APC Smart UPS 750 battery replacement notes

This post was written by eli on August 31, 2021
Posted Under: miscellaneous

Introduction

This post continues my notes on Smart UPS 750, three years later, when it was time to replace the batteries (because they barely held for 13 minutes). It should have been simple, but if I wrote this lengthy post about it, there was clearly something going on.

Note that UPSes and their batteries is not my field. These are just my notes as I found my way through.

So for short, the main takeaways are these:

  • Update the time of last battery replacement with the UPS’ front panel interface (somewhere under Configuration). This makes the UPS realize there are new batteries inside, which changes the way it calculates the estimated runtime.
  • Two standard 12V / 7AH lead acid batteries can be used instead of APC’s original battery pack. But check that the terminals are 6mm wide.
  • The displayed battery runtime is not reliable.

And now, the deep dive.

Replacing the batteries

The process for battery replacement with non-APC batteries is shown in this video, but it’s really not complicated. Yank off the front panel, then the pull down the metal panel behind the former, and pull out the batteries gently. Use the harness that connects the two existing batteries on the new ones, push them in and you’re done. Plus some packing tape to keep the two batteries together.

However the original batteries’ contact terminals are about 6mm wide, contrary to the ones on the battery I bought, which were considerably smaller. So even though there was no problem connecting the batteries, it wasn’t all that reassuring that the contacts were smaller. It seems like there are two standards for the terminal with, 6 mm being one of them.

This is a picture taken from above, showing the original pair of batteries I pulled out from the UPS (click to enlarge):

Original battery pack for APC Smart UPS 750

The blue thing in the middle contains a fuse, and the black connector at the top mates with the UPS.

But when I powered up the UPS, the expected runtime shown on the display was just 13 minutes, even though the charge level appeared as 100%. I was surprised to see a 100% charge level on batteries that were just installed, and even more disappointed with the expected runtime. Could it be that bad? Both APC’s runtime chart and my own simple energy calculation (see below) pointed at one hour at least with the load I had. And it didn’t improve after letting the UPS work for a few hours.

My first though was that I had been sold exceptionally junky batteries. But I bought them at a reputable electronics shop, and they carried a timestamp indicating they were fresh.

And then it occurred to me that I should tell the UPS that I had replaced batteries. So I went to the part in the UPS’ configuration menu for setting the month and year of the last battery change, and did that. And to my surprise, the runtime was adjusted to 1hr 12 minutes right away. There a few posts out there (this, for example) on how to “reset the battery constant” manually. It seems like this relates to the same thing.

Cute, I thought. But is that figure correct? So I let the UPS run on battery for a while. The estimated runtime went down in pace with the wall clock, but then suddenly, after 23 minutes, it took the power down.

So I reconnected the UPS back to power, and let the battery charge until it reached 100% again. At which point it reported:

$ apcaccess
APC      : 001,027,0652
DATE     : 2021-08-29 20:21:36 +0300
HOSTNAME : ruhe
VERSION  : 3.14.14 (31 May 2016) debian
UPSNAME  : ruhe
CABLE    : USB Cable
DRIVER   : USB UPS Driver
UPSMODE  : Stand Alone
STARTTIME: 2021-08-29 18:30:15 +0300
MODEL    : Smart-UPS 750
STATUS   : ONLINE
BCHARGE  : 100.0 Percent
TIMELEFT : 23.0 Minutes
MBATTCHG : 5 Percent
MINTIMEL : 3 Minutes
MAXTIME  : 300 Seconds
ALARMDEL : 30 Seconds
BATTV    : 26.6 Volts
NUMXFERS : 0
TONBATT  : 0 Seconds
CUMONBATT: 0 Seconds
XOFFBATT : N/A
STATFLAG : 0x05000008
MANDATE  : 2018-05-22
SERIALNO : AS1821351109
NOMBATTV : 24.0 Volts
FIRMWARE : UPS 09.3 / ID=18
END APC  : 2021-08-29 20:22:01 +0300

Smart UPS or what? If the battery died after 23 minutes last time, how much has it left when fully charged? Let me think… 23 minutes!

And yet, that sounds way too short for a new battery. More than 24 hours later, the same runtime estimation remained, going up and down a minute or so occasionally. So that’s that.

It could be correct, however. The way to find out is to try again after a month or so. For that, there’s battery calibration. Which for my UPS means “let the battery drain and measure its way down until it’s empty”. Haven’t tried that yet, but it seems more or less like unplugging power from the UPS. Note that the load will lose power at the end of this process. So the computer needs to be taken down safely, and then held in a state where a power failure won’t hurt (e.g. stuck in some boot menu). This way, it remains as an electrical load, but nothing bad happens when the power goes down.

Battery calibration is launched from the front panel menu as well.

Why calibration makes sense requires some deep diving into lead acid battery theory. Which is where this post goes next. Once again, lead acid batteries is really not my expertise. For a concise technical background, I recommend reading Power Sonic’s Technical Manual.

A 7AH battery doesn’t really give 7AH

The amount of charge (and energy) that a lead-acid battery supplies until it’s discharged depends dramatically on the discharging current. The capacity printed on the battery is given for a 20-hours discharge, or using the jargon, 0.05C. That “C” is 7 taken from the 7AH figure, so 7AH are obtained if the discharge current is 0.35A. For larger currents, expect much less energy out of the battery.

