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Author Topic: Inverter vs Converter  (Read 2997 times)
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« on: February 04, 2012, 07:25:05 AM »

I've been doing research on battery tenders,minders,inverters with built in chargers and converters. I noticed in the archives that there was hardly any mention of converters. Are there any disadvantages to using a converter? We rarely ever do any dry camping so feel I don't need to spend the big bucks on an inverter. All the comments pro and con on tenders and minders have confused me. Am now using two 12V AGM batteries for the house system. Most of the house is on 110. Does anyone have a recommendation on a particular converter that could safely keep my batteries charged?  Or am I better off just trying to determine which smart charger is best? Thanks very much.
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« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2012, 07:43:19 AM »

A converter will take A/C power (ie. 'shore power') and charge your 12v batteries, and allows your 12v systems to work while you're plugged in running the rest of your 110 household.  (Such as an 12v lights, outlets, vent fans, fridge controls, water pump, etc.)  

An inverter w/ charger will do that AND allow you to run your 110 systems off the batteries when you are not plugged in.  Which can be handy even if you only occasionally blacktop dry camp while in transition between locations (such as Walmarts, rest stops, etc) and want to run things like your coffee maker, charge laptops (without needing 12v chargers), run a TV, microwave, etc.  If those things aren't important to you, than the expense of household wide inverter may not be worth it, and you can always get small inverters that plug into 12v cigarette lighter style outlets to run a device or two at a time as needed.


In either case, as you're using AGMs, it would be wise to seek either a converter or inverter with smart charging profiles for the best battery life... as they should be charged in stages.

 - Cherie

 
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« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2012, 08:05:45 AM »

? Cherie brings up the topic AGM should be charged in stages why, is that only for rv use the ones in other applications like air planes the alternator charges the battery till it reaches full capacity doesn't seem to affect the battery life just a inquiry on my part so don't get upset just asking.

The Concord rep says it doesn't hurt their batteries they do recommend stage charging but like he told me the solar chargers don't have great control for charging and their largest battery market is for the off grid crowd ?
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« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2012, 08:37:08 AM »

Well, technically - all lead acid batteries prefer to be charged in stages.  Most chemistries can 'fast charge' up for the first 80%, then ramp down the rate for the remaining 20%.

However, AGM batteries can be more harmed by not stage charging, as there's not as many options for counteracting for the damage (with flooded, you can top off the distilled water, do an equalizing charge, etc.) While AGM batteries can be equalized, it's a more delicate process.  

In our opinion, if one is going to shell out the extra cash for AGM - investing in smart charging is a wise component of the battery setup to prolong that extra expense.

And yes, these things can become more important in a house system designed for off-grid living than a starting battery application charged directly off an alternator.


Charging off solar does make it difficult to reach a full charge - as that last 20% of charging is slower and the day is only so long. Many who are focused on the health of the batteries will do a regular topping off by generator or other means.  Or some just factor in a potentially decreased lifespan of their batteries by not worrying about topping off beyond 80%, and having a lower depth of discharge, into their long term battery costs.  

That's one of the many reasons we decided to experiment with Lithium Ion for our buses' batteries, as they don't need to get a regular full charge to extend the health, and we feel they are ideal for the base of our upcoming solar install.

 - Cherie
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« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2012, 08:38:39 AM »

I have a 70A Iota converter.  When we park we use it to run our 12v stuff.....which is mostly what we have shy a couple 110v outlets.  I have isolated it from the batteries though, so it doesnt do a thing to them.  I can have it charge them with a simple switch throw, if need be.
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« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2012, 08:46:18 AM »

... I noticed in the archives that there was hardly any mention of converters. ...

Actually, there are tons and tons of posts in the archives regarding converters, how they differ from chargers (whether integral to an inverter or stand-alone) and the pros and cons of both.  Here are two posts I wrote on this very subject (easier to link them than to retype it all here):
http://www.busconversions.com/bbs/index.php?topic=16283.msg175122#msg175122
http://www.busconversions.com/bbs/index.php?topic=8911.msg88297#msg88297

There are many more such posts in the archives with more particular details on converter installation, models, and so forth.  "Converter" is a very common word with more than one meaning, so it is important to structure your search query to get the results you want.  FWIW, Google's search is more flexible in this regard.  To search this site with Google, simply add "site:busconversions.com" (without the quotes) after your search term.

