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Victron Energy - Smart solar and battery monitoring

Jason Svarc

Introduction

Victron Energy based in the Netherlands has been building power conversion equipment since 1975 and are well known for their off-grid battery inverters and chargers designed for the automotive / boating market where small capacity off-grid power systems are required. Being one of the few high quality manufacturers in this field means they easily stand out from the crowd. In more recent years Victron products have also started to shine in the larger home energy storage market due to the surging interest in battery systems and Victron's range of online battery management devices.

Victron is making headway against the tough competition in the residential / commercial off-grid solar market against well known battery inverter manufacturers SMA in Germany, Outback power in the US and Selectronic in Australia.

In the high capacity off-grid and energy storage sector Victron has, until recently, struggled to stand out against the big name inverter manufacturers SMA, Schneider Electric, Outback Power and Selectronic. This meant that Victron was often overlooked for larger more complex off-grid or hybrid battery systems despite being one of the largest manufacturers of battery inverters, solar charge controllers and battery managment systems.

Victron Inverter charger range Mulitplus

Huge Range of Products

Victron have possibly the largest variety of solar products available with everything from tiny solar controllers up to rather impressive 15kVA grid-interactive inverter/chargers, not to mention a seemingly unlimited combination of Victron add-ons and accessories which can create everything from simple battery monitors to smart remote off-grid power systems.

Main product lines manufactured by Victron Energy

  • Battery inverters
  • Inverter/chargers
  • Grid-Interactive inverter/chargers
  • Battery chargers
  • Solar charge controllers (PWM & MPPT)
  • Battery monitors
  • Remote control /system monitors
  • Battery balancers and accessories
  • Batteries - Lead-acid & lithium-ion

 

High performance solar charge controllers

There are only a few companies which have a reputation for quality in the world of cheap ebay solar charge controllers and this is where Victron Energy really stands out from the crowd, even though they are more expensive than the Chinese competition you get a hell of a lot more bang for your buck. The Victron gear is more expensive but still reasonably priced and in my experience it is definitely worth spending a little more for quality and reliability when working with solar. Besides Victron there are a small number of very high quality solar charge controller manufactures such as Outback Power and Morningstar which have also been on the market for many years. Personally I had been using the Morningstar controllers for a long time with no problems but recently switched to Victron due to the vast range of products and smart remote monitoring features not offered by Morningstar. Also I am not aware of any other manufacturer which offers a 5 year warranty on solar charge controllers in Australia.

See example of specifications here

Solar Controllers Vs Solar Inverters!

Solar charge controllers also known as solar regulators were once the only option for off-grid power systems and are used to create what is known as a DC coupled system – put simply, solar controllers charge the battery directly from the solar panels which is extremely efficient (up to 99% using MPPT), while a battery inverter supplies AC power to the appliances.

Nowadays most 'large' off-grid installations use common solar inverter/s in what is known as an AC coupled system due to the simple setup - Solar inverters are available in larger sizes with much higher input voltages allowing for long strings of panels which are simpler and easier to install.

Since home battery systems are becoming popular and solar charge controllers are extremely efficient at charging batteries, it may result in DC coupling using solar charge controllers coming back into fashion.
Victron Charge cotrollers review

Despite the industry trend towards AC coupled systems Victron does not manufacture solar inverters (any more), however the new range of Victron solar charge controllers released over the last 2 years are some of the best value, high quality controllers on the market. Since battery systems in homes are becoming popular and MPPT solar controllers are very efficient at charging batteries, it may result in DC coupling using charge controllers coming back into fashion for certain installations. This is helped with Victron’s latest and largest charge controller, at 100A DC output it allows an impressive 5.8kW of solar on single charge controller (at 48V).

However the largest of the Victron solar controllers is still limited to 250V DC which roughly means a maximum of only 6 solar panels can be linked together in series (since most panels have an open circuit voltage (Voc) of around 38-45V). This isn’t a huge problem for smaller systems around 2-3kW but for larger systems it means multiple strings (groups of panels in series) will need to be linked together in parallel which requires more complex string fusing and larger cables to carry the higher current. There are a few higher voltage charge controllers available from other manufacturers, up to 600V, but these are much more expensive.

Besides this for larger systems Victron Inverters are able to be AC coupled with the well regarded Fronius solar inverters (up to 8.2kW single phase) so there is an alternative for large systems.

