Lithium Battery Upgrade: Worth The Effort?

Remember typewriters? They went the same way as long-playing records and the eight-track cassette: consigned to museums by the march of technology. And what's next in line? The lead acid battery.

Lithium comes to the electric golf caddy

Capable of holding more power in a smaller volume than any other battery technology, you'll find lithium batteries in cellphones, laptops and some of the latest electric golf caddies.

Most caddies use lead acid batteries. They're are the same as what you'll find under the hood of your car. The technology is well-proven, but comes with some well-proven disadvantages. Until now though, upgrading to lithium meant buying a new caddy. That's because lead acid batteries produce electricity at 12 volts and most lithium batteries put out 24 volts.

That has changed. Now it is possible to replace the old lead acid battery in your caddy with a lithium unit. But just because you can, does that mean you should? Making that decision means understanding the advantages lithium has over lead acid, what's involved in upgrading, and what difference it really makes.

Advantages of lithium batteries

Lithium wins over lead acid in five areas:

  • Lightweight
  • Higher storage density
  • Better life
  • Wider temperature range
  • Environmentally superior

Lithium is far lighter than lead, which is one of the densest metals known, and it can store a higher density of electricity. That means lithium batteries are smaller and much lighter.

Lead acid batteries don't last well in applications where they are discharged, then recharged. (Technically speaking, that's “deep cycle” use. It's different to how batteries are used in a car because there they are constantly being recharged.) Lithium batteries on the other hand have no problem with that kind of use and will endure far more cycles.

Lithium batteries also cope far better with temperature extremes. While it's common knowledge that cold saps the power of a lead acid battery, high temperatures, (the kind experienced in the South West,) reduce the number of deep discharge cycles they can endure. Lithium batteries though continue to perform even when it's far too hot for golf!

Last, disposing of used lead acid batteries can be a real problem as no one wants to handle toxic materials. Lithium has no such problems, making it an environmentally superior energy storage technology.

What's involved in upgrading

A new 12 volt lithium battery is a straight swap for a 12 volt lead acid unit. However, the lithium battery must have a specially-designed charger as the supply voltage needs precise control. Buy a retrofit kit and the battery and charger come together.

Feel the difference

Swapping the lead acid battery in an electric caddy saves around 19 pounds. If the caddy has to be lifted in and out of a car, that's a huge benefit! And a secondary gain is that less weight to move around makes the caddy more efficient too.

The gain in battery life is far from trivial too. In fact while a typical lead acid battery will last maybe 150 charging cycles one made from lithium will handle 500 cycles. And those golfing in hot climates should see an even bigger differential. Simply put, the lithium battery will last three or four times as long.

Leave the old behind

Typewriters, LP's and eight-tracks disappeared because something better took their place. Lithium batteries are doing the same to lead acid. But the really good news is, lithium retrofit kits now mean there's no need to replace an old caddy just to get better battery technology.