Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are rechargeable batteries the way to go?

My good friend Mike Sessler has been telling me for years I should move to rechargeable batteries. He has been using them for years and has recently completed a yearlong study of using them and how they perform in the long term. His data is compelling to say the least. It has made me step back and think about how and why we use batteries at Lake Pointe.

We average about 40 double A batteries a weekend just at our main campus auditorium alone. Certainly this adds up to a lot of dollars over time but we also are able to provide batteries to all the other ministries in our church. The used batteries are collected and then given to other departments in the church. This way they do not have the need to buy any and the batteries get used for more of their life. They are also given to our volunteers to take home and use in the Wii remotes or other devices they may have. It’s a small token to them just to say thank you. At our place we have lots of classrooms with TVs and DVD players all of which have remotes and these are powered from the used stock we collect. Our missions group gives them out to local partners where money is very tight and even buying batteries for that one or two wireless they may own is a big deal. With all that usage, I’m getting a tremendous value from a 44-cent battery. Not just a monetary one but also the good will that is spread throughout our church.

There would need to be at least some level of management put into a rechargeable battery system. This means that I, or someone with significant accountability, will need to make sure the system is being handled properly. This is not a job I’m willing to put in the hands of a part-time student employee. That management will take time and time is money. I have the resources I need to do the job but don’t have the time. If you have the time and not the resources then the equation changes. This is one factor in our decision to not move to rechargeable batteries. But there is more, much more.

I have to be real honest here. There are these little things called credibility and trust that our team has worked hard for many years to gain. Our leadership and those on our worship teams know that we are doing everything possible we can to help create the best environment for our services each and every week. We are given significant freedom because of that trust. It’s not something to be taken lightly. If I have a failure in a wireless device there are 3 questions that will be asked from our senior leaders.

1. Was there a new battery in there?
2. Was it just a bad one then?
3. Anything we can do to improve the situation?

If the answer is no to the first question because I was using a rechargeable then the next questions change.

2. Why was it not a new one?
"Because I was trying to save some money and become more green by using rechargeable ones."
3. So you think its ok to create a major distraction and ruin the efforts of lots of people who spend their time working to create a great environment for thousands of people because you didn’t want to spend 44 cents?

UG! There is no way I can possibly answer that question and justify the risk knowing that this is the conversation that would happen.
“But Jason, Procell batteries fail sometimes.”
Yes they do, however, I can say with complete confidence that I did EVERYTHING I could do to prevent failure. That is all my leadership will ask of me. I don’t ever want to have that hard conversation and loose my credibility.
“There must be some way you can use this technology, right?”
Indeed, I think there is a great place for our church to use rechargeables. Over the past couple of years we have given away dozens of our old wireless systems to partner churches all over the world as we moved out of the 700Mhz region. These systems are still perfectly viable in many parts of the world. The downside for our partners is that sometimes batteries can be expensive or difficult to even get. This is where a set of rechargeable ones would be a great gift. They have the time to make sure things are handled well and no longer need to worry about buying new ones when they are more concerned about making sure the water in the building is running. I’m ordering 2 Ansmann systems this week to send to some partner churches.

All in all, when I look at how many uses I get from the batteries we buy and the good will and credibility they bring, I have to say that I am getting an awful lot of bang for my 44 cents.

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Anonymous Mike Sessler said...

Here's what I tell my pastor: "We use the best batteries money can buy. In fact, they're over $3.00 a piece. They run almost 50% longer than the cheap 40¢ ones we used to use. And, it just so happens we can use them over and over."

Problem solved.


3/22/2011 05:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Dave Stagl said...

So I'm definitely a rechargeable battery skeptic, but here are some reasons why I'm going to do some testing and investigating of my own:

1. Cirque is using them for all their shows. They don't have a reputation for phoning in their production, and they also charge a lot more for people to sit in their seats than we do.

2. Mike's testing and experience is pretty deep and seems to warrant at least personally investigating options.

3. Shure's new Axient system is based on rechargeable batteries. Sennheiser also has their own rechargeable system for IEMs(they're NiMH, by the way, which are the same as the Ansmanns). So the two biggest wireless manufacturers are moving in this direction.

4. Our Buckhead campus has also been using the Sennheiser rechargeable's for quite a while, and they love them.

The reality is that I already have a system almost in place to use these if it works out that I feel confident in moving in this direction. I currently change maybe 2% of our batteries. Our volunteers rock and have it down to a science. Adding a step of them putting batteries back on a charger will be easy and practically 2nd nature for them. They love being empowered to manage that sort of thing, and I would trust them to do it.

A big thing for me right now is inventory control. I spend a lot of time taking care to make sure we have enough batteries. Usage fluctuates with the seasons going between roughly 250-350 AA's a month, and tracking usage and inventory and then restocking takes time for me that could be better spent elsewhere.

The environmental thing is important to me, although not as big a deal. But right now it costs me even MORE money to do that because properly disposing/recycling used batteries that don't get claimed costs money.

Initial estimates are that switching to rechargeables should save me over 75% of my annual battery budget if I restock rechargeables every year. Actual numbers look a little shy of 90% of my average annual battery spending. Even the initial investment in chargers and batteries is below my annual battery budget. In this economy, I don't think I'd get a lot of push-back from cutting a budget that much when I've done my own testing that was backed up by other professional usage. What's more likely is at some point I might get asked why I haven't looked at the option considering how much it could potentially save.

If my testing leads me to go ahead and add rechargeable's to our inventory, I'm still going to keep AA's on hand for emergencies, but it should be a LOT easier to manage everything.

I wouldn't fault anyone for staying with what works, especially in a mission critical arena like batteries. But I do try and stay open to investigating new technology opportunities that appear viable, and right now this one looks like it's worth investigating.

3/22/2011 10:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some great thoughts Jason!

You do not want the biggest piece of your experience (the audio) to ever fail, if at all possible. Especially in the main room, and definitely because you're multi site.

I see many benefits in some of our smaller venues on campus that are not as mission critical, that if managed properly could do well and save money if we used rechargeables.

I understand that there have many many hoops jumped through, professionals using them, and countless tests run but, its all what you said about credibility and what your relationship is with your lead staff.

A lot of lead pastors are Type A's and I don't think having a battery fail on stage mid sermon would be a great way to build relationships or trust, even if you've been running the same rechargeable for 3 years without fault. A lingering question of reliability may hang over your leadership each sunday after that.

5/22/2011 04:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Nick said...

200 batteries a month is what we go through. It makes me sick that we throw them away.

I really like your ideas of reuse, and you are being a good steward of the waste you create. (wow, that came across way passive-aggressive, but I am sincere in my words.) I am definitely going to put some of those ideas into use!

The 40¢ argument is only valid for 1/2 of a microphone, for one use. In our church it's an $1100 dollar argument.

I think we, as a church, should be leading the way as caregivers of the creation God has given us. Re-using the same batteries seems like a part of that plan.

Obviously you are still struggling with this, hence the long defense of your current procedures. Keep struggling, you'll come to it eventually :)

Thanks for the post, good discussion!


6/18/2011 09:27:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

We recently made the switch to the Ansmanns as well, on Mike's suggestion. Never been happier, and I adjusted my 2012 budget to account for only buying an emergency stock of ProCells.

As Mike says, I'm looking forward to using that extra $1k+ to buy a couple microphones. This year, Heil wireless capsules!

11/02/2011 02:44:00 PM  
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