Grid-down event planning – Disposable vs rechargeable batteries

Prepper's Will - Planning for a grid down event - Disposable vs rechargeable batteriesThe blood of our modern society is electricity and all our devices depend on some sort of battery in order to function. You will need to stockpile rechargeable batteries for when the grid goes down, but one question remains: are you sure you’ve made the right choice? Picking the right batteries can be tricky and you need to make sure your batteries have a long and useful lifespan. Let’s take an in-depth look at the options we have.

On today’s market, there is an abundance of batteries from which one can choose. There are different types of batteries and there are a lot of brands promoting their products as “life-lasting” energy supplies. When choosing a battery, there are a few things to be considered. Before you decided on a certain type, make sure you know the following:

  • Capacity
  • Shelf life
  • Charging options
  • Crisis functionality

You should know that all rechargeable batteries are rated for Capacity (C) and nominal voltage (V). The capacity of a large battery is usually measured in amp hours (Ah) such as the ones that are lead acid types. For smaller cells, the capacity is measured in milliamp hours (mAh) and this information should be specified on the package.

When it comes to a batter’s capacity, this characteristic is defined by its ability to supply the specified current for one hour of time. So if you have a battery that has a rating of 12V 7Ah, this means that your battery will supply 7amps of current for 1 hour before being depleted.

It is important to know the capacity and time rating of the batteries you buy because this will help you in planning a power solution for the off-grid scenario you are preparing for. This will also help you extend the life of your batteries and avoid over or undercharging them.

Most rechargeable batteries that can be found on the market are capable of high current delivery, but the high rate of discharge will increase temperature and damage the cell in time.

Rechargeable Batteries Options for an off grid situation:

Nickel cadmium (NiCad) batteries

NiCad batteries are the most popular rechargeable batteries in use today an almost everyone uses them. They can be found in gadgets such as cordless phones or handled power tools. These types of batteries are able to supply very high peak currents, discharging more than 5C in some application. These are cells designed for being rechargeable around one thousand times. NiCad batteries are available in common sizes such as AAA, AA, C and D and they are rated 1.2V nominal in these sizes. The capacity will vary according to the cell size, but the AA types are usually rated at 1000 mAh.

The shelf life of NiCad battery is improved if the batteries are stored fully discharged for an extended period of time. Typical shelf storage losses are approximately 10 percent per month if the batteries are stored in proper conditions, in a cool, dry place with temperatures that do not exceed 85 degrees F.

Recharging NiCad batteries require proper cycling in order to prolong cell’s life. This means that you need to use the batteries until they are fully discharged before recharging again.

These batteries are crisis capable because they tolerate a large range of input current and alternative charging methods. You can use even household power transformers from old devices that no longer work or are “outdated”. The DC power sources can be wired to a simple battery holder like the ones available at electronic stores or you can improvise if you are careful enough. Tape the leads to the batteries themselves and that should do the trick.

Related reading: How to live without electricity

Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries

These batteries are somehow similar to the NiCad batteries as they are capable of high discharge rates but to a different extent. These batteries can be found in power electronics such as survival flashlights or two-way radios and even remote controlled toys. NiMH batteries are capable of rapid charging as long as you have the proper gear. There is also a trend spreading rapidly and it seems that NiMH batteries are overtaking the NiCad cells. A good NiMH battery is one that goes for more than five hundred recharge cycles.

The NiMH batteries are available in most consumer sizes at a 1.2V nominal rating, but the capacity is double compared to the NiCad cells.

When it comes to the shelf life of NiMH batteries, it is important to know that they do not last as long as NiCad cells. The charge drops off rapidly after the first day and some noticed a 5 to 20 percent drop (source). After the initial drop, they will gradually discharge at a rate between 0.5 and 3 percent per day at room temperatures. There are companies that claim they have improved the self-discharge rate and they managed to lower it considerably. Personally, I think it’s just a marketing campaign and I haven’t seen a NiMH battery that can maintain the majority of its charge for more than a year. Discharge rates are affected by temperature variations and if you plan to store them for a long period of time, you will need to keep them in a cool place, fully charged. Some of my prepper friends keep them in airtight containers in their fridge.

