Upgrading our camper van electrical system with Victron Energy Smart Solar MPPT Charge Controller and Smart Battery Monitor was a very smart move (no puns intended) and we wish we’ve done that earlier! With built-in Bluetooth and VictronConnect app, it’s possible to setup both devices on a Smartphone (Android or iPhone) via an intuitive graphic interface, sweeeeet! Once the system is up and running, VictronConnect app enables to monitor real-time status and historical data about the system performance. While it’s not essential, we really enjoy these features and we feel Victron Energy’s technology is cutting edge. Welcome to the 21st century. Now, does it perform better than our previous Bogart Engineering SC-2030 PWM charger? Yes. It does. Keep reading this review.
What we Like about Victron
We already mentioned we love the built-in Bluetooth & app, here’s why:
1- Easy to Setup
Different battery type (AGM, Lead Acid, etc) requires different charging profile. This is easily adjusted via a Smartphone on the VictronConnect app:
2- Real-Time Status
We upgraded from a Bogart SC-2030 PWM to the Victron SmartSolar MPPT 100|30 charge controller. While we cannot quantify the exact improvements (we would have to setup 2 systems simultaneously with the exact same panel size and orientation, same battery type and size, same SOC, etc.), we immediately noticed some improvements:
- The maximum charging current we have ever seen with the Bogart is 16 amps; within one week after installing the Victron we observed up to 24A charging current! And this is using the exact same setup (battery, solar panels, etc.) except for the charge controller… impressive, but that make sense:
- Theoretical Max Charge Current with PWM: (Power Panels) / (Voltage Panels) = 320W / 18.5V = 17.3A
- Theoretical Max Charge Current with MPPT: (Power Panels / (Voltage Battery) = 320W / 12.4V = 25.8A
- If the battery was very low, even more charge current would occurs with the MPPT (but not the PWM): 320W/11.5V = 27.8A
- We also noticed more power earlier in the morning and during overcast weather.
- More info about “PWM” vs “MPPT” here: Which solar charger to choose
What we Don’t Like …
Nothing we don’t like, but here are some features we would love to see implemented on the Victron Smart Monitor to take it to the next level:
- Optional module with multiple inputs to monitor consumption of appliances individually such as the fridge, Webasto heater, Propex heater, etc.
- Optional module with sensors to monitor holding tanks level such as fresh water tank, grey water tank, propane tank, etc.
- Optional module with sensors to monitor the temperature and humidity of outside, inside, fridge, etc.
- The propositions above are not sci-fi, in fact a competitor in the marine world (Simarine) already offers that… see “Runner Up” section further down this page.
Models & Where to Buy
First, we recommend the SmartSolar series over the BlueSolar series, as the SmartSolar is the latest technology with build-in Bluetooth and all. Second, you will have to size your charge controller according to your solar panels maximum voltage and current as follows:
|SmartSolar MPPT Model*||Maximum Charge Current||Maximum Panels Voltage (open circuit)||Solar Panels Power
(for 12V systems)
*More models available. The table above shows the more common ones for a camper / RV.
For example we have two 160W panels wired in parallel (we had to wire them in parallel because we had a PWM charger, we will soon wire them in series for better performance):
- Each panel is rated 22.2 Volts maximum (open circuit); that’s 22.2 Volts maximum total (open circuit) (it would be 44.4 Volts if they were wired in series!)
- That’s 320W total.
We therefore went with the 100|30 SmartSolar MPPT model, since it’s rated up to 440W and up to 100V.
We recommend the BMV-712 as it’s the latest from Victron and has built-in Bluetooth:
Temperature Sensor (Optional)
The shunt included with the BMV-712 monitor has two inputs:
- Input #1: House Battery Voltage
- Input #2: Van (Starter) Battery Voltage OR Temperature Sensor (it means the monitor can’t display both; it’s one or the other)
For proper temperature compensation during charging, the charger and the battery must be within 5C (improper temperature compensation results in reduced battery lifetime). In other words, the charge controller should be installed near the battery. If that’s not possible, then the temperature sensor should be installed and connected to input #2 of the shunt up to the house battery positive pole:
The app is free and can be found in the Google Play Store (Android) or in the App Store (iPhone).
Wiring and Electrical
Not sure where to start? This guide will get you going and makes things easier for you! We first start with some theory, then YOU do the work using our Interactive Diagram and our Tutorial:
Here is a sneak peak of what you will find inside the article:
- Using the rotary switch on the controller, select your battery type (this setting can be overriden in the smartphone app after).
- Wire the Victron SmartSolar Charge Controller (and the remaining of your electrical system) as proposed in our wiring diagram.