... why, is that only for rv use the ones in other applications like air planes the alternator charges the battery till it reaches full capacity doesn't seem to affect the battery life just a inquiry on my part so don't get upset just asking.

Well, it doesn't really reach full capacity, or else it overcharges and cooks.  The problem with most single-stage chargers, and this includes automotive alternators, is that they are strictly voltage-regulated (there is no means for measuring current or state-of-charge) with just one voltage set point.

If you set that setpoint (assuming you have an adjustable regulator) to the manufacturer's specified "float voltage" for the battery, then you can pretty much "charge" the battery at this voltage indefinitely without hurting it.  But it takes hours and hours and hours to get a battery to full charge at this voltage.  Because automotive batteries must recover most of their lost charge in anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours of driving, the alternator/regulator setpoint is usually set higher than this float voltage, to something closer to the battery's "bulk charge" voltage.

This lets the battery charge quite a ways while driving.  And mostly, it works, because virtually no vehicle drives 24/7.  But if you did, in fact, connect the battery to this voltage permanently, as would be done with a single-stage AC-powered charger while on shore power, you'd overcharge the battery and damage it.

All of the foregoing, BTW, applies to all lead-acid batteries, whether AGM, flooded, or gel.  Each of those has slightly different voltage settings, and AGM is slightly more tolerant of both over and under charging than the others.  But any lead-acid battery will have its useful life (in cycles) reduced by continuous or successive over or under charging.

What a multi-stage charger (and, BTW, these are available as alternator regulators as well) does for you is to give the battery a bulk charge rate to fill it back up to nearly full charge, then switch to a float rate to keep it there without damaging it.

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The Concord rep says it doesn't hurt their batteries they do recommend stage charging but like he told me the solar chargers don't have great control for charging and their largest battery market is for the off grid crowd ?

Well, the Concord rep is a salesman, after all Smiley

BTW, my solar controller does have three charging stages (four, if you count the manually-activated equalization stage), as do most modern controllers made for off-grid use, so I am not sure where he is getting that information.

HTH,

-Sean
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« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2012, 09:54:24 AM »

I was talking to to him about the cheaper controllers like used on most RV's not the high dollar MPPT and PWM chargers chargers serious bucks when one pays 6 to 7 hundred for a charger fwiw I have a Blue Sky SB 2000E it is not that great for a 300$ controller


good luck
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« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2012, 10:32:15 AM »

My farmer-understanding of the controller thing is that single-stage regulators like the internal regulator in most over the road alternators or any cheap automotive battery charger won't put a large charge into the batteries rapidly.  Over a long time they will get your batteries charged but it will take time. 

In the boating world there is a big emphasis on using 3-stage charging to control the propulsion engine alternator(s) as well as the inverter/charger.  I'm not sure why that concern doesn't carry over to the RV/bus world. For that matter I'm equally uncertain about why it is such a concern in the boating world.  The frenchy-bus has a simple connecting solenoid that links the house bank and the start bank while we are going down the road so both banks charge off the (internally regulated) alternator.  I suspect that is the most common arrangement on all RV/bus conversions but it is less common on boats.
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« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2012, 03:32:55 PM »

My 4107 came with a 45 amp converter which provides 12v power when parked and plugged in. It also charges the batts with a three-stage smart charger, works great.

It came without the 3-stage charger but I added it in the form of a kit.
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« Reply #9 on: February 04, 2012, 06:09:26 PM »

Technomads, could you point me in the direction of the 3 stage reg for alternators?
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« Reply #10 on: February 04, 2012, 06:51:08 PM »

I can point you too one the Xantrex XAR regulator 200 bucks and not that great I just replaced the one on the S&S only works with a 3 wire alternator so I was told 
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« Reply #11 on: February 04, 2012, 08:32:35 PM »

Technomads, could you point me in the direction of the 3 stage reg for alternators?

Balmar, hands down.

Ample power also has one that is quite good.

