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I think everyone is in agreement that LiFePO4 batteries are the future of solar technology, and the market is certainly starting to react to this, filling out with more affordable lithium options to help us minimize our reliance on grid energy.
One of these options comes from industry stalwarts, Renogy, a company best known for their high-quality solar panels, but if you’re so inclined, you can create your entire solar complex without ever leaving their ecosystem.
Their most popular option is the “Smart” battery, a 12 V, 100 Ah, LiFePO4 design, so I decided to pick one up and put it through its paces; here’s what I discovered!
Renogy Smart Lithium Battery At A Glance
The Renogy Smart Lithium Ion Phosphate Battery is designed to electrify your adventures, whether they be on the water, on the road, or off the grid. The compact form factor lends itself to life on the go, appealing to the wandering souls that like to hit the bricks in search of adventure.
In a hurry? No worries! Check out the abridged version of my review below…
- Capacity exceeds spec.
- Insane thermal performance range
- Robust enclosure
- Lightest battery in its class
- Lithium ion efficiency
- 4000 cycles
- Exquisite BMS architecture and functionality
- Intelligent active and “shelf” mode
- Communication ports allow for advanced monitoring.
- Not the best-looking battery in the world
- Can only be run in parallel
Where Can I Purchase The Renogy 100 Ah 12 V Lithium Smart Battery?
Renogy Smart Lithium Battery: Review
Build Quality & Design
Visually speaking, the Renogy Lithium Smart battery is nothing special. Really, the only notable feature is the uniform matte black of its enclosure, but I appreciated this rather low-key aesthetic, as it gives it an all-business vibe that inspired confidence before I even began testing.
Besides, although the casing isn’t aesthetically sensational, it certainly is tough.
The cells are surrounded by a veritable fortress of thick plastic, and when I popped it open to catch a glimpse inside, there was a secondary metal casing that itself had plenty of foam inside to fill out gaps between the cells and the enclosure.
This prevents internal rattling when the road gets a little bumpy or the water a little choppy, ensuring a long service life.
The connection points on the top of the battery seem incredibly solid too, which is great, as I run 2 ought cables in my system, and they’re pretty heavy and rigid.
You also get a choice of two different point bolts; one pair is a little longer than normal, which makes it much easier to find the thread when locking down those heavy gauge connectors.
The link port is protected by a little flap cover, which is a really great touch, as it protects the sensitive innards from the dust and debris that inevitably gets kicked up when you hit the road and head off grid for a while.
Unlike most batteries that are simply always at the ready, this one has both an active and “shelf” (passive) mode, and to switch between the two, you connect the activation switch and hold down the button at the end of the cable.
Not only does this protect against self-discharge in storage, it also prevents the sort of accidental activation you might experience when traveling with a battery that has a typical on-unit on/off switch.
My one gripe with this feature is that there is no on-unit indicator to tell you which mode you’re in. Instead, you have to plug the activation switch back in and observe the color of the LED at the tip: bright blue = active mode; dim blue = shelf mode.
An early model of the Renogy Smart battery shared one major flaw with most of the lithium battery market… poor cold weather performance. It used to be that temperatures below 32° F would render the Smart battery useless, but the new variant has some welcome cold weather protections in place.
Now it’s advertised that you can charge the Smart battery in temperatures as low as -4° F and as high as 140° F, and having tested this range to some extent, I have every reason to believe Renogy’s claims.
I was a little shocked when I cracked open the internal metal safe holding the battery cells, as I was met by 16 pouch cells. This isn’t very typical of batteries of this ilk, so it’s an interesting choice.
I assume the space-friendly nature of pouch cells is one of the reasons Renogy chose them over cylindrical cells, as the small footprint of this battery is a clear focal point of the marketing.
The downside is that pouch cells are sensitive to deformation in high-pressure environments; however, they’re so well housed in the Smart battery, that I can’t see that ever happening.
Another thing to bear in mind is that these cells are not wired to facilitate series hookups, so you’re stuck in parallel, which may be a deal breaker for those with more complex solar systems.
BMS (Battery Management System)
A surprisingly sophisticated battery management system is one of my favorite things about this battery. The layout is ingenious, and every single solder point was pristine, which is why it performed as well as it did in my tests.
I overcharged it and the BMS shut it down immediately. It’s also responsible for the immaculate thermal protections in place, running data transmission (more on that in a moment), and automatically balancing the battery to improve service life.
Thanks to this immaculate system, you can expect the Smart battery to last for more than 4000 cycles, which is pretty great, even within the lithium ion family.
RJ45 Communication Ports
Another of this battery’s resounding successes is the pair of RJ45 communication ports that allow you to link your batteries to advanced battery monitoring systems.
When this connection is made, the hyper-advanced BMS sends all the relevant information to the discrete monitoring tech, allowing you to keep tabs on all essential aspects of functionality.
This feature is a polite nudge in the direction of the Renogy battery monitor and shunt, (which is fantastic by the way), but it will absolutely work with any other monitoring system you have in place.
And if you have two Renogy Smart batteries, you can link one to the other, then connect the last in chain to your management system, and monitor both simultaneously.
Renogy advertises a 1200 Wh capacity, and being that they’re a beloved company, I trusted them, but, my friend… it was a complete lie! In actual fact, during my tests, this absolute beast of a battery racked up 1370 Wh, 170 Wh more than spec! — I had you going there for a second, didn’t I?
This battery weighs a minuscule 25.3 lbs, which is insane for something of this capacity, but, that’s the beauty of pouch cells… they’re stackable and super lightweight!
This thing really isn’t going to weigh you down as you head out into the wild. You could even lug this thing around in a backpack without getting a sore back.
Unfortunately, the backpack would be necessary if traveling by foot, as there is no integrated handle, but there are some finger spaces for handling it during setup.
At 6.8’ x 7.4’ x 11.4’, the dimensions are also very manageable, meaning it won’t take up all the space in your van, RV, boat, garage… wherever you plan on using it. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this is the most travel-friendly solar battery of this capacity and class.
Value For Money
While this is definitely not the most expensive LiFePO4 solar battery on the market, it’s not exactly cheap either, but considering the superb quality, it’d be criminal to say it doesn’t offer great value for money.
On the contrary, even though you pay a small premium for the Renogy name, you’re getting a best-in-class battery that will, without a shadow of a doubt, outperform the competition.
The Final Verdict
Renogy put on a clinic with their lithium 12 V, 100 Ah Smart battery. Put simply, it’s a work of art, a power storage masterclass! I had high expectations going into this review due to the company’s reputation, but this battery exceeded them all.
The build quality is second to none, and the use of pouch cells to boost the portability factor is a stroke of genius, especially as all the traditional drawbacks of the pouch format are offset with other fantastic additions, such as the spectacular BMS system.
And while we’re on the topic of BMS, it’s a real standout part of the design; the craftsmanship is evident when you take a look at it under the hood, and the fact it can keep this battery charging in sub-zero temperatures is amazing — A definite boon for those who live in chilly climates.
It’s not the most exciting battery to look at, but its capacity significantly exceeds its specifications. I’d recommend it to anyone except those hoping to run a system in series, as, sadly, it’s only built to support parallel wiring. Besides that singular weakness, the Renogy Smart battery is a thing of beauty!