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Old 10-05-2016, 05:58 PM   #1
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One Charger to Rule Them all?

Based on the last several weeks of some pretty enlightening SMB forum threads and posts surrounding batteries, chargers, and some solid on-and-offline chats, a big question surrounding ideal battery charging setups has been starting to percolate in my head.

SMBF member Flux really kicked things off on one of the threads when he stated flatly, "There's gotta be a better way!" and mentioned the idea of isolating the house batteries entirely from the dumb-charging alternator, and letting the solar panels/sophisticated modern chargers/controllers do the work entirely (and properly) on their own.



But then I started thinking.......what if you simply asked a *bit more* of that sophisticated, modern 4-stage solar battery-charge controller than what was originally intended?



And so began a big string of investigation.

SUBMITTED FOR THE FORUM ELECTRICAL WIZARDS TO PONDER.....starting with the five major "takeaway points" that are fueling all of this.

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WHAT'S FUELING MY QUESTION (or..."the major takeaway points of the last several weeks of forum activity and off-line reading.")

1) Inadequate charging of batteries is perhaps one of the single-greatest factors leading to their early demise. A battery that is consistently, truly topped-off....lives longer. (Electrolyte and AGM batteries.)

2) For peak longevity and also peak amp-hour capacity/output, House Batteries need to be charged with a quality "smart" charger ---- and ideally one that has *four stages* (Bulk, absorption, float, and "equalization/desulfation")

3) Battery manufacturers specify bulk charge rates of between 14.6 and 14.8 volts. (Trojan, for one.)

4) Hardly any available converter chargers do their bulk charging at a high enough rate --- most do it at 14.2 or 14.4 volts. (ok, none that I've found, not even the Progressive Dynamics models with "smart wizard" 4-stage charging)

5) More recent Solar Controllers (i.e. Morningstar Tristar, or the new Bogart Engineering SC 2030 paired to a Trimetric battery monitor) utilize more up-to-date thinking (and properly-high charging voltages/algorithms) to thoroughly, fully charge batteries and maintain them.

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MY (PERHAPS HALF-BAKED) CONCLUSION:

All of which has led me to want to find one, smart battery charger that can "do it all" --- charge the house batteries off of *any DC voltage/current source*, and to do so with the best-possible charging strategies and voltages.

SO:
Is there any reason why a Solar Controller, which normally takes its DC voltage/amperage from solar panels.....couldn't also be hooked up to a stand-alone AC-to-DC converter of some sort, that generated a steady-state source of amps/volts....and use *that* source of power to intelligently charge a house battery *instead* of using the power from a solar panel?




This solution would work great for whenever access to a shore-power source of power (110/220 AC) is either more convenient, more consistent, or perhaps the only one available (vs. using solar panels.) For instance....in your garage, in the shade of your driveway where you could run a land line cord, in an RV park at night-time, etc.....the same charger would *always* be masterminding your house battery(s) state of charge, regardless of whether you plugged in or had sunshine.

You wouldn't need a second (and probably less effective) converter charger, you'd just always use the single, kickass smart solar charger.

SO:
could that "holy grail" battery charging solution be indeed just as simple as....

1) hooking up one of these smart 4-stage solar controllers to do all the sophisticated, precision charge-controlling.... SC-2030 Solar Charger €” 30 Amps Max- 12 or 24V PWM type - Bogart Engineering



2) use one of these to do the battery monitoring.....
TriMetric Model Descriptions, Present and Past - Bogart Engineering



and then 3) utilize a basic, dumb AC-to-DC converter of your choice to power the whole shebang?



(Such as this one I found, above, intended to power Ham (amateur) radios, it can be adjusted between 9.5 and 15.5v output, 30 amps output.....and only $50?) High Power 12 Volt Power Supplies With Adjustable Voltage

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Ladies/Gents.....highly-esteemed electrical brainiacs......am I on to something here? Am I nuts? Like Flux said, there's GOT to be a better way, charge more completely/properly......and also perhaps end up with a more simple setup.....carry less redundancy (multiple chargers/controllers of various qualities) when it seems one could do the job......

Thanks, and CHARGE ON.......


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Old 10-05-2016, 07:20 PM   #2
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Mike, slowly back away from the HandyBobSolar web page.

I'm only kidding. You may be on to something.

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Old 10-05-2016, 10:11 PM   #3
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While I don't have an answer I too would like to know, all this solar electrical mumbo jumbo gets so confusing and complicated that I would love to update my electrical system in as easy a way as possible.
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Old 10-05-2016, 10:40 PM   #4
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hmmm - I like the approach of the ac -> dc converter and then letting the solar controller do the smart charging. The only downside to this is not having straight AC pass through typical when using an inverter charger. Really, it would only be an issue though if you did a fair share of shore power type camping and used high draw appliances. I doubt this is the case for most of us here though.
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Old 10-05-2016, 11:21 PM   #5
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Well, I have been asking as many questions as possible about everything and luckily, through the kindness of strangers in sharing their knowledge I have at least a few clues.

