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LiFePO4 batteries? Solar panels?


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Even though I am past my peak RVing years, I have been fascinated following the improvement in both solar and batteries in recent years as well as the availability of both. The whole thing makes me with that I could do some of the back country RVing that we did back in the 70's & 80's but now with the latest thing off grid equipment. 

What I have wondered is just how accurate what I read about the lifespan of the new batteries is? Has anyone here yet had one fail due to age/use? With solar expected to last for 25 to 30 years that doesn't seem to be an issue but durability could be. Has anyone experienced a major hail storm with solar panels? None of the RV forums that I follow have had much about either type of failure, which makes me think that such must be pretty rare.

 

Edited by Kirk W
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  • Kirk W changed the title to LiFePO4 batteries? Solar panels?

I have not seen anyone post about hail damage to solar panels either, but I know it can happen.  All regular solar panels are built to withstand basic hail storms, but they do have their limits.  They are designed to be in static positions in a residential or commercial setting and survive all the seasons.  The advantage RV'ers have is they can move their solar panels by moving the RV out of the path of a hail storm, which residential/industrial customers can't do.  I think this is why I really haven't heard of anyone in the RV world discussing hail damage on a regular basis.

As for lithium batteries, the industry leading manufacturers offer up to a 10 year warranty on their batteries.  None of them have been around for 10 years yet though, so it remains to be seen how well they will hold up.  The technology and research says they should have no problem meeting that goal.

We love our system in our RV.  I have had some type of "off grid" system in my RV's for the past 10+ years and the conveniences and opportunities they provide are well worth the expense in my book.

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Most of the battery cells that make up the LFP batteries are rated to still retain 80% capacity after 3000 to 5000 cycles.  This usually means 100% full to cutoff but most RV people will never cycle batteries like that.  Just yesterday one of the companies I have purchased from are claiming a new and improved version that will meet the 80% capacity after 6,000 cycles or more.  Some manufactures are saying these batteries will meet the 80% capacity for 20 years or more within cycle capacity.  In 20 years whoever owns our batteries will know if it is a fact.  Currently about 99% of the cells are made in China and the prices are going up as the rare minerals needed are in short supply.  There is some hope that factories in other countries will open soon but rare minerals may be still be a problem.  China controls most of the known supplies. Of course as technology is driven by the EV's these batteries could become obsolete at anytime. 

Parts of the Colorado front range, near Denver are often hit with hail.  Some have called it the hail capital of the world.  There are a lot of solar panels on homes there and rarely have I heard of solar panel damage.  Solar panels seem to be pretty robust.  Roof, siding and car damage from hail happens most years somewhere in that area. 

I agree with others that are happy with LFP batteries.  The efficiency and weight reduction works for me.  We boondock  like we are plugged in.  We have 2,000 watts of solar on our 5er and we have another 1,700 watt  ground mount array at our mountain property along with 1400 ah of batteries.

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Do any of you have a preferred brand of Lithium batteries?  What about brands of solar panels? With both markets growing as they are, the cheap knock-off makers are bound to get into the mix if they haven't already.

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They're like anything else, all LiFePO4 cells are made in China.  Some like Battleborn are assembled here and have great technical and warranty support.  Many others are made in China and sold here by suppliers that may or may not provide that same level of support and quality control or have USA stock.  Up to you what it's worth to you.  You can buy "drop in ready" batteries about 1/2 the cost of Battleborn.  

Speaking of hail a few years ago we were north of Denver on I-25 and just missed a hail storm that dumped a foot of golf ball sized hail on the highway.  A few vehicles were pulled over dinged up and windows busted out.  Pulled off and less than a mile west had no hail.  

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Good morning Kirk, fun topic you started. My RV panels are flat rooftop mounted, which seems may be more susceptible to hail damage versus if at an angle, and I've been in some minor hail with no perceived damage. However, I worry as much or more about if I'm under a tree and walnuts or limbs or whatever falls on them ?? but so far so good.

There are a ton of different brands of Li batteries and although one brand (yall know which I mean, great quality it appears) spends and does the most advertising and marketing, it's my opinion some other brands which sell for less (have far less advertising and marketing costs) may be as good or who knows even better ???? I don't know, I cant prove it one way or another and as noted above it may take 10 or 20 years before anyone could... 