 

A battery Inverter/charger for almost every application

The range of battery inverter/chargers from Victron is just as impressive as the variety of charge controllers. Victron manufactures everything from a tiny 0.5kVA inverters up to a huge 15kVA grid-interactive inverter/charger. Not only do they have a wide range of sizes but also a multitude of devices designed specifically for various applications. For example the compact all-in-one units with inbuilt solar charge controllers are perfect for lighting systems, cabins and caravans. The more advanced Victron multiplus inverters have multiple AC inputs and can seamlessly supply power from the grid or a generator depending on which is active. Then there is the large Quattro range of inverter/chargers for high end applications requiring advanced power management and incorporation multiple AC inputs and outputs which can be configured depending on the application. The Multiplus and Quattro inverter/chargers can also be setup in parallel (up to 6 units) for high power output situations or in 3-phase configurations for larger commercial installs.

Victron energy solar battery inverter range

One of the few downfalls of the Victron inverters is the relatively low IP 21 rating (weather rating) which means that the inverter/chargers need to be installed in a protected area such as a garage, shed or dedicated room, however this is common for many battery inverters. Also as mentioned earlier the only compatible solar inverter for large AC coupled systems is the Fronius range which although expensive are also considered the best solar inverter on the market at present.

Careful - Inverter sizing in KVA not KW

One thing to watch out for is Victron size their inverters in KVA, not the more common KW rating. This can be a little misleading when sizing an inverter for you needs, for example a 3000VA (3kVA) continuous output inverter generally only outputs 2400W continuously, so approximately 80% of the ‘apparent’ power rating.

The surge rating of the Victron inverters is rather high being roughly 2.5 times the rated continuous output. This equates to a 2400W (2.4kW) continuous output inverter providing peak output of 6000W, although it is not specified how long this can be maintained so I would assume it is only 1-2 seconds, enough for the short start-up spikes from pumps, compressors, etc.

See Victron Multiplus inverter/charger specifications here

Clever Remote Monitoring

CCGX image s2.jpg

In the age of smart apps and cloud monitoring the ability to remotely monitor and control a system is becoming essential for both solar installers and end users. With this in mind I would regard the biggest leap forward by Victron as the release of the color control (CCGX) and VRM cloud portal. The color control is simply a small box with a display which connects the Victron VRM internet portal with all the Victron products (inverters, charge controllers, battery monitors etc.) It also allows you to configure and monitor all the individual components directly from the CCGX, as well as logging data and controlling relays.

Victron VRM Portal data
Victron has also made the bold move of making their software open source which means anyone can re-configure the CCGX or reprogram the system to operate on alternative platforms (such as raspberry Pi). This is clever as it enables the people to integrate victron products into unique customised systems.

In my experience it was the most seamless and easily configured remote monitoring system I have come across. I personally believe the Victron color control GX outshines the competition including big names like SMA, Selectronic and Schnieder Electric. The biggest downside of the CCGX is the high price which is around AU$800, far more than the competitors. Although Victron just released the ‘Venus’ which is basically the CCGX unit without the display and with built in wifi for around half the price, bringing it inline with the other manufacturers prices.

CCGX and BVM.jpg

Victron’s battery monitoring units (BMV series) are simple and compact and can be used to monitor everything from a single caravan battery up to large off-grid battery banks for homes or businesses (lead-acid batteries only). Also the addition of an inexpensive blue-tooth unit allows simple wireless setup and monitoring. The BMV together with the unique VE Direct cable interface allows all new Victron products to be interconnected for simple setup, communication, and monitoring of multiple products. Victron also provides multiple data interface converters and cables from everything from common USB to CANBUS.

 

Wrap up

For small scale and mobile systems (below 3kW) the Victron Inverters and chargers are of the highest quality and great value for money compared to the many cheap low quality options available. For larger more complex battery systems the Victron Inverter/chargers are very good but I wouldn't go as far as saying they are better than the big names like SMA, Selectronic or Outback Power, however if remote web-based management is critical then Victron would be close to the best option.

The impressive range of Victron solar charge controllers are equally the best available and in some ways better than the competition, especially when it comes to cost and the variety of add-ons available. For small or large capacity DC coupled systems there are not a lot of manufacturers which can compete with Victron's diverse range of products and accessories.

With the growing popularity of solar energy storage and off-grid systems, the need for smart, remote controls and system monitoring will be critical, and it seems Victron Energy are leading the pack in this field.

 

Background

When I setup my solar off-grid home 8 years ago I chose the simple Victron Pheonix inverter as I was on a tight budget and it was one of the few quality, affordable battery inverters on the market. After 7 years of trouble free use I decided to upgrade to the more advanced Victron Multiplus inverter/charger along with the colour control GX remote which turned out to be a very impressive and powerful package. Having worked in the solar/energy storage industry for many years and worked with advanced systems from Selectronic, SMA and Schneider Electric I was so impressed with the easy setup, features and clever remote monitoring that it prompted me to write this review.

 

See how the Victron Multiplus compares to the tough competition - SMA, Selectronic, Schnider & Outback

See how the Victron Multiplus compares to the tough competition - SMA, Selectronic, Schnider & Outback

 

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