Chucky

Smart Regulator for LiFePo Battery charging?

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Looking at a new Smart External regulator for my new LiFePo battery charging for my racing boat. The existing Balmar MC614 is over 10 years old and having trouble with it controlling maximum voltage levels once the battery is near 100% SOC with the BMS tripping out the charging(and the load relay). I have tried to changed the settings in advanced programming mode but does not appear to make any difference. I see the latest version does have a Lithium Ion battery selection charging mode. The battery and BMS equipment are all Victron.

I would appreciate any recommended smart regulators which have a display of the charging status and easy to program, also an option would be great for setting to motoring mode to reduce the alternator output when require more power to the propeller for full motoring situations.

 

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13 hours ago, Chucky said:

Looking at a new Smart External regulator for my new LiFePo battery charging for my racing boat. The existing Balmar MC614 is over 10 years old and having trouble with it controlling maximum voltage levels once the battery is near 100% SOC with the BMS tripping out the charging(and the load relay). I have tried to changed the settings in advanced programming mode but does not appear to make any difference. I see the latest version does have a Lithium Ion battery selection charging mode. The battery and BMS equipment are all Victron.

I would appreciate any recommended smart regulators which have a display of the charging status and easy to program, also an option would be great for setting to motoring mode to reduce the alternator output when require more power to the propeller for full motoring situations.

 

My understanding is that you don't want to charge LiFePo  batteries much above 90%, which means your Balmar regulator is doing what is supposed to do. The BMS is tripping to protect the batteries.

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Yes, the Wakespeed is best, Collins swears by it. Using electric current sensors rather than just voltage it can more precisely manage the alternator to charge your batteries with more love.

However, the symptoms you described should not be happening. Read this article below and confirm you are following best practices, such as a dedicated and properly sized ground wire all the way back to the battery (not the alternator lug), dedicated battery sense wire, and if you are near Rod I highly recommend you hire his team to diagnose your issue if it persists or have him do the Wakespeed install if you choose that product. 

https://marinehowto.com/programming-a-balmar-voltage-regulator/

Also, be sure you have one of these protection devices:

https://shop.marinehowto.com/products/sterling-power-12v-transient-voltage-protection-device

And learn some important points about the ways your battery setup could go wrong or be better.

https://marinehowto.com/lifepo4-batteries-on-boats/

 

 

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1 hour ago, b393capt said:

Yes, the Wakespeed is best, Collins swears by it. Using electric current sensors rather than just voltage it can more precisely manage the alternator to charge your batteries with more love.

However, the symptoms you described should not be happening. Read this article below and confirm you are following best practices, such as a dedicated and properly sized ground wire all the way back to the battery (not the alternator lug), dedicated battery sense wire, and if you are near Rod I highly recommend you hire his team to diagnose your issue if it persists or have him do the Wakespeed install if you choose that product. 

https://marinehowto.com/programming-a-balmar-voltage-regulator/

Also, be sure you have one of these protection devices:

https://shop.marinehowto.com/products/sterling-power-12v-transient-voltage-protection-device

And learn some important points about the ways your battery setup could go wrong or be better.

https://marinehowto.com/lifepo4-batteries-on-boats/

 

 

Thanks, these marinehowto website articles are perfect as the Balmar smart regulator target voltages do not allow low values but this website provides many tips on how to set up the settings for the Lithium batteries.

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I'm using this one:

http://nordkyndesign.com/product/nordkyn-electronics-vrc-200-charge-reference-controller/

I have found this to be an excellent device that is well supported (the designer is very responsive via email). His website also has a wealth of great information. All that said, this device does not have a display, that stuff is left to the BMS. This one is nice because it fakes a signal to your alternator, and it can handle other charge devices as well. You can set up all the charge limits.

If you need an entire BMS, the REC BMS will do BMS stuff and also has a feature to control the alternator, so a charge controller built in. Very pricy!

 

 

 

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On 12/14/2020 at 3:35 PM, IStream said:

No direct experience but this one is designed for the current century and gets good reviews, though you'll need a bank loan to get it:

http://www.wakespeed.com/

 

I have the Wakespeed. 
Very impressive piece of kit, however I was fortunate to buy it just before it came to the market so I got an early adopter discount. 

