Earlier this spring, Vertiv had the opportunity to sit down with CRN to discuss the changes in battery technology, and how it pertains to uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Follow along as Vertiv Product Marketing Manager, Jeremy Ruff, discusses the topic with Katie Bavoso from CRN.
The topics covered in this podcast include the difference between VRLA and Lithium-Ion UPS batteries, weighing the option between VRLA and lithium-ion for your application, and the future of battery technology.
KB*: Jeremy, what makes a UPS with lithium-ion batteries better than a UPS with Valve Regulated Lead-Acid (VRLA) batteries?
JR**: The biggest advantage with lithium-ion batteries is that they last about two-to-three times as long as a VRLA battery on average. Today, nearly all single-phase UPS out there are lead-acid based UPS. Historically, that is all that has been available. Within the last four or five years, there have been some lithium-ion UPS that have become available.
When you buy a UPS, you can’t just install a UPS and forget about it. There’s maintenance that has to happen over the life of the UPS, and really, that maintenance is typically a battery replacement. So, lithium-ion batteries will actually outlast the UPS itself, so it essentially becomes a maintenance-free UPS at that point.
KB: Maintenance-free is definitely not a bad thing. Moving on to question 2… are lithium-based batteries more resilient to heat and elevated temperatures? Why is this important to consider?
JR: Yeah, lithium-ion batteries are definitely more resilient to higher temperatures. Most UPS will show that their operating range is as high as 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat is not good for any battery, regardless of the chemistry.
So, with a lead-acid, we’ve seen a lot of customers that have facilities that were never designed to handle that heat, so there is not a lot of cooling in that space. What that looks like, is that they end up replacing that battery two or three times as opposed to replacing it once. With a lithium-ion battery being a lot more resilient to that heat is definitely a good thing, and helps a lot with facilities like that, which have elevated temperatures.
KB: Jeremy, question 3… what impact does fewer battery replacements have on IT resources, and what are the costs of ownership benefits of UPS lithium-ion batteries?
JR: Battery replacements are maybe the biggest challenge customers face today after they purchase a UPS. A lot of them are dealing with a big fleet of UPS that could be hundreds, if not thousands, of UPS. A lot of the times, these UPS aren’t even in the same facility, let alone the same area code or same state.
With these being spread across many facilities, customers don’t necessarily have the IT resources that are available to go physically access the units. They need to call on third parties or service partners to go access the units and replace batteries.
That leads to a cost of ownership problem where the batteries themselves can cost 20-30% of the UPS price, so when you’re dealing with multiple replacements, it really drives up the cost of ownership. It’s typically a cost that a customer might not consider at the initial purchase.
KB: Mmm, I see. Well, let’s talk more about UPS batteries in segment 2:
The Uninterruptible Truth of UPS Batteries
First question in this segment Jeremy: lithium-ion batteries compared to lead-acid batteries sound like the way to go, but are there any drawbacks or trade-offs when comparing the two?
JR: Lithium is definitely a superior battery technology, and really, this isn’t a secret at this point; but the reason we continue to see people go away from lithium and continue to buy a lead-acid based UPS, is due to the price. Historically, we’ve seen lithium-ion UPS that cost about twice as much as an equivalent lead-acid based UPS. That initial price is basically a sticker shock for a lot of people and that’s really why we’re seeing a bit of hesitation to adopt lithium-ion battery technology.
KB: I can see that. Are there any competitively priced lithium-ion UPS?
JR: There are definitely some cost-effective options out there. Back in 2020, Vertiv actually launched the Vertiv™ Liebert® PSI5 Lithium-Ion, which is a network and server-grade UPS. This portfolio is generally available at a small premium that provides a lower total cost of ownership.
The UPS itself comes with a five-year warranty. The price of this, when you compare it to an equivalent lead-acid based UPS, as well as the cost to replace batteries, is? the cost of an extended warranty… what that looks like is the lithium-ion UPS from Vertiv actually has a lower total cost of ownership -- as quickly as year five.
KB: Jeremy, next question… How do you evaluate the cost of making an investment in lithium-ion based UPS?
JR: The easiest way it to just compare the total cost of ownership. If you compare the initial price of a lithium-ion UPS to an equivalent lead-acid UPS, plus the cost associated to replace the battery, as well as if you plan to purchase an extended warranty for the VRLA UPS. That total cost of ownership is really the easiest way to compare the investment.
Ultimately, the UPS is really no different. It all comes down to that battery technology. It’s still going to function the same way, and the only difference is whether you’re replacing batteries or not. The lead-acid UPS is going to save money upfront and there’s no way around that. When you look at the total cost of ownership and the challenge of battery replacements, most of the time, we’re seeing customers that are starting to move towards lithium.
KB: Jeremy, segment three:
A Battery-Operated Future
The first question in this segment is, when does it make the most sense to consider going with lithium-ion over the other options we’ve discussed today?
JR: Really for anybody, we would recommend considering going with lithium-ion. The rule of thumb that we have is the lithium-ion UPS is right around 30 or 40% more expensive than a lead-acid UPS. The total cost of ownership is probably going to favor the lithium-ion UPS. That total cost of ownership is what it comes down to.
Customers with large fleets especially across distributed sites where they might not have physical access, they’re only going to have remote access to the units. Those are the applications where it really makes the most sense. If you’re dealing with a very small number of UPS, maybe the extra cost for lithium doesn’t make a lot of sense.The bigger the rollout of the UPS, the more sense it makes to consider lithium.
KB: Well Jeremy, what should people be considering when looking to switch from UPS with lead-acid batteries to UPS with lithium batteries?
JR: The first thing to consider is the initial price and total cost of ownership. The next thing to consider is the battery itself. Comparing the UPS runtime is a good place to start.
Runtime of the UPS is that backup time you get in the event of a power outage. With many lithium-ion UPS, you’re likely to get longer runtimes.
The second thing to consider, is the output power factor of the UPS. This could be different across UPS, and the output power factor really dictates what the usable power is of the UPS.
Another thing to consider is that the lithium-ion UPS need to have special UL certifications. There’s a UL 1642 that applies to the battery cell. There’s a UL 1973 that applies to the internal battery pack, and then there’s a UN/DOT 38.3. That’s so that manufacturers can safely transport and ship UPS with lithium-ion batteries.
If the UPS doesn’t have those three certifications, you might not want to consider that as an option.
KB: Jeremy, that brings us back to our final question of today’s podcast recording. What final advice do you have for people watching today?
JR: I’d say to switch to lithium-ion UPS technology. The lithium-ion batteries are lasting two or three times as long as VRLA. As costs come down on the lithium-ion UPS, they become more cost-effective. There’s really no reason at this point to not switch to lithium-ion.
KB: Jeremy, that brings us to the end of the podcast today. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your knowledge with me and our audience.
Before we end, here are my three key takeaways from today’s discussion:
- Even if lead-acid-based UPS batteries are cheaper, lithium-ion based UPS batteries will save you more money in the long run.
- Heat is not good for any battery, but lithium-ion based UPS batteries can stand up to heat better than lead-acid-based UPS batteries.
- If you’re considering switching to a lithium-ion based UPS, now is the time as costs are coming down. Vertiv has cost effective solutions to help you get started.
Thank you at home for watching and listening. Once again, I’m Katie Bavoso and this is Pardon the Integration: Super Charge your UPS Battery Experience.
*KB = Katie Bavoso
**JR = Jeremy Ruff