 4 240
(3) Bedrooms 1 (each) 10 1 30
Bathroom 1 10 2 20
(2) Halls 1 (each) 10 4 80
Pantry 1 10 1 10
Cellar 1 10 1 10
Total 550

Since amperes equal watts divided by volts, the number of ampere hours required in this case each night would be 550 ÷ 30 = 18.3 ampere hours; or approximately 4½ amperes per hour for 4 hours.

Say it is convenient to charge this battery every fourth day. This would require a battery of 4 × 18.3 ampere hours, or 73.2 ampere hours. The nearest size on the market is the 80-ampere hour battery, which would be the one to use for this installation.

To charge this battery would require a dynamo capable of delivering 10 amperes of current for 9 hours. The generator should be of 45 volts pressure (allowing 2½ volts in the generator for each 2 volts of battery) and the capacity of the generator would therefore be 450 watts. This would require a 1¼ horsepower gasoline engine. At 1¼ pints of gasoline for each horsepower, nine hours work of this engine would consume 14 pints of gasoline—or say 16 pints, or two gallons. At 12 cents a gallon for gasoline, lighting your house with this battery would cost 24 cents for four days, or 6 cents a day. Your city cousin, using commercial current, would pay 5½ cents a day for the same amount of current at 10 cents a kilowatt-hour; or 8¼ cents at a 15-cent rate. If the battery is charged by the farm gasoline engine at the same time it is doing its other work, the cost would be still less, as the extra gasoline required would be small.

This figure does not take into account depreciation of battery and engine. The average farmer is too apt to overlook this factor in figuring the cost of machinery of all kinds, and for that reason is unprepared when the time comes to replace worn-out machinery. The dynamo and switchboard should last a lifetime with ordinary care, so there is no depreciation charge against them. The storage battery, a 30-volt, 80-ampere hour installation, should not cost in excess of $100; and, if it is necessary to buy a gasoline engine, a 1¼ horsepower engine can be had for $50 or less according to the type. Storage batteries of the lead type are sold under a two-years' guarantee—which does not mean that their life is limited to that length of time. With good care they may last as long as 10 years; with poor care it may be necessary to throw them away at the end of a year. The engine should be serviceable for at least 10 years, with ordinary replacements; and the storage battery may last from 6 to 10 years, with occasional renewal of parts. If it were necessary to duplicate both at the end of ten years, this would make a carrying charge of $1.25 a month for depreciation, which must be added to the cost of light.

Figuring by Lamp Hours

If all the lamps are to be of the same size—either ten, fifteen, or twenty watts, the light requirements of a farm house can be figured readily by lamp hours. In that event, the foregoing table would read as follows:

Lamp hours
Kitchen, 1 lamp, 4 hours 4
Sitting room, 3 lamps, 4 hours each 12
Dining room, 2 lamps, 2 hours each 4
Bedrooms, 3 lamps, 1 hour each 3
Halls, 2 lamps, 4 hours each 8
Bathroom, 1 lamp, 2 hours 2
Pantry and cellar, 2 lamps, 1 hour each 2

To determine the ampere hours from this table, multiply the total number of lamp hours by the current in amperes required for each lamp. As 10, 15, and 20-watt tungsten lamps require .33, .50 and .67 amperes, respectively at 30 volts pressure, the above requirements in ampere hours would be 12, 17½, or 24 ampere hours, according to the size of lamp chosen. This gives the average current consumption for one night. If it is desired to charge the battery twice a week on the average, multiply the number of lamp hours by 4, to get the size of battery required.

The foregoing illustration is not intended to indicate average light requirements for farms, but is given merely to show how a farmer may figure his own requirements. In some instances, it will be necessary to install a battery of 120 or more ampere hours, whereas a battery of 40 or 60 ampere hours would be quite serviceable in other instances. It all depends on how much light you wish to use and are willing to pay for, because with a storage battery the cost of electric light is directly in proportion to the number of lights used.

As a general rule, a larger generator and engine are required for a larger battery—although it is possible to charge a large battery with a small generator and engine by taking more time for the operation.

How to Charge a Storage Battery

Direct current only can be used for charging storage batteries. In the rare instance of alternating current only being available, it must be converted into direct current by any one of the many mechanical, chemical, or electrical devices on the market—that is, the alternating current must be straightened out, to flow always in one direction.

A shunt-wound dynamo must be used; else, when the voltage of the battery rises too high, it may "back up" and turn the dynamo as a motor, causing considerable damage. If a compound dynamo is already installed, or if it is desired to use such a machine for charging storage batteries, it can be done simply by disconnecting the series windings on the field coils, thus turning the machine into a shunt dynamo.

The voltage of the dynamo should be approximately 50 per cent above the working pressure of the battery. For this reason 45-volt machines are usually used for 30 or 32-volt batteries. Higher voltages may be used, if convenient. Thus a 110-volt dynamo may be used to charge a single 2-volt cell if necessary, although it is not advisable.