Recharging NiMH batteries should be done on a monthly basis if you plan for a long-term storage without a charge. It is recommended to charge them at a 1/10C rate and discharge them a few times to regain normal capacity. Do no recharge NiMH and NiCad batteries for more than 24 hours because it will create crystal growth and voltage depression.

These rechargeable batteries can be stockpiled for a crisis because there are inexpensive solutions available to charge them, even when there is no electricity. I personally use a Suntactics solar charger for my stash and it takes around 3 hours to charge four AAA batteries at the same time.

Alkaline Batteries

These are the most common batteries for electronic appliances and you can find a few of them in drawers from every household. They are available everywhere and they have low to moderate current capability. The capacity of alkaline batteries is around 3000 mAh for the quality brands (no China trash) although many manufactures won’t add this information on the label. The capacity of alkaline batteries varies greatly with load and at a 1A draw they will only provide 700mAh.

When it comes to shelf life, top brands guarantee that their products can last 10 years or more if stored in a cool place. The modern construction doesn’t require keeping them in the fridge as my parents did. Good batteries will self-discharge at a rate of less than 2 percent per year if kept at room temperature and the shelf life will greatly reduce at high temperatures.

Alkaline batteries can be recharged and reconditioned, but many don’t know about these features. This can be done with specialized chargers and the operation works best if the batteries are not completely discharged. The recharge cycles vary from brand to brand and it can be done a dozen of times depending on the use and load of cells. Recharging should be done with caution and only for the top-quality brands.

These batteries are the most stockpiled items when it comes to planning a source of energy. They will prove useful during a crisis, but the trick here is to know how to extend their life ten or more times. During a long-term scenario you could take dead batteries from others and give them “new ones” in exchange for items that you need. Getting your hands on a Maximal Power FC999 charger will make sure you will be able to revive dead alkaline batteries and turn them into rechargeable batteries.

Lead Acid batteries

These rechargeable batteries are the favorite solution for those who chose an off-grid lifestyle and the will run off-grid homes at night. The ratings of lead acid batteries are usually in Ah or reserve capacity (RC) and rate nominal at 6V or 12V. The downside of these types of batteries is that they are heavy and not portable. They can be found in various sizes and capacities and are able to sustain moderate current discharge and deep cycling.

The lead acid batteries have a moderate shelf life and it all depends on quality and the age of the batteries. These batteries have a self-discharge rate of 3 to 20 percent a month and overall, the lifespan is no longer than 5 years, and that if properly cared for. Within the lifetime of a lead acid battery, 500 to 800 charge cycles can be obtained. If you leave a lead acid battery discharged for long periods of time, crystallization of lead sulfate will form on the battery’s plates. If you plan to store them for long periods of time you should keep them on a trickle charger to offset the discharge rate. Store the batteries in a cool dry place.

Charging a lead acid battery can be done with a small taper charger and you should match charger current to battery. Deep cycle batteries should only be fast charged with a proper tapering current charger. A deep cycle battery is fully charged with a voltage of around 13V and completely discharged at around 12V.

These rechargeable batteries that can be used in a crisis because they can be charged with a generators’ secondary DC output (around 8 A) or by using 50 to 100W solar panels in conjunction with charge controller.

Suggested reading: Portable electricity generators you need to have in your bug out bag

Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries

Li-ion batteries are rechargeable batteries with energy densities that must be properly handled, charged and protected. These batteries should be charged only using proper chargers suited specifically for these types of batteries. They require a constant current type of charging and are not compatible with standard constant-current type methods as the other batteries mentioned above. These are the batteries that can be found in smartphones and other high-tech consumer electronics.

If you plant to store these types of batteries, you should do it when they are in a partially charged state. They have an excellent shelf life and they can be stored this way up to a year.

A Li-ion battery can be recharged for up to one thousand full cycles and it doesn’t suffer from a memory effect, like NiMH and NiCad batteries. You can use a device to recharge the battery and it can be done even if the battery is not completely depleted. If you plan to store such batteries for long periods of time in a discharged state, you should check the cells before attempting to charge them. If they have swelled up you should discard them, otherwise you could cause a fire if you attempt to recharge them.


