Phase Three: PROFIT!
But before that…
We ran into an issue as we were nearing the end of the installation of our components. It just wasn’t working as expected. The Quattros would come on and pass through shore power, but when shore power was disconnected, they wouldn’t start inverting. Also, they were misbehaving when the control panels were plugged in by their communication cables.
We worked on this problem for two days, scratching our heads, playing with programming, and retracing our wires. Mitchell tried to give us support, even staying late one night trying to help, but it was just too hard for him to diagnose over the phone.
In troubleshooting, we realized the light on the Victron BMS (Battery Management System) was staying red, and no matter what we did, we couldn’t get that status to change.
So, we decided to gather things up, and just drive over to Eugene, OR for some help and guidance.
AM Solar offered for us to spend the night on their property. We were feeling a little froggy when we arrived that evening, and we had another component to install, this being a USB hub with it’s own 12 volt power lead. We pulled back one of the small twin lead wires running through the wall to the front generator compartment where they hooked into the old coach batteries – spliced in the hub, cleaned up the wires and reattached it.
All of a sudden… the BMS light turned blue.
It seems that particular power lead to the old coach batteries had an issue. Whether it was improperly (but not visibly so) connected, or not quite making enough contact… we aren’t sure, but we are happy it worked, and that we found that particular issue before Mitchell would have to see it in the morning.
We went to dinner, elated.
The next morning, Mitchell came out and started probing our system, looking for other potential issues and helping better explain how things worked, and checked out our programming. Basically a systems diagnostic test.
We had a couple of other things that could have been done differently, and we fixed those while we were there.
…and, we did a load test:
We drew over 1000 amps from the batteries! Do you see that load? We had all three AC units on, the electric fireplace, the fresh water tank heater, the lights, microwave, the dryer, our PCs. And it worked! Of course, we turned all that stuff off after this. The fuse in the shunt was only rated for 800 amps. Amazing.
Here’s an example of charging from shore power:
Our batteries are sucking in 300+ amps from the wall!
We did a couple more tests, thanked Mitchell, and then we took off, making our way back to Boise. On the way, we played a bit with the system, spending a night at Rufus, and then La Grande.
In Boise, we finished buttoning things up, and definitely are in a functioning status.
I can tell you we’ve gone all day and we’ve both been able to use our laptops and we’ve still had enough power to make it overnight.
I can tell you that I’ve run the vacuum, the washer, the dryer, the microwave, I’ve gamed on my PC, and we’ve used the TV on our batteries.
It also takes less time than one would think to charge back up from our generator.
It’s been a learning experience to pay attention to what each item is drawing for power, and keeping track of what we’re able to use, as well as how much we’re able to draw in from the sun.
Some cons of our system today are:
The Victron Quattros, in parallel, do not like the dirty power from our Onan generator. As they are currently set up, one will pass through one leg of AC current happily to the trailer, while the other one ignores the second leg and proceeds to just invert. This means that in order to charge our batteries from our generator we have to make sure we’re not using more than what’s available to us on that one leg. We’re in talks with Mitchell and Victron about the best way to go about this, and also working toward a possible firmware solution.After some inspection, it turns out that our Onan generator, while it has two 30 amp breakers on the front, is only a 120 volt generator. Not 240 volt (two separate legs of 120). However, some research points to the possibility of two separate windings actually existing inside. We’ve got an idea for a transformer here, but it won’t be right away. We’re working out the details to have one built. For now, we’re just dealing with the one leg, and trying not to draw too much while the generator is on.
- It’s still not enough! While our system is fairly robust, we still find ourselves wanting our third battery we made room for, as well as at least two more solar panels. Or maybe 4 more batteries. And a wind turbine. (Yeah, yeah, drop some of your needs! Hah.)
But really, in the past, we used to always need to plug into shore power. Or, run a generator for hours during the day while Nate was working. Now, if we only need to run a generator for one hour a day, or maybe every other day, and we don’t have to be hooked up… that’s worth it.
Now all we’ve got to do is start exploring those awesome boondocking sites (that hopefully have cell service)!
I really can’t stress enough though how much AM Solar helped us out, from the planning stages, to technical support, to being there for us when we showed up and helped us finalize our system with some diagnostics. Great group of folks. If any of you have any questions regarding a system you’re trying to design, I recommend you contact them.