If you research including such sources as DIY Solar by Will Prowse, it appears many different battery manufacturers USE THE SAME CHINA MADE CELLS.  Some of the test results indicates its the type brand features and quality of the BMS and general build quality is as important as what the labeled brand may be.

As far as lifespan, heck at my age if they last another 5 to 10 years max is all I need. Given such a huge investment Im a believer in maintenance and good care, and Ive never drawn mine down anywhere near that 80% (so far 50% has been the most) which would be my own personal max discharge regardless. I provided a degree of cushion battery mounting to reduce road shock and cable flex and vibration protection along with good quality clean tight connections plus t stat controlled ventilation in the battery and inverter compartment.

BOTTOM LINE (for my frequent dry camping) given their MUCH lighter weight,,,,,,LESS if any voltage sag under load and/or as SOC decreases,,,,,,,,,,,MUCH faster charging,,,,,,, I LOVE MINE AND WOULD NEVER GO BACK but of course to each their own based on THEIR needs and THEIR budget. FWIW I chose SOK (like 1/2 cost of BB) and they have performed perfect to date... AFTER I invested in Li I keep reading how all the future technologies such as solid state batteries are even better than Li but that's for the next generation. 

PS    FWIW  I went with Polycrystalline Panels which are fine but if I started over Id go with Monocrystalline............ 

 Best wishes everyone, HAPPY EASTER He has risen !!!!!!!!!!

John T  Long retired n rusty electrical engineer and 50 year RV owner

 

Edited by oldjohnt
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2 hours ago, Kirk W said:

Do any of you have a preferred brand of Lithium batteries?  What about brands of solar panels? With both markets growing as they are, the cheap knock-off makers are bound to get into the mix if they haven't already.

My preference for batteries is Battle Born (they are what I stock and install).  They have the best customer service of any company I have dealt with, which is important to me and what I do.  They should have a major announcement coming later this year, which I am not at liberty to share at this time that may make them more desirable to some.  There are other batteries that are good as well.  Lyon Energy and ReLion are very good in the first tier group of manufacturers.  I don't have any direct experience with the lower tier manufacturers like SOK or Chins and the like, but many on the DIY solar forums seem to like them.

The solar panels I like the best are REC.  I also use Hightec and Newpowa on a regular basis.  They all work well.  I personally have REC 365 watt and Newpowa compact 100 watt panels on my rig along with four Battle Born 8D lithium batteries.

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4/13 made 6 years of continuous use of our system with 500ah lfp (Elite Power Solutions-GBS cells) of fulltime boondocking and the days that we were on a power pole I would turnoff the charging from inverter and let the power pass through so only solar was charging the the batteries if needed it from misc 12v loads (fridge, furnace).

2016_ 200 of 261 days
2017_ 365 of 365 days
2018_ 365 of 365 days
2019_ 344 of 365 days
2020_ 282 of 365 days
2021_ 349 of 365 days
2022_ 104 of 104 days

Total of 2,009 days boondocking.

Everyday there are high draw appliances being used from 5-20 minutes (coffeemaker, microwave) to 2-3 hours (15k air conditioner) or just the idle draw of the inverter with a humidifier always going 24/ 7 of 7ah. We live off of the system almost like being on the grid. There are over 2,000 cycles of 35-45% dod at various SOCs.

The Magnum SCC and inverter/ charger are set to the same settings of 14.1v absorb (10 minute max, 6 minutes is the normal time till it switches to float), 13.6v float. Our daily power consumption can range from 175ah to 275ah just depending on the season. Shorter the day light hours the more power consumed from batteries. This is running everything in the trailer (not at once). Coffeemaker, microwave, air conditioner, vacuum, ice maker, fridge, air compressor, and other misc hand tools. The inverter is set to 12.0v cut off and never have had it shut down yet due to low voltage even when drawing 150a load at 30% SOC for 5 minutes.

If I have lost capacity I can not tell yet in my day to day use of the system. I have not had to break the system apart for rebalancing of cells but had to replace 2 senseboards on 2 cells a couple years back. The cpu/ bms shut my batteries down and after bypassing the cpu/ bms was back up and running. Ran it like that for 2 months till I got south to replace them.
 