Scalff (greg) is really on top of the electrical game and has a plan. He is monitoring his system and trying to understand how it acts. He's given me a lot of insight and pointed me in some good directions. I ask a lot of questions because I need to know how these things work. Not only is this a lot of time and money, but it's something I intend to rely on when out and about. I want to be smart about it.

Solarbob had many many good points and most of his writing is being critical of snake oil salesmen and ignorance in the user community. The biggest takeaway for me is that you probably only need solar to run your system and keep your battery frosty and proper. It's obvious that he wants others to be smart about things.

I think the first order of business is to make sure you have a good monitor, the Bogarts seem to be just that. Second order is to make sure you have an advanced and customizable charger. There seem to be a few out there, but much more crappy ones. Then spend time watching your system and try to see how just how much capacity you have. From there, you can alter your setup. With most things, simplicity is king.

So back to the point of an all in one system that could handle solar, alternator, and shore power (from AC to DC). That would be the simplest way if the charger could utilize any of these sources, perhaps prioritizing them and moving loads off the battery to alternator and shore power when available and keeping a smart charge on the battery. That would be amazing, but I haven't seen one.......yet. But I do know a guy I want to bring this up to.

On the other hand, you should be able to run any singular DC source through a controller and let it do it's thing. You may need to limit current from the alternator through it. But this is something I don't know for sure and may be worth calling around and finding out.

But again, from the simplicity standpoint, the easiest thing I can think to do is to switch the loads over to alternator or shore power when available and let the house battery happily solar charge. This could be accomplished with some relays to make it automatic, or with switches to manually isolate the loads from the battery.

I too thought about an AC to DC power supply. I looked at a few and they seem a good way to go when plugged into shore power to handle the built in DC loads. It certainly seems like a good way to charge the battery, but I would be wary as I am not exactly sure if that is a good idea or not. but again, a simple relay or switch would isolate loads from the battery and run them from the DC power supply, same thing when the alternator is going.

It wouldn't be bad to be able to put the alternator on the house battery if you got in a pinch. Redundancy is never a bad thing. Certainly there must be a smart charge controller that works off the alternator out there some place. That would be another piece to the puzzle.

I am a ways away from installing my house and solar system, which gives me time to ask more dumb questions and second guess myself. But I do think that isolating the loads when shore or alternator is available would be a good start. I may be overthinking the whole thing.
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Old 10-06-2016, 10:23 AM   #6
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So in short, maybe just start the simple way with a well put together system and then see how it goes from there. Keeping in mind the extra gear to make your system more robust.

One thing I may do initially is run an extra power cable from the battery junction box to power house loads. Using a simple relay, I can switch the house loads from the house battery to the alternator and isolate the alternator with the 7622 from charging the house battery and let the solar so it smartly.

You could do something similar when you have shore power by switching the house loads over to the DC power supply and having an 120 Volt battery charger take care of the house battery. This would add complexity, but would allow you to top off at night. Be wary of power supplies that need fans. Meanwell makes some IP sealed, vibration tested industrial power supplies. Something like the HEP-320-12 or 15 would be worth the extra dough. I'll just say there is a reason that power supply is 50 bucks.

HEP-320-MEAN WELL Switching Power Supply Manufacturer
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Old 10-06-2016, 01:55 PM   #7
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I've got a simple system that seems to be working quite well (so far). My power needs aren't as substantial as many of you guys (I use a Yeti instead of a fridge). At the heart of my system is the CTEK D-250S-Dual charging a 105 A-H Lifeline AGM. It's an amazing little unit: basically a DC to DC smart charger, isolator, MPPT solar controller and it monitors house battery temp. CTEK is highly regarded among premium auto marques, so I think the engineering is pretty solid. So far my results have been excellent. I have a 100W Renogy panel that easily plugs in and even feeds charge back to the vehicle battery. I looked at the isolator/separator solutions but didn't like dumping the house in parallel with the vehicle and having to run super-thick cable to the back of the van. I'm using 8 AWG which is pretty manageable. It uses the multi smart charge stages which is hard to find in a 12V to 12V environment. However, I don't know if it has Handy Bob's blessing. You can significantly scale the current capability (shorten charge time) by using their companion Smartpass unit which does a lot of heavy lifting but utilizes the smarts in the 250.

http://smartercharger.com/products/d...ek-d250s-dual/

http://smartercharger.com/products/dcdc/ctek-smartpass/
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Old 10-06-2016, 03:29 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Flux View Post
Well, I have been asking as many questions as possible about everything and luckily, through the kindness of strangers in sharing their knowledge I have at least a few clues.

