Battery/Storage and Capacity with Age
Chemically, the cells mainly age in two ways:
- The electrolyte reacting with the active components of the cathode and anode in the cells, and releasing gas (calendar life).
- The interaction between the lithium ions and the anode/cathode blend that causes a small amount of damage each time they are cycled. (Cycle life)
You just have to come to terms with the fact that from the moment the battery pack is manufactured it will very slowly lose overall capacity regardless of whether you use it or not. Li-ion batteries are good at holding their charge so you don't need to worry about letting them stand for a long time, providing they've got a reasonably good state of charge (SoC). At 40-50% SoC the overall capacity loss due to aging is minimized. At full charge the aging effects are increased but not by such a great amount that it should cause any great concern. For some owners it might be wiser to follow Zero's recommendations and just leave the bike plugged in for however long you plan to store the bike. This at least makes sure the individual cells stay balanced with each other and there's little risk of them dropping to a very low SoC at which point the aging effects begin to increase. If you let the SoC drop below their minimum threshold you run the risk of the battery pack becoming unusable. I think that's why Zero recommend leaving the bike plugged in over winter. If there's some sort of power cut mid-winter and the bike isn't checked for a few months, then at least there's a good chance the battery won't have discharged too much.
The manufacturer might state that you will get 500 cycles from a battery and they will be referring to full cycles. However, if you only ever use 10% of the capacity from a full charge and then top it up, you will get more cycles from it before the battery health drops to 80%. In this example you are likely to get 1500 cycles from a battery that you only ever discharge to half it's capacity. That's assuming that all other variables remain the same. In day-to-day use, variations in state of charge and temperature are more likely to affect battery life than how you cycle the battery. Taking Zero's claim's of an estimated battery pack life of 496,000 km using city ranges it would take at least 2,250 full cycles to achieve this (2014 Zero S 11.4 kWh). Taking into account the loss of capacity in this period and the figure is bound to be more like 2,500 cycles. Most trips and daily commutes will probably drop the battery to 40-50% SoC thus increasing the number of cycles we would get from the battery. Let's say we average 60 miles between charges of a 100 mile combined range over the life of the bike. Then let's allow ourselves 3,000 cycles before the battery drops to 80% health. That's still 180,000 miles. Even if we then halve that to allow for temperature and aging (very unlikely even in harsh conditions) we get a very, very conservative estimate of 90,000 miles. That should give even a heavy commuter a good five or six years of use before noticing significant reduction in range. Even then, a daily average of 60 miles would still give you a 20 mile reserve.
If you do decide to leave it at 40-50% SoC you also need to be organized enough to check the bike every couple of weeks or so. It wouldn't hurt to charge it up after a few months, leave it plugged in for a few days to make sure the cells get properly balanced, then take it for a ride to bring the SoC down to the 40-50% level again before leaving it for the next few weeks or months.
I have no doubt that the good people at Zero have done their sums, know the specifications of the batteries in detail and are confident that their battery packs will have at least 80% health after five years even if the bike is never ridden and left plugged in all the time. Zero also state in their specifications that their battery packs are good for hundreds of thousands of miles before they reach 80% of their original stated capacity. That in itself should be enough to put your mind at rest, but if it isn't then perhaps these golden rules should help:
- Don't leave the bike standing empty for more than a few days.
- If you have to store the bike for a long time, then either leave it plugged in and don't worry about it, or leave it at 40-50% SoC but keep an eye on it.
- Just use your bike as much as you can and don't worry about the battery. The engineers have thought all this through and are backing it up with a five year warranty. The whole scene will be different in five years time, so it isn't worth thinking about.