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On 12/15/2020 at 2:20 PM, George Dewey said:

I'm using this one:

http://nordkyndesign.com/product/nordkyn-electronics-vrc-200-charge-reference-controller/

I have found this to be an excellent device that is well supported (the designer is very responsive via email). His website also has a wealth of great information. All that said, this device does not have a display, that stuff is left to the BMS. This one is nice because it fakes a signal to your alternator, and it can handle other charge devices as well. You can set up all the charge limits.

If you need an entire BMS, the REC BMS will do BMS stuff and also has a feature to control the alternator, so a charge controller built in. Very pricy!

 

 

 

On their website they wrote clearly that they are not a replacement for MC-614 type products. Did I miss something?

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No. Not a replacement, and addition to. It seems to be a device that produces a voltage sense signal to fool your regulator into doing the right thing. Not a bad idea, but kind of a band aid. The Wake$peed does this correctly from the beginning. It is no more expensive to produce than any external regulator, but having no competitors they are able to charge for it. 

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I have the Nordkyn VRC-200. It's a clever solution  to a particular problem, namely how to more completely regulate the output of internally regulated alternators that have an external voltage sense. Now, that includes most fairly recent small and midsized Volvo-Penta diesels that have the Mitsubishi 115 Amp alternator so the niche it fills is actually quite big. And it works as DDW says by fooling the internal regulator by playing with the voltage sense. 

If instead I had an externally-regulated alternator I'd go with the Wakespeed. The Wakespeed and VRC-200 are solutions to different problems.

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6 hours ago, DDW said:

No. Not a replacement, and addition to. It seems to be a device that produces a voltage sense signal to fool your regulator into doing the right thing. Not a bad idea, but kind of a band aid. The Wake$peed does this correctly from the beginning. It is no more expensive to produce than any external regulator, but having no competitors they are able to charge for it. 

Actually a minor difference. Uses the internal regulator to provide the field current instead of the external regulator. Saves building a power circuit in the regulator when a perfectly good one already exists in the alternator. One major benefit is protection provided by the well-positioned temperature sensor of the internal regulator.

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The Wakespeed is no more expensive than the Balmar - both have power circuits to supply the field. I'd agree that the Nordkyn might be less expensive to build (though the asking price does not reflect that) . The problem with the Nordkyn using the internal temp sensor is it has no access to it and no knowledge of its reading. You can hope it derates logically for your use, on the Wakespeed and even the Balmar you can program this. 

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On 12/28/2020 at 4:56 PM, DDW said:

No. Not a replacement, and addition to. It seems to be a device that produces a voltage sense signal to fool your regulator into doing the right thing. Not a bad idea, but kind of a band aid. The Wake$peed does this correctly from the beginning. It is no more expensive to produce than any external regulator, but having no competitors they are able to charge for it. 

It is a bit more featured than the Balmar one, much more programable, ability to control it via current so you can produce just enough current to supply the electrical load once the batteries are fully charged, Canbus enabled as well.
But yeah, pretty expensive. 
 

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Don't get me wrong - the Wakespeed is definitely a generation ahead of the Balmar. Very programmable and attacks the problem from a different (and the right) angle. I'm just saying that it doesn't cost more to build than the Balmar (if you don't have to buy a shunt and most don't). I think there is significant price elasticity for them, if they got a little closer to the Balmar price they would sell a lot more of them. But. maybe not - people tell me the same thing about the product I sell and I don't believe it. 

If someone like Victron jumped into this market they would explode it. You'd be able to adjust and monitor all the parameters on your smart phone and it would be integrated into the Victron ecosystem. 

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28 minutes ago, DDW said:

If someone like Victron jumped into this market they would explode it. You'd be able to adjust and monitor all the parameters on your smart phone and it would be integrated into the Victron ecosystem. 

Agreed. Battery charging with multiple charge sources is way too hard to do well right now. Victron could clean up with a systems approach. All the pieces are in place with the exception of the external VR. I'd argue it would be a better use of their commercial resources than that thing they built with Calder.

