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Old 08-14-2014, 10:49 AM   #1
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Is Your Battery Really Charged?

I have found the mantra provided by Handy Bob regarding his recommendations on solar to be interesting and informative. I set out to test his statements with some comparison of battery charging methods. This is the link to Handy Bob’s Blog.

Now, if you only camp at locations with shore power or if you are never off the grid for more than a few days, stop here. This will bore you to death and it is not relevant to your camping style. Those left in the audience are welcome to read on and offer comments.

In this review I am comparing the battery charging results from the built in WFCO controller that Escape provides to a solar controller that I choose specifically for the ability to adjust the charge rate. My goal is to get batteries as full as possible as espoused by Handy Bob.

For batteries, I have the standard Escape installed Interstate GCX golf car batteries in a dual 6 volt configuration. In speaking with Interstate customer service and using information from their website we know these batteries have a capacity of 232 Ah. I am going to use this capacity to illustrate charge results from using the different methods of battery charging. Just a reminder here, we do not want to use more than 50% of our battery, so only 116 Ah is available. This Ah is amp hour or ampere hour. To give some examples, a LED light in my trailer draws .1 Ah, on the other extreme the 6.7 CuFt refrigerator takes 15 Ah to run at 12 volts. Charging an iPad takes .5 Ah and my sons CPAP machine uses .8 Ah. So think of this 116 Ah as the bucket of power that you can draw on when running on battery. Now we are going to fill the bucket.

I started with a battery that was about 60% charged, this was achieved by running the refrigerator on 12 volt. How did I measure this charge and other figures used in this comparison? I am using a Trimetric 2025 RV Battery Monitor and taking observations at certain points.

The built in Escape charger from WFCO is designed to charge at a voltage rate of 14.4, some have claimed that it never exceeds 13.4 volts. In my testing, the best I found was 13.7 volts. For the test I charged my depleted batteries (at 60%) for 24 hours using shore power and the WFCO controller. More time might have resulted in a greater charge but 24 hours seems like a reasonable time. After resting overnight the batteries read a charge of 13.1 volts, on the surface a very good voltage.

The next morning I connected a portable array of solar panels and began charging using a Blue Sky 30 solar controller that I set for the recommended Interstate charge rate of 15.3 volts. I monitored during the day and by mid afternoon the Blue Sky said “full”. Well not quite, it went into float/storage/trickle mode meaning it had applied 15.3 volts for 2 hours. This is the recommended charge rate for these batteries as stated on their web site. The reading from the Trimetric Battery Monitor showed that it had added 27.7 Ah to the battery.

From this we can conclude that the WFCO controller had charged the batteries to 204.3 Ah of their 232 Ah capacity. So you say we only had a drop of 88% in available power, this is wrong. Remember our 50% limitation on usage so in reality the WFCO only gave us 76% or 89.3 Ah available in our bucket.

What conclusion can you draw? If you are off grid, need to use the furnace, take lots of showers, run an inverter, or consume lots of power via electronic devices there are serious drawbacks to charging with the WFCO controller. In this scenario you are leaving home with only 75% of your available battery storage. Depending on your brand and type of battery(s) your results may vary, The Interstate batteries have the highest charge rates I have seen so they probably represent the extreme. However, they are the most commonly used.

What about the solar system that Escape provides? I do not have that system so I cannot test the results, one reason I do not have it is the Go Power controller, while better at charging than the WFCO controller, still does not meet the recommended charge rate from Interstate Batteries.
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Old 08-14-2014, 11:29 AM   #2
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I have the GoPower controller with the 95 watt panel, and a Trimetric battery monitor. When running without hookups, I have found that the built in LED strip battery indicator in the trailer & the % indicator on the GoPower controller will both show 100% while the Trimetric indicates that I am still down as much as 30 amp hours from full.

