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How it all Started – The “Unauthorized” History of Battcon

Note: Allen recognizes that there were also some other influences from the defunct New England Battery Conference and some other entities and these are not covered in this perspective. Others may have some input on this.

At the 5th International Power Quality Conference held in Irvine, CA during a Power Quality Forum discussion, it was the general consensus of the participants that the battery, particularly the Valve – Regulated Lead-Acid battery (VRLA), had become the “Achilles’ heel” of the electrical power back-up systems. This prompted myself and George Pedersen, now an Eagle Eye colleague, to present a paper in 1993, at the annual Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI) Conference, titled “Batteries, they are supposed to keep you up but they will let you down.” This was well received and did not get any push back by the battery manufacturers, many of whom were present at the conference. We were labeled as “whistle blowers,” As an indirect result, I was asked to join the editorial board of Power Quality Assurance Magazine.

In April of 1994, I took part in an Editorial Advisory Board meeting of Power Quality Assurance Magazine. It took place as part of the High Frequency Power Conversion (HFPC) ’94 Conference in Santa Clara, CA. I was also a member of an all-day panel discussion at that conference on Network Power and Reliability. There was a lot of talk and concerns about battery reliability especially regarding VRLA batteries. Wheels were set in motion to organize a conference dealing solely with batteries and associated equipment.

In September of 1994 George and I took part in the Power Quality ’94 Conference in Dallas, TX where there were also rumblings about battery reliability. The need for a battery orientated conference was reinforced. Glen Albér of Albér Corp, one of the original innovators and manufacturer of battery monitoring and test equipment, also took part in that conference, making a presentation on – guess what? – Battery Impedance/Resistance Testing.

As a result of the above, the publishers and editorial board of Power Quality Magazine put together a conference under the umbrella of the High Frequency Power Conversion ’95 Conference in San Jose, CA. The title of the conference was Battery Systems Engineering Forum One. The conference was a great success and brought to light many end-user concerns that were sometimes less than subtly expressed, especially regarding the performance and reliability of VRLA batteries.

Prior to the Battery Systems Engineering Forum One conference it had already been decided to hold a Battery Systems Engineering Forum Two conference as part of the Power Quality ’95 Conference. This was held in Long Beach, CA in September of 1995. Some people who were to become Battcon stalwarts were speakers, including Glenn Albér, Rick Tressler, Ed Rafter, George Pedersen, Tom Ruhlmann and yours truly. I sat down with Glenn during this meeting and voiced my concerns regarding the state of the VRLA battery industry and the obvious customer anger, outrage and apathy regarding the VRLA product and the battery industry in general. I wrote a “Call for Action” open letter and distributed to various interested individuals including Glenn.

The Power Systems World Conference was to be held in Las Vegas in September of 1996 and there was to be a track devoted to Batteries and Battery Systems. As by way of a lead-in, the June 1996 issue of Power Quality Assurance Magazine I published an article titled “Bothered by Batteries … Is there an Answer? I addressed the same concerns that I had about VRLA batteries in general and called for some form of a battery users group. It was no coincidence that in the same issue, an article was published titled “Guaranteeing Battery System Performance. Part 1 – Understanding Failures” authored by Glenn Albér and Marco Migliaro. Was it any coincidence that Glenn founded Battcon in 1997, less than a year later and Marco was the first moderator? The pot had been stirred! Unfortunately, Marco was not able to moderate the second Battcon and I was press ganged, literally the day before the conference. Luckily I had Johnson Controls’ Tom Ruhlmann to assist me. The rest is history!

The first Battcon was held at the Boca Raton, FL Marriott with an attendance of a few hundred and a small trade show. It was sponsored by Albér . Battcon was held at the same venue for the next 4 years, but it was growing and had a limit of 350 attendees spread among 3 hotels. We even had to limit the number of attendees from the manufacturers who were over eager to participate. Strength in numbers I guess. We also formed a Battcon Technical Committee to assist with the selection of papers, panels and seminars. Most were members of the IEEE and the IEEE Stationary Battery Committees. Albér continued to sponsor the event and do all the logistics for the conference and trade shows. Other companies jumped on board and became sponsors. In 2002 it moved on to bigger venues and eventually capped the attendance at 550 with 60 exhibitors. This was done so that we could accommodate more attendees, while at the same time, keep it a somewhat intimate user driven conference. It was expanded by one day in order to offer a pre-conference day of seminars which proved extremely popular. A Battcon “Hall-of-Fame” was also established and ironically the first inductee was John Devitt who was credited as being the “inventor” of the VRLA battery while with Gates Rubber Company.

Vertiv acquired Albér a few years ago and thankfully, continued to organize and sponsor Battcon. The conference had become so successful that it had become the preeminent stationary battery conference in the world, with attendees coming from all over the globe. Sadly, the Covid-19 chaos canceled this year’s conference, which would have been the 24th year. This was during a period where other conferences were cutting back or folding. However, the date for next year has already been set for May and I expect it, with all of the developments in the stationary battery industry, to be better than ever. Eagle Eye who was one of the sponsors of this year’s Battcon will be a proud sponsor again next year.

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