The 1,280w solar mounted flat on roof has been through a couple hail storms with the hail the size of mothballs or a little larger. No damage to the panels but the shower skylight didn't do so well.

Edited by Itinerant1
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Nice detailed report Itinerant1. I've only been running my system (AGM upgraded to Li) a couple years now mostly dry camping and haven't had any problems so far. I attended some Li seminars put on by Briten plus researched Lion quite extensively and based on a lot of other research found there to be several good players out there (BB, Lion, SOK, Briton, etc. etc.) and as I mentioned many with the SAME cells. While prices vary I doubt anyone could  prove (not enough time has passed) any one battery with the same specs and life cycles that costs TWICE as much as another same spec brand is TWICE as good. With so many brands, specs, data, advertising, hyperbole and opinions out there, to each their own based on their energy requirements and budget is what seems to drive the market.

Happy Easter everyone

John T

 

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13 minutes ago, GlennWest said:

Won't fit in stock location but then a lithium battery needs to be in a heated area

Many now come with built in heaters so that may no longer be quite as necessary !!! Regardless, being a belt and suspenders kinda guy I prefer a BMS with low temp protection PLUS protect using a  charger with its own safety low tempo cut off .........Too much money invested to risk fire or damage...   

 Happy Easter

John T

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4 minutes ago, oldjohnt said:

Many now come with built in heaters so that may no longer be quite as necessary !!! Regardless, being a belt and suspenders kinda guy I prefer a BMS with low temp protection PLUS protect using a  charger with its own safety low tempo cut off .........Too much money invested to risk fire or damage...   

 Happy Easter

John T

The heater will use watts though. Would need to buy more battery to make up diffidence. Also what I link has a bms, low temp protection, breakers, etc.

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55 minutes ago, GlennWest said:

The heater will use watts though.

EXACTLY any source used to heat the batteries or compartment WILL USE ENERGY..Theres no free lunch lol... The question then becomes, what method of keeping them heated (only batteries themselves or their enclosure) is the most energy efficient ???

Like I said, some batteries have internal heaters so they DO NOT         "need to be in a heated area"

My batteries (like most quality brands) have a BMS with low temp protection HOWEVER some of the cheaper units out there DO NOT grrrrrrrrrr 

Take care Glenn, Happy Easter

John T 

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17 minutes ago, GlennWest said:

One i linked do. Most put batteries in a heated area. I did.

That's the easiest thing to do.

I put mine in the front 5th wheel compartment, added insulation on side walls, added 2" foam board/ Reflectix and rubber mat to floor,  tapped into the end of the heat duct above the batteries and dropped a tube down to the batteries/ compartment.  If heat is needed I'll open the end of tube cap. During the hotter months it stays relatively cooler in there, if running air conditioner off of batteries/ solar/ inverter I'll open the top portion of front compartment to let the inverter heat out.

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1 hour ago, Itinerant1 said:

That's the easiest thing to do.

I put mine in the front 5th wheel compartment, added insulation on side walls, added 2" foam board/ Reflectix and rubber mat to floor,  tapped into the end of the heat duct above the batteries and dropped a tube down to the batteries/ compartment.  If heat is needed I'll open the end of tube cap. During the hotter months it stays relatively cooler in there, if running air conditioner off of batteries/ solar/ inverter I'll open the top portion of front compartment to let the inverter heat out.

that were mine are but my storage is heated and cooled. Actually has a heater duct in there and in the summer months when I open storage it sure feels good in there.

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13 hours ago, Chad Heiser said:

My preference for batteries is Battle Born . . . They should have a major announcement coming later this year, which I am not at liberty to share at this time that may make them more desirable to some

Mmmm . . . I'm thinking lower price.

Anyway . . . my 1st RV was Trojans, 2nd RV AGMs, 3rd RV back to Trojans. 

Love to do Lithium but still too pricey at the moment. However, I'm still researching lithiums and found William Prowse's YouTube Videos very informative, especially his battery "tear downs"  . . .