These rechargeable batteries are not recommended for a long-term disaster since they lack the roughness and versatility of the other batteries. They might hold a charge over long periods of time and have more charge cycles than their predecessors, but they are fragile and dangerous. You can bend them by hand or puncture them without much struggle and it will cause a fire. Moisture can also damage them or cause a fire. These batteries are only designed for specific products and they have multiple contacts (not the usual positive and negative ones), which makes them difficult to be charged once removed from the device.

Stockpiling on rechargeable batteries is indicated for a long-term disaster, but you need to know your stuff before going out on a shopping spree. Learning about the features described above will not only help you chose the right batteries, but it will also help you to preserve and charge them accordingly. Having rechargeable batteries with a good shelf life will make sure your gadgets work and provide you with the much needed light when the power grid is down.

I hope this article will help you make the right choice when planning your emergency electricity supplies and keep you out of the dark when time comes.

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4 thoughts on “Grid-down event planning – Disposable vs rechargeable batteries

  1. The article is wrong, NiCad batteries are NOT the most common batteries used today. In fact they are next to impossible to find in just about every store you walk into. They always have a lower mAh rating then other rechargeable batteries.

    NiMH batteries have replaced them and are very common and sold in most stores. They also are rated higher as far as mAh then NiCad. But I refuse to buy normal MiMH batteries as they loose their charge very fast. I have a Cannon digital camera and even just-charged NiMH batteries only allow mw to take 20-pictures before the camera shuts off because the camera senses a low battery. I have found that they are almost always dead in under 5-days of being charged. Can you say “JUNK?”

    One type of NiMH battery you did not mention is the “Low Self Discharge) NiMH batteries. Sanyo Eneloop being the first and best of the low discharge batteries. Once charged they hold 70% of the charge for 5-years. I only buy these rechargeable batteries as I can charge them and know they will be ready for use when I want them. The drawback to Sanyo Eneloop batteries is that it’s just about impossible to find them locally. I have to buy them on Amazon. But be warned the Eeloop batteries are in their third generation and some Amazon sellers are selling the first and second generation (still a very good battery that holds a charge for 3-years) Eneloop batteries as third generation. Look at the sellers reviews for comments of the batteries being sent with no packaging and or opened packaging. I have not had a set of these for five-years yet, but so far two-years into using them they have held a charge. A bit more expensive, but well worth the price. Apple (I-Phone people) has made an agreement with Sanyo to make Enelope batts under the Apple name, so if you find Apple AA or AAA batteries you can expect the same good batteries

    I only buy my Eneloop’s from the Amazon seller “Mybatterysuppler” as he (or she) has good ratings and every battery I have ordered came in a factory sealed package.

    Another thing most people don’t understand is that rechargeable batteries need to be cycled about five-times before the reach their full capacity. You need to charge them, discharge them over and over to get them up to the full rating. You can do this by putting the charged batteries in a flashlight and letting it run down (at least five times) Most people have a limited patience to do this.

    I also bought a lot of adaptors that allow you to use AA batteries in a device that uses C or D batteries. This adaptor is hollow and you can slip an AA battery into it and then it works just like the C or D battery. For SHTF (or even normal times) these adaptors are handy things. Amazon sells them. I have one-doz in each size as they are inexpensive.

    What Battery Charger to get to get the most out of your rechargeable batteries?

    What I did is to buy a top quality battery charger / conditioner. I feel the Maha C-9,000 is the best. It can be set to condition batteries, charge, discharge and then recharge them up to 12-times. It sells for $60.00 ish on Amazon. It can be run from 110-volts or 12-volts with the purchase of a 12-volt cord ( I made a 12-volt cord saving myself $12.00)

    The Maha displays the battery’s mAh rating when it’s done charging. It is also complicated to run, probably more complicated then most people are willing to learn. There are a few U-Tube videos showing how to use it, but they are still not real clear. But it does have an idiot setting on it (that it defaults to) all you have to do is put a battery in it and it defaults to a 1,000 mAh charge in (I think?) 5-seconds if you don’t push any buttons. This works good for AA batteries, but it can cook AAA batteries as most AAA batteries should be charged at 400 mAh. The Maha has a sensor that monitors the batteries temp and lowers the charge if it thinks the battery is getting too hot. It will display the reduced charging rate on it’s digital display so you know what is going on. It still charges the battery 100%, but it will take longer. While it seems to work good (I’ve had the charger for 2-years) I still don’t like to overheat a battery as overheating a battery cooks the battery and really shortens its life.

