NiCd vs NiMH for Solar Lights


Nickel Metal Hydride batteries (NiMH batteries) are generally the better choice over Nickel Cadmium batteries (NiCd batteries) for most solar light applications today.

NiMH offers a higher capacity to store more energy from the sun, lasts longer through more recharge cycles, and is more eco-friendly. However, NiCd can be a good lower-cost option if needed.

Key Differences Between NiCd and NiMH Batteries

Key Differences Between NiCd and NiMH Batteries

NiCd and NiMH batteries have several key differences that impact their performance and use in solar lights:

  • Energy Density – NiMH batteries offer a higher energy density, meaning they can store more power in the same-size battery. NiMH typically provides twice the capacity compared to NiCd.
  • Recharge Cycles – NiMH batteries last through more recharge cycles before their capacity drops. NiMH batteries can handle 500-1000 cycles versus 300-500 for NiCd.
  • Self-Discharge – NiMH batteries have lower self-discharge rates, meaning they retain their charge longer when unused. This helps solar lights stay brighter each night.
  • Memory Effect – NiMH batteries do not suffer from memory effect issues like NiCd batteries. This allows for partial recharging.
  • Environmental Impact – NiMH batteries are more environmentally friendly, as they do not contain toxic cadmium like NiCd batteries.
  • Cost – NiCd batteries are typically cheaper upfront than NiMH batteries. However, the longer lifetime of NiMH balances out the costs over time.

Why Do Solar Lights Require Rechargeable Batteries?

Solar lights need batteries to store energy from the sun during the daytime and power the lights at night.

Rechargeable battery types like NiCd and NiMH are ideal because they can repeatedly charge from solar panels and discharge to power the LED bulbs without needing to be replaced.

Non-rechargeable alkaline batteries like AA and AAA cells could technically be used. However, they would drain down fully each night and need frequent replacement, which is not practical or cost-effective.

Rechargeable NiCd and NiMH batteries are designed to handle repeated charge/discharge cycles from solar panels. This allows them to last for months or years, powering the solar lights.

Benefits of Using NiMH Batteries in Solar Lights

4 rechargeable NiMH batteries on black background

Here are some of the major benefits NiMH batteries offer compared to NiCd when used in solar lighting:

  • Higher Capacity – The higher energy density of NiMH batteries means solar lights will stay brighter for longer into the night. More solar power can be stored from the day.
  • Longer Lifespan – With NiMH batteries lasting through 500-1000 recharge cycles, the batteries don’t need to be replaced nearly as often as NiCd batteries in solar lights.
  • Lower Self-Discharge – The slower self-discharge of NiMH batteries ensures the solar lights will start each night brighter after sitting through the day, with minimal battery drain.
  • No Memory Effect – NiMH batteries can be partially recharged by the sun each day, unlike NiCd batteries which need full discharge cycles to avoid capacity loss from memory effect.
  • Environmentally Friendly – The lack of toxic metals like cadmium in NiMH batteries makes them more eco-friendly and easier to recycle when they eventually need replacement.

Situations Where NiCd Batteries Can Be Used for Solar Lights

A NiCd battery on light background

While NiMH is generally the best choice, here are a few situations where NiCd batteries could be preferred in solar lighting applications:

  • Colder Weather Operation – NiCd batteries perform better than NiMH batteries in colder temperatures. In frosty climates, NiCd may be preferred.
  • Fast Recharge – NiCd batteries can fully recharge faster than NiMH batteries. In short winter days or frequently overcast conditions, NiCd may charge better.
  • Cost Concerns – If trying to minimize upfront costs, the cheaper NiCd batteries could be used and just replaced more often as required.
  • Availability – If NiMH batteries are hard to source locally, readily available NiCd batteries can be used instead.

So, in summary, NiCd batteries can still power solar lights effectively in certain situations where fast charging, cold temps, or low costs are the priority. But for most general solar lighting needs, NiMH is the best choice.