- Turn on the battery breaker first, then turn on the solar panels breaker respectively (the manual says to always power the battery first, so we’re doing just that).
- Turn on the Bluetooth on your Android or iPhone and open the VictronConnect app. You should see the controller (“SmartSolar”) in the device list; if you don’t, reboot your phone and try again.
- Click on the “SmartSolar” to access it then click on the gear icon (top-right corner) to access the settings menu. Click on “Battery”.
- To override the Battery preset, select “User Defined” instead of “Rotary switch”. (consult your battery manual to find the proper settings).
- You’re good to go!! Consult the manual for the more advanced features.
All the initial setup can be performed on the monitor itself, but here we’ll focus on doing it on a smartphone:
- Wire the Victron Smart Monitor (and the remaining of your electrical system) as proposed in our wiring diagram.
- Turn on the Bluetooth on your Android or iPhone and open the VictronConnect app. You should see the monitor (“SmartBMV”) in the device list; if you don’t, reboot your phone and try again.
- Click on the SmartBMV to access it and click on the gear icon (top-right corner) to access the settings menu. Click on “Battery”.
- Enter your Battery Capacity.
- This is required so the monitor can calculate the State of Charge (%) accurately. (for example if 100Ah is consumed out of a 200Ah battery, the SOC will display 50%; if 100Ah is consumed out of a 400Ah battery, the SOC will display 75%).
Accurate SOC (%) Display:
The SOC displayed (%) will be more accurate if the monitor is regularly synchronized to 100% when the battery is considered fully charged. The battery is considered fully charged when these conditions are met simultaneously:
- Battery voltage above “Charged voltage” parameter, charge current below “Tail current” parameter for more than “Charged detection time” parameter.
Follow these steps to ensure the monitor is regularly synchronize:
- Enter the Charged Voltage. It should be 0.2V or 0.3V below the ‘float’ voltage of the charger. (you can find your float voltage value in the “SmartSolar” device under Battery settings).
- Enter the Tail Current. We set it to 1%.
- The tail current is expressed in function of the battery capacity. For example 1% of 200Ah = 2A
- Enter the Charged Detection Time. We left it to factory setting of 3 minutes.
- You’re good to go!! Consult the manual for the more advanced features.
Peukert’s Exponent (optional geeky setting):
Did you know that the fastest a battery is discharged, the less capacity it has. Let’s look at our Rolls battery specification sheet:
If we completely discharge this battery in 5 hours (at a rate of 34.4A), it will give 172Ah. If we completely discharge it in 100 hours (at a rate of 2.3A), it will give 230Ah. It’s called Peukert’s law and, yes, you will find more about that on Wikipedia.
It’s possible to take account of this law with the Peukert Exponent parameter; the SOC (%) displayed will then be more accurate. Here is the typical Peukert Exponent for different battery types:
- Lead Acid: 1.2 to 1.6
- Gel: 1.1 to 1.25
- AGM: 1.05 to 1.15
- Lithium-Ion: Close to 1.05
1 means there is no change of capacity at different rate of discharge; a higher Exponent (i.e. 1.6) means the effect is more severe.
It’s totally fine to use the default Victron parameter or you can calculate your own here: planetcalc.com/2268/
Playing with different hour rate of our Rolls battery (see table above), we get Peukert’s Exponent anywhere between 1.06 and 1.20 (?!)… So we entered 1.15, but please don’t ask us why exactly! As the manual says: “Please note that Peukert’s formula is no more than a rough approximation of reality” so we decided not to go crazy with this…
Once the installation and initial setup completed, go do your things and let the Victron do the work 🙂 You can, however, monitor the system performance if you feel like it. It’s fun to watch the performance of the system being influenced by the weather, hours of the day, period of the year, shadow, etc.
*Note that our solar panels are currently wired in parallel (soon to be wired in series); if your panels are wired in series (recommended) you might get different data than the screenshots shown in this article.
1- Monitor the SmartSolar Charge Controller
Open the VictronConnect app and select the “SmartSolar” MPPT Charger.
2- Monitor the BMV-712 Smart Monitor
Open the VictronConnect app and select the “SmartBMV” Monitor.
Note: this data is also displayed on the monitor unit.
We installed the Victron Controller and Monitor in June 2018; so far so good! We will keep you updated if anything happens! Subscribe to our Mailing List to be notified.
We really like what Simarine did with their monitor… It’s possible to monitor individual appliance consumption, holding tanks level, temperature, etc.
- BMV-712 Manufacturer Website (spec sheet, manual, etc. available)
- MPPT Charge Controller Manufacturer Website (click your model, then downloads are available)
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