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On 12/28/2020 at 7:46 PM, DDW said:

The Wakespeed is no more expensive than the Balmar - both have power circuits to supply the field. I'd agree that the Nordkyn might be less expensive to build (though the asking price does not reflect that) . The problem with the Nordkyn using the internal temp sensor is it has no access to it and no knowledge of its reading. You can hope it derates logically for your use, on the Wakespeed and even the Balmar you can program this. 

I had a long discussion with the designer about alternator temp monitoring before I bought mine. His earlier product had it, but he removed it from the latest one. At the time, he seemed to make a lot of sense about why but it was a while ago and sadly, I don't recall the details. That said, the OEM alternator on my MD2030 never had a problem. 

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On 12/30/2020 at 12:43 PM, IStream said:

Agreed. Battery charging with multiple charge sources is way too hard to do well right now. Victron could clean up with a systems approach. All the pieces are in place with the exception of the external VR. I'd argue it would be a better use of their commercial resources than that thing they built with Calder.

I would think this would be a support nightmare for them. Its mostly DIYers doing this, and many of them are close to clueless. 

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On 12/30/2020 at 9:15 AM, DDW said:

Don't get me wrong - the Wakespeed is definitely a generation ahead of the Balmar. Very programmable and attacks the problem from a different (and the right) angle. I'm just saying that it doesn't cost more to build than the Balmar (if you don't have to buy a shunt and most don't). I think there is significant price elasticity for them, if they got a little closer to the Balmar price they would sell a lot more of them. But. maybe not - people tell me the same thing about the product I sell and I don't believe it. 

You are correct on margins.

The Wakespeed prototype was sold as a kit prior to making the production model.  The designer really tried to make it work as an open source project, but moved to higher price production when no one was collaborating with him.  I can’t blame him.  The whole project is still on GitHub.

I have two of the kits, one is a v2 kit (before canbus) in raw parts and cost me about $80.  Mouser has a big markup for one off parts, so it would be even cheaper in production.  I’d sell the v2 board and raw components really cheaply if anyone in Seattle wants them.  It is all through hole soldering.

I have a 3rd generation board with canbus that I plan on installing in my boat as soon as I order an appropriate alternator.

The production price doesn’t surprise me, even if they completely saturated the market this would still be a niche product.  I’d probably go for low volume / high margin if I were making it. 

I also wish Victron would enter this market, but I don’t think it is big enough for them. My impression is that marine is a side market for them and off grid solar is their primary one. 

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2 hours ago, George Dewey said:

I would think this would be a support nightmare for them. Its mostly DIYers doing this, and many of them are close to clueless. 

But, a lot of Victron stuff is pretty science-projecty, lots of settings though they do a good job of defaults. Certainly a phone interface like their Connect product would make programming easier, and they would have canned settings. They already have 'bone head' (though they don't call it that), 'advanced', and 'expert' menus. The little 5/7A BT connected chargers are brilliant at this. Unbox it and plug it in, or dive deep and change everything. 

1 hour ago, Alex W said:

You are correct on margins.

The Wakespeed prototype was sold as a kit prior to making the production model.  The designer really tried to make it work as an open source project, but moved to higher price production when no one was collaborating with him.  I can’t blame him.  The whole project is still on GitHub.

I have two of the kits, one is a v2 kit (before canbus) in raw parts and cost me about $80.  Mouser has a big markup for one off parts, so it would be even cheaper in production.  I’d sell the v2 board and raw components really cheaply if anyone in Seattle wants them.  It is all through hole soldering.

I have a 3rd generation board with canbus that I plan on installing in my boat as soon as I order an appropriate alternator.

The production price doesn’t surprise me, even if they completely saturated the market this would still be a niche product.  I’d probably go for low volume / high margin if I were making it. 

I also wish Victron would enter this market, but I don’t think it is big enough for them. My impression is that marine is a side market for them and off grid solar is their primary one. 

