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Old 05-29-2024, 01:51 AM   #1
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2002 E-250RB Power Upgrades: LiFePo, solar, inverter

Hello SMB forum!

When I do van projects, I always think to post here but then other things come up and I don't. But not this time! I figured rather than try and create a single message trying to summarize all my work at once, I'll just create a new thread and keep updating it as I go along.

Shout out to 1der for all his help over the years. I refer to him as my Van Guru amongst my friends. (Is there a way to actually tag a user on here?)

This journey started when I overcharged my 200Ah lead acid house battery. Oops. Even on a charger all night, it wouldn't hold more than 9V. So out it came and I borrowed a 306Ah LiFePo battery from the solar generator on my utility trailer. I'll post some pictures in a subsequent thread of that project.

1der pointed out that LiFePo batteries do have a tendency to draw a lot of amperage at lower SoC and could potentially threaten my alternator. I may come back to this problem but, for now, I'm going to add 400W of solar to the roof instead. I also want to bring over the 2000W inverter and solar charge controller from my trailer too (the trailer supports 640W).

The scope of this project thread is:
  1. Installing a mounting system on my roof. I'm going with black anodized aluminum L-track with stud fittings.
  2. Installing a channel gland for the MC4 to come into the van.
  3. Mounting my 400W panel (Canadian Solar) to the mounting system with aluminum cross bars.
  4. Adjusting the chains and springs to accommodate the ~50lb additional weight on the roof.
  5. Finding a good spot for the inverter and ideally tying it into the shore power circuit so all the van's outlets just work.
  6. Ensuring the solar charge controller works (it's already in the van and I've used it with a portable panel).

My stretch goal is to route 120 power to the outside of the vanólike reverse shore power, where the van becomes the power source for my camp site. I'm imagining covered female outlet next to the shore power port that I can just plug an extension cord into and do power camp.

And all this needs to be done by the week of June 20th because I'm headed out on the road for a two week trip up to Banff from California. These upgrades will enable me to charge by Surron X260 (Segway), while on the road. Recommendations for places to go and things to do along the way are welcome.

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Old 05-29-2024, 01:56 AM   #2
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Taking the existing lead acid battery out, testing it, and ultimately taking it to O'Reilly's for a $10 gift card.
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Old 05-29-2024, 02:01 AM   #3
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Retrofitting the existing battery tray for the KiloVault LiFePo 306Ah. I measured the space between between the body work and the chassis and it promised to fit, although the e-brake cable would be impeded. My e-brake doesn't work anyway so that's a problem for another day.

Ideally, one day, I'll fabricate my own tray and adjust the position of it so it sits a littler higher and is not as visible from the outside.
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Old 05-29-2024, 02:04 AM   #4
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Getting the MPPT solar charge controller hooked into the existing house 12V system and finally plugging in my 100W panel to verify everything worked. This was just before Coachella and everything worked perfectly!
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Old 05-29-2024, 08:39 PM   #5
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Prepping L-track for installation. Pretty tough to figure out how to make a square on a roof that has no true parallel sides or right angle corners. I made one pilot hole and secured one L-track at that driver-rear corner. Then I used the aluminum angle, stud fittings, my square, and many many trips up and down the ladder to tweak everything else into position. Drilling the other 3 corner holes took a lot of guts but seems to be all good thus far. At least they're all outside the canvas!

Researching inverter schematics until the hardware arrives to mount.
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Old 05-30-2024, 11:17 PM   #6
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Big day!

McMaster-Carr order arrived. Love them. Fasteners, nuts, washers, and adhesive backed closed-cell foam.

Adhered the foam to the back for the L-track. I added this to create a really nice tight seal against the rough finish of the fiberglass roof.

I decided to drill the first two holes of the L-track into the roof. I had already drilled the 4 corners (front/back, driver/passenger). Using a 1/4" bit, I expanded the previously drilled holes and vacuumed away the fiberglass dust. Wear a mask and glasses! Don't wipe the dust with your hands (I always wear rubber gloves when working on the van anyway)!

After the first two holes, I distributed fasteners evenly until the last screw, for a total of 5 on each track. Underneath, I used a black oxide flange nut and combination of rubber + metal fender washer, where possible. In some places I couldn't squeeze even a washer in given the close proximity to the canvas.

Cross bars went on with the stud fittings with out much trouble. I think I could have drilled the holes a smidge further out but given that I cut and drilled in advance and relied on my measurements, I'm pretty happy.

Rack feels really sturdy. No sag in the cross bars. Ready for panel, which I'm picking up in Sacramento June 10th.
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Old 05-30-2024, 11:40 PM   #7
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Until the panel arrives, I popped open the bench and started studying the circuitry to see how to add an inverter.