Budget Battery Showdown

Battery Born Tear Down

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"IT WAS TIME"......I've been following the whole Lithium thing for years. I'm a wire geek and I really thought I'd end up building batteries, as factory offerings at $1000 was just too much cabbage. About 7 years ago I installed two Duracell 105aH AGM batteries with 420w solar on the roof of a 20' toy hauler. I was never ever at a need for more power or longer power cycle. I recently fully charged the two batteries, disconnected and tested them a few days later. still 12.7V......Amazing how long these AGMs have lasted.

 But my GEEKNESS got the best of me when Renogy offered their BlueTooth 100aH batteries on sale for $500 each.....I bit the bullet and jumped in.....But then I needed a new solar charge controller and 120v charger/converter......

Here is a quick walk around of what I ended up with.....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSGyqwHPl9M&t=26s

 

And a quick article I wrote about the adventure...

http://rvbprecision.com/rv-projects/rv-lead-acid-agm-to-lithium.html

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7 hours ago, Zulu said:

Love to do Lithium but still too pricey at the moment. However, I'm still researching lithiums and found William Prowse's YouTube Videos very informative, especially his battery "tear downs"  . . .

Zulu, as I reported above I've watched his plus several other solar component testers/reviewers a long time which I enjoy and have learned a thing or two. As he and others point out many different brands use THE SAME CELLS and the specs design and quality of the BMS and general construction technique plus customer service is also important when making your selection. With lots of players and several quality brands out there one needs to research his energy requirements, budget and make an informed decision after comparing specs and life cycles versus cost of different brands. I'm sure (and as Will Prowse has discovered) some are better then others but given the same specs, cells, life cycles and BMS etc., are any worth twice as much as another quality similar equipped brand ???? Maybe yes maybe no, who can prove it one way or another given they haven't been in use that long I SURE CANT LOL but sure everyone is entitled to THEIR opinion.

YES the initial up front cost is higher but if you figure in the years of life and service plus faster charging, less voltage sag and reduced weight, the investment makes more sense. It did for me at least and I'm  (one who dry camps often) never going back. It was a 50 year journey from regular automotive style batteries to RV Marine to 6 Volt Deep Cycles to AGM to Lithium.........

As always to each THEIR own choice based on THEIR needs and THEIR budget

Happy Easter everyone

John T

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I notice that some RV builders now offer some solar or pre-wire for solar on some of their models. Manufacturers like Grand Design, Keystone, Forest River, Jayco, and Heartland RV are all including options for solar prep in many of their new RVs. Some manufacturers make it easier than others for RVers to upgrade batteries and add panels, but all are making progress. I'm not sure if any of them come with or offer as an option, LiFePO4 batteries? 

This entire thing makes me wish that I was one of those just starting the fulltime adventure! One of my son's is an RV owner and frequent user and has begun to think of fulltime and even though I have not owned any solar equipped RV, that is the direction I am encouraging him to go. 

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37 minutes ago, Kirk W said:

Manufacturers like Grand Design, Keystone, Forest River, Jayco, and Heartland RV are all including options for solar prep in many of their new RVs. Some manufacturers make it easier than others for RVers to upgrade batteries and add panels, but all are making progress. I'm not sure if any of them come with or offer as an option, LiFePO4 batteries? 

How true Kirk, the industry sees the handwriting on the wall. HOWEVER as I bet you have noticed "some" of the so called "Solar Ready" is hype/advertising/sales gimmick and may consist of nothing more then an external two pin receptacle wired (at what amp rating ???) to your house batteries into which you can plug a suitcase solar panel or maybe a junction box and wiring up to the roof which may or may not be adequate grrrrrrrrrrrr.

I have noticed several mostly Class B and Vans that do indeed come factory equipped with solar panels and Lithium batteries but at a premium price of course.

DITTO if we were young and starting over us sparky types would have an easier life and a blast with all this modern RV technology wooooooooo hoooooooooo   

Happy Easter my sparky friend, always a pleasure

John T  An old dog trying my best to learn new tricks lol

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It's not like the solar panel to battery wiring where the loss of a few tenths of a volt can make the difference between a healthy and an anemic charging rate.

I'm confused by this. As you stated in your first paragraph that voltage loss was not a big deal.....Am I missing something here?

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