Scalff (greg) is really on top of the electrical game and has a plan. He is monitoring his system and trying to understand how it acts. He's given me a lot of insight and pointed me in some good directions. I ask a lot of questions because I need to know how these things work. Not only is this a lot of time and money, but it's something I intend to rely on when out and about. I want to be smart about it.
Well said!
I've been beyond thankful for the smarts/experience of guys especially like Scalff, as well as the kind generosity of their time to share their knowledge. We're all pretty lucky to be connecting with this amazing group of enthusiasts and collaborators/friends. And fully agreed that each system (and system needs) are unique, and require the owner/user to learn it, observe it, become familiar with it.

I look at a setup like Scalff has (especially with that new Pentametric install!) and know immediately that he is on a very different plane of knowledge (and of system demands/complexity) than I ever can ever reasonably aspire to be, but its definitely inspiring to try to keep up with where his thought processes are centered/headed, and to learn as much as possible about each part of a system like he creates (and why he creates it.)

I know I'm kind of on the other end of the spectrum (at least I perceive it that way), in that I have pretty darn simple needs. I don't run a ton of electrical items in my rig (all the lights are LED, I have an almost-zero-amp-draw propane fridge, and that's about it).

But despite that --- regardless of whether our needs are simple or complex, we all want the same things: we want our batteries to last and charge properly at all times, we want to know what their true reserves are at all times, and we want to be able to manage our power usage.

So I have some pretty specific "requirements" of my own desired system setup, and I don't think they're "too far off" from what the average-Joe first-time Sportsmobile user (and maybe even well-seasoned minimalist SMB boondocker!) would probably want.

1) Simplicity -
* minimum number of components (yes, only one charger please!)
* each component easy to learn to operate
* entire setup automated/idiot-proofed as much as possible
(after initial setup and calibration of course)

2) Proper, smart 4-stage battery charging from any power source
* (AC Shore Line, DC from Alternator, DC from Solar if/when you add it)
* Van sits for up to several weeks between trips where solar isn't an option, and needs to be able to "take care of itself" on a 120V shore line.

I honestly have a hard time accepting that for this to be accomplished, one needs to have both an AC-to-DC converter "smart charger," a "smart alternator" accessory of some sort, AND a solar "smart charge controller" (especially since it still seems that the converter chargers available now aren't as advanced as the latest smart solar charge controllers...)

But perhaps this is still a reflection of the "state of the art" for October 2016.
It can only keep getting better!
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Old 10-06-2016, 03:44 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Flux View Post
I think the first order of business is to make sure you have a good monitor, the Bogarts seem to be just that. Second order is to make sure you have an advanced and customizable charger. There seem to be a few out there, but much more crappy ones. Then spend time watching your system and try to see how just how much capacity you have. From there, you can alter your setup. With most things, simplicity is king.

So back to the point of an all in one system that could handle solar, alternator, and shore power (from AC to DC). That would be the simplest way if the charger could utilize any of these sources, perhaps prioritizing them and moving loads off the battery to alternator and shore power when available and keeping a smart charge on the battery. That would be amazing, but I haven't seen one.......yet. But I do know a guy I want to bring this up to.
On a side note ---
I had a guy a wanted to bring this up to as well.

I called Bogart Engineering, and actually spoke to Ralph Hiesey, the owner of the company (he answers the phones!). And he's also the inventor of the Trimetric battery monitor. Very very cool guy! (And obviously hyper-smart....I felt very privileged to be chatting with this guy.....)

I posed this same thread question to him, about hooking up his new SC 2030 Solar Charger to a steady-state DC source other than a solar panel. It took him perhaps five minutes to even grasp what I was asking him (in his world, it just probably makes no sense to be using anything *but* solar for a power source....)

He seemed genuinely intrigued with the question. And ultimately....he wasn't sure if it would work or not! Which I found kind of fascinating in and of itself. He was clearly wrestling with the engineering question in his mind, and was calculating amp-loads (and perhaps charge-algorithm questions, based upon the fact that solar charge controller expects power input to peak and decline once every 24 hours with the sun rise/set, vs. being a steady source.)

And so, even with a great phone conversation, ultimately the question went unresolved. But he was mighty pleasant and seemed to genuinely want to know the answer himself.
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Old 10-06-2016, 04:17 PM   #10
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LOL, I just dropped him an email asking the same types of questions. Poor guy, he just stepped into a hornets nest of my "I know just enough to ask really dumb questions".

I blame Solarbob. Everything was fine until I read his article.
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