    It has a break-in setting for new batteries to get them up to full capacity, But this break in usually takes 39-hours.

    It constantly tells you the batteries voltage, mAh it’s putting into the battery, how many mAh the battery has adsorbed and how long it has been charging. The Maha can charge batteries at a rating of 100 mAH up to 2,000 mAh. It’s almost an electronic lab grade charger. It also has a setting that can sometimes repair old batteries that other smart chargers say are junk. The only problem with this is the battery has to have a bit of a charge in it for the Maha to do it’s magic repair. And if a battery has been sitting dead for some time it will not start the repair process. I have found a way around this by putting a dead battery in an old “dumb charger” (most chargers are dumb chargers that don’t really have a way to monitor a battery during the charge) for a few min to jump-charge it and then put it in the Maha to do it’s work.

    If you take the time to learn how to use it you will fall in love with what it can do. One thing it can’t do is charge C and D batteries, it only charges AA and AAA batteries. I have looked hard to find a quality smart charger that can charge C and D batteries, but so far I haven’t found one. So I bought an Energizer (dumb charger that charges for a given time then shuts off) charger at Wally World for $19.00 till I can find what I want. Is it a good charger, I don’t think so, but I want something to charge C and D batteries.

    Are there other good smart chargers, yes, but none of them seem to have the features I wanted and also got good Amazon reviews.

    Advantages of the Maha C 9,000 is it is the best charger for AA and AAA batteries on the market.

    Disadvantages of the Maha C 9,000 is it is complicated to use and it doesn’t charge AA and AAA batteries.

    There is also another popular AA and AAA smart charger, it’s the La Crosse/ Technoline BC 700. But reading the Amazon reviews the La Crosse company seems to have the poorest customer service on the planet. When a complaint is made it looks like the customer gets an auto-response e-mail from a computer and then they nothing, never to interact with the customer again.

    Any product can have problems, but it’s important to have a company stand behind their product. And it looks like La Crosse doesn’t.

    One note on the Amazon reviews of the Maha C 9,000, the early reviews from 3 or 4 years ago indicate a software problem (new product bugs) that has since been solved. Only buy a new one and all will be right with them.

    Chuck Findlay

  2. (Disadvantages of the Maha C 9,000 is it is complicated to use and it doesn’t charge AA and AAA batteries.)

    Me Bad, Correction

    Disadvantages of the Maha C 9,000 is it is complicated to use and it doesn’t charge C and D batteries.

  3. One thing I forgot to mention is how I charge batteries and USB devices when I go camping (usually it’s tent camping off-grid style) I bought a “Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar charger” for charging AA and AAA batteries. It also has a 5-volt USB charging port and a 12-volt cigarette charge port like every auto has. You can charge USB devices during the day or charge them at night as I describe below.

    Many solar chargers only charge USB devices when the sun is shinning on them. The Goal Zero has a battery pack that holds 4 AA or AAA batteries. It can be used to charge AA and AAA batteries, and also then the +10 pack has a USB output that can charge any USB powered device at night. This allows you to save up the suns solar power to use at night. I can’t say enough about how handy this is. Construction and sewing on it seems to be good, the zipper on the pouch works good, but it is plastic so I don’t force it at all. I plan on it outlasting me.

    When folded up the 2-panels fold into and touch each other. I don’t want them scratched up so I cut an old (white colored) wash cloth to put between them to prevent scratching. This white cloth also serves another use. Being it’s a solar panel and sits in the sun, it gets hot (really hot) and so does my phone and Nook E-Reader. So I use the white cloth to cover them while charging to keep the heat down and reflect away UV rays.

    Here is the Amazon link to the Goal Zero + 10 Solar charger


    Uses Monocrystalline solar cells. These are the better solar cells (the kind NASA sends into space where it’s outright hard, expensive and mostly impossible to fix or replace) that last at least 25-years. (so far pretty much all Monocrystalline panels that are 40+years old are still putting out good power.) Many low priced solar panels are made out of Thin Film panels and while they work a bit better on a cloudy day they only last for 7-years before they drop off to only 15% of their power output. (Not a good thing for SHTF situations) Don’t let low prices guide your solar panel buying decision, buy Monocrystalline panels. Harbor panels are the low quality Thin Film.