Important Factors to Look for When Comparing NiCd vs NiMH Batteries for Solar Lights

When comparing NiCd and NiMH batteries for your specific solar lights, look for:

  • Capacity (mAh) – Higher capacity batteries can store more solar energy to power lights longer. Look for at least 600 mAh batteries.
  • Voltage – Ensure voltage matches solar light requirements (typically 1.2V per battery).
  • Battery Size – Match the battery size and connectors to fit the solar light battery compartment. AA and AAA sizes are common.
  • Recharge Cycles – Look for NiMH batteries rated for 500+ cycles or NiCd batteries rated for 300+ cycles minimum.
  • Self-Discharge Rate – A lower percentage of self-discharge rates means a longer time between recharges.
  • Temperature Range – Ensure low-temperature operation meets your climate needs.
  • Cost Per Cycle – Calculate cost per full charge/discharge cycle to compare overall value.

How Should NiMH Batteries Be Charged for Solar Lights?

To maximize the performance and lifespan of NiMH batteries in solar lights:

Use a solar charge controller that is compatible with NiMH batteries

  • Prevent overcharging by not exceeding the rated charge current and voltage
  • Use a timer or charge termination circuit to stop charging once fully charged
  • Avoid trickle charging and only recharge once discharged
  • Recharge frequently to avoid deep discharging damage
  • Charge in moderate temperatures between 5°C and 35°C

Properly controlled charging will allow the NiMH batteries to provide years of effective use in solar lighting.

Do NiCd Solar Light Batteries Need Special Handling?

When using NiCd batteries, a few special handling steps should be taken:

  • Use a solar charge controller compatible with NiCd batteries
  • Utilize full discharges and recharges to minimize memory effect capacity loss
  • Recharge frequently, as NiCd self-discharges faster than NiMH
  • Avoid overcharging, which shortens NiCd battery life
  • Dispose of NiCd batteries properly due to toxic metals like cadmium

Following battery manufacturer usage guidelines for charging, discharging, storage, and disposal will get the best performance and lifespan out of NiCd batteries in solar lighting.


NiCd and NiMH batteries on light background

Can NiMH Batteries be Charged on a NiCd Charger?

Charging NiMH batteries using a charger designed for NiCd batteries is generally not recommended.

While it is possible, NiCd chargers often do not properly terminate the charge cycle when the NiMH batteries are fully charged. This can lead to overcharging and reduced battery life.

NiMH batteries should be charged with a charger designed specifically for the chemistry of the NiMH battery to control charging and avoid damage properly.

How Many Recharge Cycles Do NiMH and NiCd Batteries Last?

On average, NiMH batteries last through 500-1000 recharge cycles before capacity drops significantly. NiCd batteries typically last for 300-500 cycles.

Do NiMH Batteries Work Better than NiCd in Cold Weather?

NiCd batteries perform better than NiMH batteries in colder temperatures below freezing. NiCd is preferable for solar lights used in very cold climates.

Is It OK to Partially Recharge NiMH Batteries in Solar Lights Each Day?

Unlike NiCd batteries, NiMH batteries do not suffer from memory effect issues. They can be partially recharged by the sun each day without harm.

Can NiMH Batteries Be Substituted for NiCd Rechargeable Batteries in Solar Lights?

In most cases, Yes. If the NiMH battery matches the required specs like voltage and size, it can directly replace NiCd batteries in solar lighting.

Do Solar Lights Drain NiMH Batteries When Not in Use?

NiMH batteries will still slowly self-discharge when sitting idle in solar lights. However, the self-discharge rate is lower than NiCd batteries.

How Long Do Solar Light NiMH Batteries Typically Last?

With proper recharging, high-quality NiMH batteries can last up to 5 years in solar lighting before needing replacement. Lower-quality batteries may only last 1-2 years.

Do NiMH Batteries Need Special Recycling?

While not as hazardous as NiCd, recycling NiMH batteries at the end of their lifespan is still recommended rather than throwing them in the regular trash.

Many stores offer battery recycling programs.

Why Are NiMH Batteries Better for the Environment than NiCd?

NiCd batteries contain toxic heavy metals like cadmium that pollute the environment when disposed of. NiMH batteries use less hazardous metals and can be more safely recycled.

Is It OK to Use NiCd and NiMH Batteries Together in Solar Lights?

Mixing NiCd and NiMH batteries in solar lighting is not recommended. The differing chemistries and charging needs can lead to issues.

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