|Chances are, you’re looking at Lithium batteries for an off-grid, solar, RV, or boating application. Generally, the vast majority of people in your shoes have traditionally chosen SLA (sealed lead-acid) or the slightly more advanced AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) deep cycle batteries to house their power supply. But why?
Lithium vs lead-acid is an important topic in the world of RV solar. Tried and true lead-acid batteries are the go-to for many RVers. Whereas the upstarts lithium-ion and lithium iron phosphate are becoming more ubiquitous as time passes. But which battery chemistry is better? In the end, though, we decided on lithium iron phosphate for a plethora of reasons. Because in the lithium vs lead acid battle, lithium utterly dominates lead acid
Well, Deep cycle AGM battery (still technically an SLA) is pretty affordable, and it simply gets the job done. They’re proven to be reliable, have become quite safe from leakages, and are largely maintenance-free – no longer fussing with adding water, like you needed to do with older models.
But there’s a new kid on the block when it comes to battery technology – Lithium-Ion (as well as Lithium Iron). Up until recently, this technology was too expensive to warrant it’s use for the average solar setup. But the price of 12V lithium-ion batteries has been falling in recent years, making them more and more attractive for the average consumer. There are a good number of benefits to using Lithium-ion batteries, including safety, longevity, allowable discharge levels, and more. Let’s take a deep dive before getting to the batteries that WE recommend.
Advantages of Lithium
Lithium weighs one-third that of a comparably sized lead-acid battery. If you’ve ever picked up a lead-acid battery you know they’re VERY heavy. A 300 Ah usable capacity lead-acid battery bank weighs over 400 pounds！ Placing this much weight in your RV near the front where it should be can exceed the hitch weight limit of your towing vehicle. Our 320 Ah usable capacity lithium battery bank however weighs just 144 pounds. This and the next pro are the main reasons we bought lithium we literally couldn’t fit lead-acid in our RV!
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Lithium batteries take up less physical space than lead-acid batteries. Comparing two battery banks one lithium and the other lead-acid of equivalent usable amp-hours, the lithium battery bank will be smaller in size. The difference is not as drastic as the weight comparison, but it is enough to take notice. This can be crucial if you’re trying to fit a battery bank in a small compartment!
Lead-acid batteries are infamous for their maintenance requirements. Wet cell lead acid by far the worst requires its electrolyte levels to be periodically checked and replenished. And all lead-acid batteries will eventually corrode their terminals. The terminals need to be cleaned with an alkaline solution and the corrosion scratched off. Lithium batteries however are zero maintenance. There are no liquid electrolytes that need to be checked and the terminals will never corrode.
Lead-acid batteries vent toxic and acidic vapors while charged and discharged. This severely limits where and how these batteries can be stored. Lead-acid batteries require storage in an outside compartment that is vented to allow these vapors to escape. Lithium batteries however do not vent. Therefore they can be stored just about anywhere. Sealed and interior compartments are just fine for lithium batteries. Ours are stored in the pass-through storage compartment of our RV just under our bed!
On the topic of cycle count, you’d be lucky if you get 400 charge cycles out of a normal AGM battery. But the advancements in Lithium-ion battery technology have changed the game, offering up to 3,000+ cycles without issue!
Fast to charge
In terms of charge times, a 12V lithium-ion batteries dominates an AGM. Maybe you don’t need this, because you have plenty of daylight to capture in a day. But depending on your usage and charging setup, this might be a lifesaver. A 100ah Lithium-ion battery will charge up to 3-4X faster than a traditional, sealed lead-acid battery.
Even Discharge Voltage
As Lead-acid batteries discharge, they consistently and considerably lose voltage. Lithium batteries however maintain their voltage throughout nearly the entire discharge curve. This equates to with lithium greater efficiency and lifespan of your electronics.
Disadvantage of lithium
The only aspect where lead-acid beats lithium is in up-front cost. Unfortunately, lithium batteries cost about three times as much as lead-acid per usable amp-hour. So for example, currently 100 Ah of usable capacity from lithium costs about $1,300 whereas 100 Ah of usable capacity from lead-acid costs only $400. At first glance, this incredibly high up-front cost could make lithium seem too expensive and unaffordable. Again though, the life-cycle of lithium is ten times that of lead-acid batteries. When taking this into consideration, the long-term cost of ownership of lithium is actually much less than lead-acid! Lithium will save you money in the long run by avoiding the scenario of continual lead-acid battery replacement. We looked at our purchase of lithium iron phosphate batteries as an investment that would save us money in the long run. Not to mention we also get to enjoy all the performance benefits of lithium!
Bottom Line In Lithium vs. Lead Acid
We LOVE our lithium batteries. The main reason we went the lithium route is because the weight and size of a large lead-acid battery bank was infeasible for our small RV. We begrudgingly made the large up-front investment in lithium after realizing this but now know it was one of the best decisions we could have made. Lithium performs better than lead-acid in every single category. It is a rare occurrence where there really is no downside. Even when looking at cost, the long-term cost of ownership of lithium is far less than that of lead-acid.
We highly recommend building your RV solar battery bank out of lithium batteries from a respectable brand. We went with BSLBATT because of positive reviews and they have a wide variety of lithium iron phosphate battery sizes. Their batteries also come with all the built-in safety features lithium requires like high/low voltage cutoff, high/low-temperature cutoff, and automatic cell balancing. Hopefully, you found all this helpful in deciding between lithium and lead-acid for your battery bank.
Thanks to their charge efficiency, no-maintenance, and extra-long life advantage over lead acid, our Ionic lithium batteries are easily more cost-efficient over the lifespan of the battery. Simply put, our lithium batteries give you peace of mind. Less hassle, less long term costs — less worry, less stress. That makes lithium a wiser investment.
Buy based on need, not want
You could argue that lithium is the way of the future, with most vehicle, RV and motorhome manufacturers installing lithium batteries as standard.
And choosing to go with a lithium battery option will help ensure you have the power you need when you need it.
But most of all, weigh up your options and consider what you want to achieve with your travels. If you’re one of the lucky ones where price is of little to no concern, that’s one thing, but for those who are starting out on their journey or more inclined to live within their means, there are plenty of auxiliary battery options out there to suit your needs.
If you’re starting to think about your ideal 4×4, truck or RV setup and not sure what products will help you power your future adventures, take the BSLBATT virtual product tour to learn more.
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