While using either the GoPower controller on solar or the WFCO converter (and the GoPower) while hooked up will eventually get the batteries up to full, it takes a loooong time! Getting the last 25 - 30 amp hours back into the batteries with either the GoPower or WFCO is a very slow process since the each go into the float mode long before they should, and as Paul noted, both provide a lower charge voltage than Interstate suggests for their batteries. After running the batteries down by 40 - 50 amp hours, under normal usage, it will often take a day or two with electrical hookups (and the solar panel) to get the batteries back to full.

Just as an additional note - I added a portable 160 watt panel with a built in controller to increase recovery time with poor result. While the portable panel is capable of providing 8.5 amps in full sun, it seems the built in GoPower panel & controller "fools" the controller in the portable panel and immediately puts it in the float mode, dropping the output current to an amp or two. Since there is no easy way to turn off the built in solar system, I can't be sure this is the problem, but when I put a heavy load on the system, both panels & controllers output their expected current. Now that I'm back home from my recent trip, I plan to bypass the portable controller & feed both panels into the GoPower controller. I'll post the result once done.
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Old 08-14-2014, 11:44 AM   #3
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What would be a better controller to use with ETI's 160 watt panel? In regards to the WFCO, from previous discussions and research it appears that there is no clear cut alternative in terms of performance at a reasonable price. We used to get 4+ days out of our dual 6V and we almost always dry camp. With our new one we are opting for the solar package and a single Group 29 12V battery. Is this a mistake? We are going to use a Vita Mix to make smoothie bfast, and charge cellphone/tablet. No TV. Will have an aftermarket 2500 Watt inverter installed as ETI at this time will only use a 1500 Watt.
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Old 08-14-2014, 12:15 PM   #4
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What would be a better controller to use with ETI's 160 watt panel?
I'd like to know as well.
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Old 08-14-2014, 12:26 PM   #5
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If you are looking for obtaining the recommended charge voltages that meet Interstate Batteries suggestions there are three solar controllers that I found that have the ability to change the set points to a high enough voltage. They are:

Blue Sky 30
Xantec C35 - gets close
Trimetric SC-2030

The goal I have would be 15.3 volts for two hours.

There may be others out there that I am not aware of.

I weighed going to a single Group 29 battery. The big issue is the size of the bucket you want. 232 Ah versus 95 Ah. I do not use an inverter so cannot plug that into an opinion.
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Old 08-14-2014, 01:13 PM   #6
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I think the single #29 is 120 Ah
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Old 08-14-2014, 02:01 PM   #7
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So a good combo would be a Trimetric SC-2030 solar controller along with a Trimetric 2030 battery monitor? Is there any advantage in getting sealed 6-volt batteries?
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Old 08-14-2014, 02:55 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by cpaharley2008 View Post
I think the single #29 is 120 Ah
That's a bit high. Depending on which Interstate chart you use, the 29M is good for 97.5 to 105 Ah.

For comparison, another well respected marine deep cycle battery, the ACDelco M29MF is rated on the 20 hour standard at 105 Ah.

Using the best case on the Intertate and using the ACD spec, the most you can draw on these batteries is 5.25 amps for 20 hours, at which time the battery would be totally depleted, 10.5 volts.

Real world, and using 50% depletion as a nominal limit, you could draw 5.25 amps for 6 hours, or 2.63 amps for 20 hours. Of course with the lower draw and allowing for the Peukert effect, you could still be above the 50 % limit at 20 hours.
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Old 08-14-2014, 03:02 PM   #9
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It is what ETI advertises- group #29 -- 126 Ah- I'll have to look at mine to verify. I'm only concerned as to what I need for one night as the solar will refill me the next day.
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Old 08-14-2014, 03:10 PM   #10
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I put the Tristar-45 Solar System Controller in my 19'with great results. It is programmable and charges my 4 six volt Interstate batteries completely with my 2 permanantly installed solar panels. I also like the temperature compensation where charge rate is temperature monitored and the voltage supplied is even greater when the batteries are cold.
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