    The Goal Zero allows you to have charged batteries and to be able to charge phones and tablets as long as you can place it in the sun for a few hours.

    It also has a built in LED light for night use. It’s not super powerful, but it will light up a room and light up a tent. I have used it to roam around at night and it lights up things within 15-feet or so and it last a LONG time on a charge.

    Has USB charging cables for 95% of the USB devices made.

    It has a mesh zippered pouch on the back side that holds the +10 pack, cables, and has a bit extra room for more batteries or cables.

    If needed you can set the panel aside and put AA alkaline batteries into the +10 pack and use them to charge a USB powered device, just don’t charge the alkaline batteries with the panel as they are throw-away batts and could leak if charged. The leak may not happen right away, but it will at some point and really gum-up whatever they are in.


    It cost $100.00 (there is a reason for this, read above.)

    Comes with 4 AA rechargeable batteries, but there not Eneloop batteries. I put a set of AA and AAA Eneloop batts in the zipper pouch on the panel.

    Does not have the latest I-Phone charging cable, but it does have a USB port to use your (or any) USB cable.

    It charges a bit slower then Goal Zero says. My non-smart phone charges up just as fast as a home charger, but my Nook E-Reader takes 3-hours where it charges in 2-hours at home. Still good, but not as fast.

    One concern with a panel like this in a grid-down or SHTF situation is that it’s easy for someone to pick it up and walk off with it and the device you are charging. I see no way to lock it down. I see the only way to prevent this is to place it in an out of the way place and try to not be seen doing it. Post SHTF it would be impossible to replace it, and it does cost $100.00 so even today you don’t want it walking off.

  4. I would like to correct something that Chuck said regarding eneloops and solar panels, but his other info is good.

    Another thing most people don’t understand is that rechargeable batteries need to be cycled about five-times before the reach their full capacity. You need to charge them, discharge them over and over to get them up to the full rating[/quote]

    Modern low-self discharge nimh like eneloops don’t need to be ‘broken in‘. They come with 90% of capacity available and 100% will be reached with a single cycle. So I don’t think that its worth it, just use the battery. Other kinds of battery may still benefit tho.

    Panasonic eneloops(Panasonic bought sanyo) are in their 4th gen now, with panasonic on the label now instead of sanyo.
    Unfortunately, in the asian and Australian markets, Panasonic are sourcing Chinese batteries to use under the eneloop wrapper, and they are only eneloops in name only(not as good). Beware buying from shady online sellers from those areas.
    Panasonic are still using genuine Japanese batteries under the wrapper in the European and Japanese markets, and are bound by contract to do so. I don’t know about america though.

    Buying eneloops from reputable sellers should still be fine, but check the labeling on wrapper, sere if it says “made in china”.

    If you want to be sure, you can buy Fujitsu branded batteries. A subsidiary of Fujitsu makes the exellent Japanese batteries that panasonic uses in genuine eneloops. You can look online for the correct Fujitsu model numbers to buy.

    (Something to be aware of with li-ion, li-po and Nimh batteries is that they don’t like being fully discharged. You get more life out of your phone and eneloops by recharging at 15% or so. Memory effect is apparently not a problem, unlike with dinosaur Ni-Cad. Also, like chuck says, a good charger like a maha c9000 is a must. Some good budget models include Panasonic bq-cc17(slow and smart) and bq-cc16(fast and smart). Stay away from “dumb” chargers, they kill your batteries)

    And another thing… NASA uses multi-junction photovoltiac cells in their good space solar panels now… Super advanced and expensive tech with over 30% efficiency. Look for them in a solar panel store near you in about 20 years. 😉

    Thin film is the “new” big consumer solar tech, and its getting better rapidly.
    (Sorry, I’m interested in solar panel tech, hence above…)

    You can check all this stuff online, the guys at candlepowerforums are flashlight ethusiasts and know a lot about eneloops, while wikipedia has info on multi-junction solar tech.

    Sorry for the long post, I just want those Japanese batteries to be treated well! 😉

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