Direction of Current

Electricity flows from the positive to the negative terminal. A charging current must be so connected that the negative wire of the dynamo is always connected to the negative terminal of the battery, and the positive wire to the positive terminal. As the polarity is always marked on the battery, there is little danger of making a mistake in this particular.

When the storage battery is charged, and one begins to use its accumulation of energy, the current comes out in the opposite direction from which it entered in charging. In this respect, a storage battery is like a clock spring, which is wound up in one direction, and unwinds itself in the other. With all storage battery outfits, an ammeter (or current measure) is supplied with zero at the center. When the battery is being charged, the indicating needle points in one direction in proportion to the strength of the current flowing in; and when the battery is being discharged, the needle points in the opposite direction, in proportion to the strength of the current flowing out.

Sometimes one is at loss, in setting about to connect a battery and generator, to know which is the positive and which the negative wire of the generator. A very simple test is as follows:

Start the generator and bring it up to speed. Connect some form of resistance in "series" with the mains. A lamp in an ordinary lamp socket will do very well for this resistance. Dip the two ends of the wire (one coming from the generator, the other through the lamp) into a cup of water, in which a pinch of salt is dissolved. Bring them almost together and hold them there. Almost instantly, one wire will begin to turn bright, and give off bubbles. The wire which turns bright and gives off bubbles is the negative wire. The other is the positive.

A rough-and-ready farm electric plant, supplying two farms with light, heat and power; and a Ward Leonard-type circuit-breaker for charging storage batteries

Care of Battery

Since specific directions are furnished with all storage batteries, it is not necessary to go into the details of their care here. Storage battery plants are usually shipped with all connections made, or plainly indicated. All that is necessary is to fill the batteries with the acid solution, according to directions, and start the engine. If the engine is fitted with a governor, and the switchboard is of the automatic type, all the care necessary in charging is to start the engine. In fact, many makes utilize the dynamo as a "self-starter" for the engine, so that all that is necessary to start charging is to throw a switch which starts the engine. When the battery is fully charged, the engine is stopped automatically.

The "electrolyte" or solution in which the plates of the lead battery are immersed, is sulphuric acid, diluted with water in the proportion of one part of acid to five of water, by volume.

The specific gravity of ordinary commercial sulphuric acid is 1.835. Since its strength is apt to vary, however, it is best to mix the electrolyte with the aid of the hydrometer furnished with the battery. The hydrometer is a sealed glass tube, with a graduated scale somewhat resembling a thermometer. The height at which it floats in any given solution depends on the density of the solution. It should indicate approximately 1.15 for a storage battery electrolyte before charging. It should not be over 1.15—or 1,150 if your hydrometer reads in thousandths.

Only pure water should be used. Distilled water is the best, but fresh clean rain water is permissible. Never under any circumstances use hydrant water, as it contains impurities which will injure the battery, probably put it out of commission before its first charge.

Pour the acid into the water. Never under any circumstances pour the water into the acid, else an explosion may occur from the heat developed. Mix the electrolyte in a stone crock, or glass container, stirring with a glass rod, and testing from time to time with a hydrometer. Let it stand until cool and then pour it into the battery jars, filling them to ½ inch above the top of the plates.

Then begin charging. The first charge will probably take a longer time than subsequent charges. If the installation is of the automatic type, all that is necessary is to start the engine. If it is not of the automatic type, proceed as follows:

First be sure all connections are right. Then start the engine and bring the dynamo up to its rated speed. Adjust the voltage to the pressure specified. Then throw the switch connecting generator to battery. Watch the ammeter. It should register in amperes, one-eighth of the ampere-hour capacity of the battery, as already explained. If it registers too high, reduce the voltage of the generator slightly, by means of the field rheostat connected to the generator. This will also reduce the amperes flowing. If too low, raise the voltage until the amperes register correctly. Continue the charging operation until the cells begin to give off gas freely; or until the specific gravity of the electrolyte, measured by the hydrometer, stands at 1.24. Your battery is now fully charged. Throw the switch over to the service line, and your accumulator is ready to furnish light if you turn on your lamps.

Occasionally add distilled water to the cells, to make up for evaporation. It is seldom necessary to add acid, as this does not evaporate. If the battery is kept fully charged, it will not freeze even when the thermometer is well below zero.

A storage battery should be installed as near the house as possible—in the house, if possible. Since its current capacity is small, transmission losses must be reduced to a minimum.

In wiring the house for storage battery service, the same rules apply as with standard voltage. Not more than 6 amperes should be used on any single branch circuit. With low voltage batteries (from 12 volts to 32 volts) it is well to use No. 10 or No. 12 B. & S. gauge rubber-covered wire, instead of the usual No. 14 used with standard voltage. The extra expense will be only a few cents for each circuit, and precious volts will be saved in distribution of the current.