It’s time for a review of the second year of operation of our Redflow ZCell battery and Victron Energy inverter/charger system. To understand what follows it will help to read the earlier posts in this series:
In case ~12,000 words of background reading seem daunting, I’ll try to summarise the most important details here:
- We have a 5.94kW solar array hooked up to a Victron MPPT RS solar charge controller, two Victron 5kW Multi-Plus II inverter/chargers, a Victron Cerbo GX console, and a single 10kWh Redflow ZCell battery. It works really well. We’re using most of our generated power locally, and it’s enabled us to blissfully coast through several grid power outages and various other minor glitches. The Victron gear and the ZCell were installed by Lifestyle Electrical Services.
- Redflow batteries are excellent because you can 100% cycle them every day, and they aren’t a giant lump of lithium strapped to your house that’s impossible to put out if it bursts into flames. The catch is that they need to undergo periodic maintenance where they are completely discharged for a few hours at least every three days. If you have more than one, that’s fine because the maintenance cycles interleave (it’s all automatic). If you only have one, you can’t survive grid outages if you’re in a maintenance period, and you can’t ordinarily use the Cerbo’s Minimum State of Charge (MinSoC) setting to perpetually keep a small charge in the battery in case of emergencies. As we still only have one battery, I’ve spent a fair bit of time experimenting to mitigate this as much as I can.
- The system itself requires a certain amount of power to run. Think of the pumps and fans in the battery, and the power used directly by the inverters and the console. On top of that a certain amount of power is simply lost to AC/DC conversion and charge/discharge inefficiencies. That’s power that comes into your house from the grid and from the sun that your loads, i.e. the things you care about running, don’t get to use. This is true of all solar PV and battery storage systems to a greater or lesser degree, but it’s not something that people always think about.
With the background out of the way we can get on to the fun stuff, including a roof replacement, an unexpected fault after a power outage followed by some mains switchboard rewiring, a small electrolyte leak, further hackery to keep a bit of charge in the battery most of the time, and finally some numbers.
It’s been a little over a year since our Redflow ZCell battery and Victron Energy inverter/charger kit were installed on our existing 5.94kW solar array. Now that we’re past the Southern Hemisphere spring equinox it seems like an opportune time to review the numbers and try to see exactly how the system has performed over its first full year. For background information on what all the pieces are and what they do, see my earlier post, Go With The Flow.
As we look at the figures for the year, it’s worth keeping in mind what we’re using the battery for, and how we’re doing it. Naturally we’re using it to store PV generated electricity for later use when the sun’s not shining. We are also charging the battery from the grid at certain times so it can be drawn down if necessary during peak times, for example I set up a small overnight charge to ensure there was power for the weekday morning peak, when the sun isn’t really happening yet, but grid power is more than twice as expensive. More recently in the winter months, I experimented with keeping the battery full with scheduled charges during most non-peak times. This involved quite a bit more grid charging, but got us through a couple of three hour grid outages without a hitch during some severe weather in August.
As described in some detail in my last post, we have a single 10kWh Redflow ZCell zinc bromine flow battery hooked up to our solar PV via Victron inverter/chargers. This gives us the ability to:
- Store almost all the excess energy we generate locally for later use.
- When the sun isn’t shining, grid charge the battery at off-peak times then draw it down at peak times to save on our electricity bill (peak grid power is slightly more than twice as expensive as off-peak grid power).
- Opportunistically survive grid outages, provided they don’t happen at the wrong time (i.e. when the sun is down and the battery is at 0% state of charge).
By their nature, ZCell flow batteries needs to undergo a maintenance cycle at least every three days, where they are discharged completely for a few hours. That’s why the last point above reads “opportunistically survive grid outages”. With a single ZCell, we can’t use the “minimum state of charge” feature of the Victron kit to always keep some charge in the battery in case of outages, because doing so conflicts with the ZCell maintenance cycles. Once we eventually get a second battery, this problem will go away because the maintenance cycles automatically interleave. In the meantime though, as my project for Hack Week 21, I decided to see if I could somehow automate the Victron scheduled charge configuration based on the ZCell maintenance cycle timing, to always keep the battery as full as possible for as long as possible.
We installed 5.94kW of solar PV in late 2017, with an ABB PVI-6000TL-OUTD inverter, and also a nice energy efficient Sanden heat pump hot water service to replace our crusty old conventional electric hot water system. In the four years since then we’ve generated something like 24MWh of electricity, but were actually only able to directly use maybe 45% of that – the rest was exported to the grid.
The plan had always been to get batteries once we are able to afford to do so, and this actually happened in August 2021, when we finally got a single 10kWh Redflow ZCell zinc bromine flow battery installed. We went with Redflow for several reasons:
- Unlike every other type of battery, they’re not a horrible fire hazard (in fact, the electrolyte, while corrosive, is actually fire retardant – a good thing when you live in a bushfire prone area).
- They’re modular, so you can just keep adding more of them.
- 100% depth of discharge (i.e. they’re happy to keep being cycled, and can also be left discharged/idle for extended periods).
- All the battery components are able to be recycled at end of life.
- They’re Australian designed and developed, with manufacturing in Thailand.
Our primary reasons for wanting battery storage were to ensure we’re using renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, to try to actually use all our local power generation locally, and to attain some degree of disaster resilience.
We recently had a 5.94KW solar PV system installed – twenty-two 270W panels (14 on the northish side of the house, 8 on the eastish side), with an ABB PVI-6000TL-OUTD inverter. Naturally I want to be able to monitor the system, but this model inverter doesn’t have an inbuilt web server (which, given the state of IoT devices, I’m actually kind of happy about); rather, it has an RS-485 serial interface. ABB sell addon data logger cards for several hundred dollars, but Rick from Affordable Solar Tasmania mentioned he had another client who was doing monitoring with a little Linux box and an RS-485 to USB adapter. As I had a Raspberry Pi 3 handy, I decided to do the same.