Victron Energy based in the Netherlands have been building power conversion equipment since 1975 and are well known for quality 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 recent years Victron's range of inverter/chargers and battery management devices have also started to shine in the surging home energy storage market.
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 add-ons and accessories to create everything from simple battery monitors to smart remote off-grid power systems.
Main product lines manufactured by Victron Energy
- Battery inverters
- 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 stand out from the crowd. Victron controllers are more expensive than the Chinese competition but you get a hell of a lot more bang for your buck, although the Victron gear is 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 several high quality solar charge controller manufacturers including Outback Power, Morningstar and Australian made Aerl which have 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 besides Aerl which offer a 5 year or greater warranty on solar charge controllers in Australia.
See solar controller (MPPT 100/50) 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 – Simply put DC coupled systems use solar controllers to charge a battery directly from the panels which is extremely efficient (up to 99% using MPPT), while a battery inverter supplies AC power to the home appliances.
Nowadays most 'large' off-grid installations use solar inverter/s in what is known as an AC coupled system due to the simple setup - Common grid-tie solar inverters are available in much large sizes and higher input voltages up to 900V allowing for long strings of panels which are much simpler and easier to install (although this also means it is far more dangerous and can only be installed by trained solar installers).
Despite the industry trend towards AC coupled systems Victron does not manufacture solar inverters, although luckily for larger size systems Victron Inverters are compatible with the well regarded Fronius solar inverters (up to 8.2kW single phase) so there is a great alternative for large systems.
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 for an impressive 5.8kW of solar on single controller (at 48V).
The only down side is that even the largest Victron solar controllers are 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 such as Schneider Electric, up to 600V, but these are much more expensive.
Victron is making headway against the tough competition in the residential off-grid solar market against well known battery inverter manufacturers SMA in Germany, Outback power in the US and Selectronic in Australia. These companies have been building off-grid inverters for many years and have dominated the markets in the US and Australia. In Europe however Victron is very popular and overall seems to have a more global presence.
In the higher capacity commercial sector Victron struggled to stand out against the big name manufacturers SMA, Schneider Electric and Selectronic who have always focused on the larger end of the market with AC coupled systems. The hybrid (grid-interactive) inverter market is an area where Victron is developing quickly with more functionality, especially since teaming up with Fronius who manufacture possibly the best grid-tie solar inverters available.
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 large 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.
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
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 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.
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.
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 cheaper low quality options available. For larger more complex hybrid systems the Victron Inverter/chargers are very high quality 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.
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.
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