I first became aware of the Wakespeed when it was an open source project. In small quantity, say $50 BOM cost, a good rule of thumb would be 5x BOM to retail so $250. At $350 they would be able to take Balmar's market. At $550 its getting a little high for an impulse buy. I get wanting to be paid though.  I'd be interested in the kit if I didn't already have 2 lifetimes worth of unfinished projects.

For Victron, I think boating is third behind off grid and RV uses. 

I notice that Wakespeed now has a phone configuration app, but still missing the BT or WiFi interface. Surely they are working on that. 

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On 12/30/2020 at 12:15 PM, DDW said:

If someone like Victron jumped into this market they would explode it. You'd be able to adjust and monitor all the parameters on your smart phone and it would be integrated into the Victron ecosystem. 

I have a fair amount of Victron stuff (at least my wallet thinks so), and I mostly like it.   I haven't yet finished installing all of the system (adding the solar now), but I wouldn't want anyone to think that all their stuff necessarily plays nicely together.  Most of it can be persuaded, but it isn't what I had hoped when I started, which was a system where all the stuff (shore power inverter/charger, multiple solar-panel regulators, battery monitor, "smart" communications box) worked together with the same logic and same settings and same cabling.

It's become clear that each component has evolved somewhat separately (and as mentioned above, often with a different primary market in mind), and the newer pieces are generally more full featured while the older pieces have enough to work with the system for monitoring and control.  By older, I mean presently sold but that were designed earlier.

Anyway, it is hard work and complicated to get them doing what you want and it's easy to buy the wrong option for a type of equipment.  They have so many damned models of each component that its hard to figure out what you HAVE to have for your system to work versus what is just a waste money for your intended use. In fact, they REALLY want you to hire someone to design and install your system and support for individuals on sailboats is less robust than one would like.

Still, probably the best choice if you are trying to get a energy system where the different charging systems generally cooperate with each other.  Just don't expect plug and play. 

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Yeah, Victron seems to have gone through a long evolution of communication and reporting strategies so you absolutely can't assume that one piece of their gear will communicate with another. Still, I think their current stuff is far ahead of the pack in terms of inter product communication capabilities. 

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Completely agree that Victron has gone through some evolution. They seem to be driving it together though, the newer pieces of the puzzle fit together much better than the older pieces did. I'm stuck with a few of the older pieces, like you say many of them are still being sold. Their documentation could be better too.  If installing Victron, it pays to investigate and choose wisely - but seems to be improving with time. Their competition is doing worse, and in most cases far worse. 

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I had a read of the Wakespeed smart regulators on their website and they have a couple of nice features which I will need to investigate further by contacting them. One feature is a Seamart phone App for configuration on the regulator settings and the other is a data link to Victon  BMS Equipment. The Vitron data link will save on shunt equipment and assume the charging current will be available and other voltages, battery temp to save on having to buy accessories for the Wakespeed regulator.

There seems to be a lot of discussion on the Victron gear which I spent many hours integrating all their equipment being a DIY installation. There is no direct technical assistance here in Australia from Vitron as I was only allowed to funnel all my queries though a local supplier who is also an installer and unfortunately they new less about the Vitron gear then Indo. I will post some photos of my installation once I get the photos from my iPhone. There are some unusual actions with the Vitron BMS, ie on high voltage the loads anew disconnected which I am chasing Vicrron with this query. 

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6 hours ago, Chucky said:

There is no direct technical assistance here in Australia from Victron as I was only allowed to funnel all my queries though a local supplier who is also an installer and unfortunately they new less about the Vitron gear then Indo.

That's the same in the U.S.  The best resource I've found is their web support group (https://community.victronenergy.com).  Victron has some of their technical people paying attention to the posts and they seem to provide input with some regularity.  That input also makes it very clear how their systems are being updated and improved, since one sees fairly frequent comments along the line of "adding that is underway and it shouldn't be too long".   One also sees "we didn't think it would take so long to implement, and its still in testing."  :)

Victron does seem to be good about offering software upgrades for their equipment.  The software for my MultiPlus inverter/charger was updated last Fall to provide an automatic charging shutoff for LiFePO4 batteries when the temperature falls below about 35F.  I hadn't bothered installing the battery temperature probe that came with the battery monitor as temperature isn't normally relevant to lithium battery charging.  However, after reading what was in the update, I installed it just in time to avoid having to shut the charging down for winter.  I had planned to just keep an eye on the state of charge and give them the occasional charge during the normally warmish winter weather here in north Florida.