My solar installer friend came by and showed me I could basically tie the 120V output of the inverter I already had (Giandel 2200) directly into the main panel as if an inverter was shore power. There are two caveats to this system:
  1. If the IntelliPower 9100 charger is plugged in, the inverter would be powering it, which in turn would be charging the battery... bad. Easy enough to unplug the charger while the inverter is connected but not quite as idiot-proof as I'd like my van to be. Not that I make a habit of fraternizing with idiots.
  2. Because the shore power outlet is connected to this circuit, it would be hot... which at first seemed good! I ultimately want an outlet on the outside of the van. However, having hot 120V prongs just a flap away from a zap seemed bad.

So, after a chat with 1der, I started searching for a new inverter/charger that will eliminate the IntelliPower charger from the equation entirely. When on shore power, the 120V will just pass through without need for inversion and charge my battery (with more dialed charging settings for my LiFePo). When not on shore power, the inverter can be switched on and light up the three outlets in the van, without making the shore power port hot.

Looking at the Victron MultiPlus Compact 12/2000/80. Just got to figure out how to lay that out with everything else under the bench.

And, for my outdoor outlet, since there's an outlet by my sink, I'll daisy chain off that by the barn doors. Easy peasy!
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Old 05-31-2024, 05:30 AM   #8
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The multiplus compact is a pretty good choice. Victron generally recommends you to install a AC Main Breaker such as Blue Sea 8077 AC Main 30A This would give you some check of shore power before being presented to the inverter. I have always just pulled out my trusty meter and checked questionable Shore Power sources, but when building my latest rig I installed a Power Watchdog PWD30 - EPO-H. The dash H version is hardwired, the straight PWD30 - EPO is a portable version. This unit will monitor the incoming power and only connect to your system if it passes. You also get Surge Protection. Now, I just plug in and wait a few seconds to hear the relay closing.

While configuration of the Multiplus can be done in multiple ways, a Victron Energy Interface MK3-USB (VE.Bus to USB) will is needed to configure fully or advanced features. (There is also a USB-C Version)

You haven't mentioned what your solution for alternator charging is, or I missed it. A Victron Orion XS 12/12 50A would be a good choice.

And of course you should have a Victron battery monitor or a Victron smart shunt.

Any if I haven't drained your bank account, you could look at a Victron Cerbo GX and be all Victron Blue
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Old 05-31-2024, 10:45 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scalf77 View Post
The multiplus compact is a pretty good choice. Victron generally recommends you to install a AC Main Breaker such as Blue Sea 8077 AC Main 30A This would give you some check of shore power before being presented to the inverter. I have always just pulled out my trusty meter and checked questionable Shore Power sources, but when building my latest rig I installed a Power Watchdog PWD30 - EPO-H. The dash H version is hardwired, the straight PWD30 - EPO is a portable version. This unit will monitor the incoming power and only connect to your system if it passes. You also get Surge Protection. Now, I just plug in and wait a few seconds to hear the relay closing.
I love that this exists and thank you for the recommendation. If anything, I'll buy the portable version later but I rarely connect to shore power when I'm on the road. I tend to camp in locations that don't have shore power and soon I'll have 400W of solar keeping me topped off. But good to know this is a thing. Thank you'1


Quote:
Originally Posted by Scalf77 View Post
While configuration of the Multiplus can be done in multiple ways, a Victron Energy Interface MK3-USB (VE.Bus to USB) will is needed to configure fully or advanced features. (There is also a USB-C Version)
This is annoying. One of the reasons I like Victron is because their Bluetooth MPPT app is so slick. I figured the same would be true of a MultiPlus. I can't configure LiFePo charging settings via Bluetooth?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scalf77 View Post
You haven't mentioned what your solution for alternator charging is, or I missed it. A Victron Orion XS 12/12 50A would be a good choice.
I was just going to leave the alternator connection connected to the hi-amp bus. But I realize this leaves a lot to be desired. Ideally I would get a solar charge controller that ALSO has a DC charger. Does Victron make something like this?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scalf77 View Post
And of course you should have a Victron battery monitor or a Victron smart shunt.

Any if I haven't drained your bank account, you could look at a Victron Cerbo GX and be all Victron Blue
Love the monitoring options. I'm limited on space and the battery has built in monitoring. The MPPT has the bluetooth app and with a $100 dongle I can get some basic data out of the inverter/charger.
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Old 05-31-2024, 11:14 AM   #10
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My mechanic also suggested using something like this, which would replace my Victron MPPT:

https://www.renogy.com/dcc50s-12v-50...ger-with-mppt/

I've never had experience with Renogy's MPPT units. But this seems like a good solution to charging the battery from the alternator. But I dislike that it also wants to charge the house battery from the starter battery. I'd prefer that that stay isolated.

But now that I'm thinking about it, the alternator positive, which is currently tapped into hi-amp bus, must already be behind an isolator because the house battery does not charge from the starter battery. So I could run that alternator positive right to the starter battery positive on the Renogy unit. Would this have negative consequences? I suppose if the alternator is not running, the Renogy might try and charge the starter battery, unaware that it's actually an alternator. But the way the circuit is wired today, there's already voltage there. So the isolator must be doing its job.
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