Battery monitors

As advances in solar technology allow grey nomads to spend more time out in the bush, the health of their rigs’ batteries has become more – not less – important.

Even in sun-drenched Australia, there are days when travellers may not be getting the power top-up they want, and it is absolutely vital they know exactly what state of charge their battery is at. The experts tell us that batteries – even the expensive deep cycle ones – last a lot longer if they are kept well charged, ideally above 50%, and they become seriously damaged if they are drained by more than 80%.

The benefit of knowing the state of your batteries then goes well beyond just making sure the lights don’t suddenly go out. While a voltmeter can give travellers a voltage reading from their battery, that alone simply isn’t enough.

The state of charge does not measure the storage capacity, performance level or health of a battery. Furthermore, in order for the voltmeter to get an effective voltage reading, the battery being tested must have been sitting idle for at least 12 hours, and preferably 24.

For grey nomads relaxing in the bush that means no lights can be turned on, no CPAP machine can be used, and no electronic devices can be charged. In other words, it’s far from ideal. An increasing number of ‘offgrid adventurers’ are turning to battery monitors to give them a more accurate reading of what is happening with their batteries, and they are enjoying the peace of mind that that knowledge gives them.

Battery monitors use a current sensor, or shunt, to measure how much charge is going into a battery, and to measure every amp that flows out. It is very reassuring to be able to turn on a light or a computer and to see instantly exactly how much extra current is being drawn. It can also help travellers identify which devices are the biggest drains on their battery power, useful when a few overcast days may mean it’s time to minimise power usage.

There are many factors that influence battery capacity, and battery monitors are across them all, displaying information such as volts and amps, time remaining, temperature, battery status, state of charge and battery health. Knowing how long you can continue to use your battery for based on current usage, as well as knowing if your battery is still holding its charge properly or is starting to ‘underperform’ is critical information for self-reliant Outback adventurers.

Good battery monitoring systems start from around a couple of hundred dollars and many now are able to communicate wirelessly with smart phones, giving users instant real time data.

With many self-contained grey nomads looking to spend seriously extended time away from 240v power, it has never been more important to keep fully informed of all pertinent information relating to batteries, and it can be very revealing.

“Darling! Turn that blooming hair dryer off, will you? You’re murdering my battery!!”


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