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Peter is one of the most knowledgeable in the US and consistently among the best prices. However I was pretty quickly able to exhaust his knowledge and had to go to the user forum. One of the features of this century is that tech support is done by the users on a tech forum, and beta testing is done by early retail customers. 

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One of the things I like about Peter is that he takes the equipment he sells and builds prototype systems and tests it, so that he can advise his customers. I don’t know anyone else who does that.

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I highly recommend Rod Collins at www.marinehowto.com for energy and other system upgrades.

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1 hour ago, Salona said:

Talk to Peter Kennedy at www.pkys.com. Sells all the Victron equipment and he’s probably one of the most knowledgeable on how set up an integrated system. Has a great blog too: https://shop.pkys.com/blog.asp

I would have loved to talk to him when I started.  I tried Florida dealers and my experience here was poor.  I was going to buy the equipment from them and sent the dealer a list of the equipment I already had and wanted to work with (which was only the new Li batteries, and old wind generator, a new MFD, and new nav instruments at that point, I'd removed everything else after 16 years use to update as part of my cruising refit).  Included with that list was a note including my energy needs for various equipment and what I was trying to do (e.g., see the battery status on my MFD and a few other similar things).  I thought I'd put together a pretty concise package to help them help me.

I tried two dealers (sequentially after the first one quit responding), each of which sent me a list of equipment I should buy, to which I responded with questions about how the networking would work.  I asked followup questions of each in response to the information I was getting (not pages of questions, more like a paragraph total), and after the second followup question each of them quit answering.  I then contacted Victron, described my experience and they directed me to a third in-state dealer.  I had EXACTLY the same result.  Something magical about that second followup question.

Very frustrating, and I came to the conclusion that either the amount of equipment i needed just wasn't enough to excite a Victron dealers interest or I was asking questions that they didn't know how to answer and didn't want to devote the time to find the answers.  I think they are focused on large yachts and large systems, and I don't qualify.  At that point I started buying the equipment off the web and employed "learn as you go" since I still thought it was the best equipment for what I was trying to do.  Would have MUCH rather gone through a dealer and paid the extra price!

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I've done dozens of LFP installs that used the MC614.....   as it's the most comment external regular I've come across.  I was the first to work with Balmar to figure out the program setting for LFP banks.  

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The Wakespeed is the commercially available solution. Small but real company. The Mastervolt does not do what the Wakespeed does, more comparable to the Balmar. It would be easy for Victron or Mastervolt to do, as they have all the datacom and other bits. But as was suggested, maybe the market is just too small. 

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Bruce Schwab at Ocean Planet Energy designs, sells and installs  Wakespeed , Lithium batteries, solar systems and other power systems along with electric motors.  Nigel Calder is also now working with him. They should be able to help with questions.   https://oceanplanetenergy.com/

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Just an update, I used the marinehowto.com website youtube videos to help re-program my Balmar MC614 smart regulator. I removed the Balmar regulator unit from my boat and sat down in my garage with the unit connected to a spare 12VDC battery and managed to set up the target voltages to 14.1VDC (float voltage set to 13.4V) to suit my Victron Lithium Ion battery. After installation with the engine running, the smart regulator appears to control the battery voltage successfully and once fully charged switches to float voltage set at 13.4VDC with no current into the battery.

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Thank you for circling back and telling us what you decided!

 

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20 hours ago, b393capt said:

Thank you for circling back and telling us what you decided!

 

No Problems, I already had the Balmar MC614  smart regulator installed for the previously installed AGM batteries. The hardest part with this units is the programming which was solved mainly from the marinehowto youtube video clips which helped me using that magnetic screw driver for the programming. The other thing that helped me was the settings provided from the Victron website from another boat which recently used a Balmar smart regulator and Victron Lithium Ion battery setup.

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