For example, my specific case: The load is 70W (at 142VA) according to the UPS itself. I’ll assume that the low power factor thing can be ignored, i.e. that the fact that the VA figure is twice the consumed power makes no difference. This low power factor is natural to switching power supplies, as they draw more current when the voltage is low, so their behavior is far from a plain resistor (unless specifically compensated to mitigate this effect). I’ll also assume that the UPS is 100% efficient on its voltage conversion, which is complete rubbish, but for the heck of it.

So for two 12V batteries in series it goes 70W/24V =~ 2.9A, which is about 0.4C (2.9 / 7 =~ 0.4). A ballpark figure can be taken from Figure 4 in Power Sonic’s Technical Manual, showing that the voltage starts to drop after about an hour, and reaches the critical value somewhere after an hour and a half. Note that I have different batteries.

Also from Table 2 of the same Manual, we have that the actual capacity of a 7AH battery, when drained with a 4.34A current, is 4.34AH (one hour). The current is higher than 2.9A, but given that the UPS isn’t really 100% efficient, it’s likely that the real discharge current is closer to 4A than to 2.9A. So that explains why the UPS said 1:12 hours when I updated the battery replacement date.

Now, it could be that different batteries behave differently on higher currents. I really don’t know. I couldn’t find data on my “Bulls Power” batteries. So maybe they could meet the 7AH specification for a 20-hours discharge, and then perform really poorly with higher, real-life currents. I have no idea.

Not directly related, but anyhow: The power consumption goes above double (165W, 217VA) when compiling a Linux kernel with 12 processes. The power factor improved considerably, in line with Corsair’s promise to attain power level of unity at full capacity (which is 850W, a long way to go).

Knowing the battery’s charge level

How does one estimate how much energy a lead-acid battery has? The answer is unpleasant, yet simple: There is really no way to measure it from the battery electronically. After reading quite some material on the subject, that became evident to me: There are plenty of papers describing exotic algorithms for estimating a battery’s health and charge level, and their abundance and variety proves that there’s really no way to tell, except for draining it.

Actually, there is one way that is considered reliable, which is measuring the open circuit voltage (OCV) after the battery has been disconnected for a while (some say a few hours, battery manufacturers typically require 24 hours). Letting the battery rest allows it to reach a chemical equilibrium, at which point the voltage reflects its charge level. This is surely true for a fresh battery.

As for batteries with some history, the picture is less clear, and I haven’t managed to figure out if the OCV voltages remain the same, and if the voltage vs. charge percentage relate to the original charge capacity, or the one that is available after the battery is worn out.

For example, Power Sonic claims that the OVC goes from 1.94V/cell to 2.16V/cell for 0% to 100% charge respectively. As a 12-volt battery has 6 cells, this corresponds to 11.64V to 12.96V. These figures are quite similar to those presented by another manufacturer.

But what does 100% charge mean? 7AH or as much as is left when the battery has worked for some time? My anecdotal measurement of the batteries I took out from the UPS was 12.99V after letting them rest. In other words, they presented a OCV voltage corresponding to 100% charge, even though they had much less than 7AH.

So how does a UPS estimate the remaining runtime? Well, the simple way is to let the battery run out once, and there you have a number. Clearly, Smart UPS uses this method.

Are there any alternatives? In theory, the UPS could let the battery rest for 24 hours, and measure its OCV. This is possible, because most of the time the UPS doesn’t need the battery. But even my anecdotal measurement shows that a 100% charge-like reading doesn’t mean much.

For other types of batteries (Li-ion in particular), measuring the current on the battery, in and out (Coulomb Counting), gives an idea on how much charge it contains. This doesn’t work with lead acid batteries, because the recommended way to maintain a standby battery, is to continuously float charge it. That means holding a constant voltage (say, 2.25V per cell, that is 13.5V for a 12V battery, or 27V on a battery pair, as in SmartUPS 750).

As this voltage is higher than the OCV at rest, this causes a small trickle current (said to be about 0.001C), which compensates for the battery’s self discharge. Even if it overcharges the battery slightly, the gases that are released are recycled internally in a sealed battery, so there’s no damage.

Hence the recommended strategy for charging a lead-acid battery is to charge it quickly as long as its voltage / current pair indicates that it’s far from being fully charged, and then apply a constant, known and safe voltage. This allows it to charge completely slowly, and then maintain the charge without any risk for overcharging. Odds are that this is what the UPS does.

But makes Coulomb Counting impossible: During the float charge phase (that is, virtually all the time) the current may and may not actually charge the battery.

Why recalibrate

It’s not clear what my Smart 750 UPS did with the batteries when recharging after they were completely empty. Even if did Coulomb Counting, it has no way to tell how efficient the battery will perform during discharge, while draining a current that is much higher than 0.05C.

I’m not even 100% sure that it did charge the battery fully in any of the cases. Even though lead-acid batteries have a pretty known charging voltage graph, which indicates when the battery is about to become full, the UPS might have played safe, and went for a float charge early. Maybe it doesn’t fast-charge a battery more than it has knowingly discharged it. If that’s the case, the remaining charge is acquired slowly by float charging.

As the UPS has no way to know whether the charging current is just a float charge or if the battery actually gains energy, it won’t update the estimated runtime.

So it’s possible that the UPS actually filled the battery properly to begin with, or that it did that during float charge phase. Or the batteries installed may be pure junk. This way or another, a battery calibration (or just let it run on battery until it dies out) a while later is the definite answer, as it covers the float charge possibility.

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