A Bit About Batteries


By Midori Connolly

If there is one thing that has always plagued me about our business, it’s the consumption of batteries. Whether we are on the integrated/installed side of the business or the wild west of live events, there is one little nuisance we all share… and that is the vexing hassle of battery consumption. In a world where wireless has become ubiquitous, there are few users out there who will settle for the idea of being tethered while presenting or lecturing from a stage. But along with this liberation comes its own weight for us to bear… what to do about the rapid consumption of batteries in our jobs, from power tools to microphones to other electronics used in the course of our work?

You might be wondering whether batteries are truly such a big deal that we can spend an entire column on the topic – and that’s understandable! But the troublesome fact is that household dry cell batteries (A, AA, AAA, C, D, 9V, etc.) contribute about 88 percent of the total mercury and 50 percent of the cadmium in the municipal solid waste stream. In the past, batteries accounted for nearly half of the mercury used in the United States and over half of the mercury and cadmium in the municipal solid waste stream, per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And I know from personal experience that if there is one practice that is ingrained in every event technician, it’s that microphone batteries are changed DAILY, if not between sessions (when your client is paying $200K for a keynote speaker, you better believe the tech lives in fear that a dead battery will kill the show).

So what do you think about rechargeable batteries? For the longest time, I operated under the assumption there was no way it could work, there are just too many variables with these tricky little suckers.
Here are a few of the issues:

  1. Traditionally, NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries lost up to 20 percent of their charge on the first day and up to 4 percent per week of storage after that.
  2. Batteries can walk away. And they always do. Accounting for at least a 10-20 percent loss in consumables is a safe bet. When is the last time you did a full audit of batteries used on an event site, or a client was confident no one would take a liberty or two with these high-demand items?
  3. Can anyone guarantee that there will be an ample supply of fully charged batteries at go time? Between user/employees going home for the day or crew heading to a mandated dinner, it’s a tough call to ensure the batteries are placed in chargers at end of day.

But here are a couple of redeeming qualities, and the possibility of how rechargeables might have a place in our future:

  1. Shelf life has improved dramatically in the new generation of NiMH, the Low-Self Discharge (LSD). These cells retain 70 percent to 85 percent of their capacity after one year when stored at 20 °C (68 °F). This is a great thing for being able to charge all batteries before an event or once a week in a built environment.
  2. NiMH rechargeables actually outperform disposable alkaline batteries in high-drain devices, where the voltage of even a fresh alkaline battery can be lower than a NiMH battery while under a load.

Knowing that shelf life is a little more predictable and performance is a non-issue, I do think that there are possibilities of how processes and policies could be developed to start implementing the use of rechargeable batteries.

midori-connolly-0810However, I guess my real conclusion would be about how we manufacture our equipment, rather than tackling the batteries we put in it. If we have been trained to replace our radios and other devices on the charger each night, is there a reason why we can’t do the same with all the mics and other battery monsters we use? I think the challenge is less about developing better removable batteries, and more about rethinking how this equipment could be recharged in a new way (built-in Lithium-ion anyone?).

Midori Connolly is the founder of AVGirl Productions in California. She wrote the first-ever set of Sustainable Staging best practices after discovering none existed. She was the co-chair of the AV committee for the ASTM Standard for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings and is a speaker, writer and consultant for green practices in live events and meeting planning. Reach her at midori@avgirlproductions.com