-Sean
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« Reply #12 on: February 05, 2012, 03:43:57 AM »

. Hi Mal; Best toMary. Been awhile.  If you are doing simple system like mine I just use a charger like we used on our tournment boat. It has 4 seperate chargers built in one unit I and don't know stages or how the technology works but it keeps the battery bank up in the boat that are deep cycle marine batt  and also the 31's (4 ea ) in the 89 Prevost are fresh. The boat batt are prob close to 7yrs old now. Availabe at any place that sell marine battery support chargers for bass boats.   Bass pro Shop.  About $250  Must be unplugged when motor running or it will fool your voltage regulator. This for info only. I know nothing about the new off grid Chriss and Cherrie  or Sean are working with.   Best to you Guys.   Bob & Judy     
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« Reply #13 on: February 05, 2012, 05:40:56 AM »

I never used a converter like Bob I used a Iota 75 amp charger worked for me for 20 years and kept the batteries in good shape all 12v ran through the batteries the charger supplied the charge to keep the batteries up

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« Reply #14 on: February 05, 2012, 02:16:24 PM »

The Iota smart charger you guys are using is probably the same as the one in converters since they make converters. Can't figure out why a charger needs to be 75 amps unless it has a starting boost feature?
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« Reply #15 on: February 05, 2012, 06:09:19 PM »

... Can't figure out why a charger needs to be 75 amps unless it has a starting boost feature?

For starting batteries, you are probably right.  But for house batteries, 75 amps is incredibly small.

My charger (built in to my inverter) is 150 amps (at 24 volts) and I wish it was 400 amps.  At 150 amps, that charger takes about an hour per day of generator run time to sustain us while we are boondocking for long periods.  A 400-amp charger would cut that at least in half.  At over $4 per hour to run the generator, a larger charger would be a real boon.

A 75 amp charger is sufficient for a flooded bank of 375 amp-hours, or an AGM bank of just 150 amp-hours.  Above that and you can benefit from more charging capacity.

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« Reply #16 on: February 07, 2012, 03:11:18 PM »

Sean,

Thanks, never knew such high amp chargers existed!

My house battery banks are so small I never think in those figures.
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« Reply #17 on: February 07, 2012, 03:25:41 PM »

It is important to remember, particularly with AGM batteries, that they do have a max charge rate.  Therefore, the charger would have to be set to that rate times the number of batteries.
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« Reply #18 on: February 07, 2012, 03:48:49 PM »

For external 3-stage regulation I just installed a Balmar 614.  Ridiculously expensive IMHO but it was either that or an Ample Power and the Ample Power was more expensive.  FWIW, the Balmar clearly does what it is intended to - my alternators are pumping out power like they never did before and they do it at much lower RPMs than they did with the previous (Xantrex) system.  They also ramp up slowly - there's close to a minute lag after the engines start before the regulator starts powering up the alternators.  The other difference I notice from the Xantrex is that I never completely lose the field with the Balmar regulator.  I used to lose my tachs when the Xantrex shut the field off completely but that never happens with the Balmar.  Count me as a happy customer, even if they are overpriced.

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« Reply #19 on: February 07, 2012, 05:08:04 PM »

It is important to remember, particularly with AGM batteries, that they do have a max charge rate.  Therefore, the charger would have to be set to that rate times the number of batteries.

Not sure why you say "particularly with AGM" since AGM will tolerate a much higher charge rate than flooded batteries.

Always go with the battery manufacturer's recommendation, but the rule of thumb is that flooded batteries can be charged at C20/5 and AGM batteries at C20/2.  So a 200 amp-hour flooded battery should be charged at no more than 40 amps, but a 200 amp-hour AGM can be charged at 100 amps.

Quote
Therefore, the charger would have to be set to that rate times the number of batteries.

To clarify, that's the number of batteries in parallel.  Batteries in series do not increase the charge rate.

IOTW, if you have two 200 amp-hour batteries in parallel in a 12-volt system, you could charge them at 80 amps for flooded or 200 amps for AGM.  However, if you have the same two 200 amp-hour batteries in series in a 24-volt system, that's still just 200 amp-hours and you could charge them at most at 40 amps for flooded or 100 amps for AGM.

-Sean
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« Reply #20 on: February 07, 2012, 05:52:53 PM »

Although I have been told that AGM's can take a higher charge rate. I have also been told that they do not deal with overcharging well.  I could be wrong on both accounts.  Anyway, my AGM's are rated at 134ah @ 20 hours.  The manufacturer gives C/5 as the max charge rate which puts it at 27 amps each.  Three in parallel means I have an 81 amp max.

To be clear, my batteries were designed for a UPS and, therefore, have some differences from those specifically designed for RV use.
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« Reply #21 on: February 07, 2012, 06:13:03 PM »

One comment on a difference between "converters" and "chargers".  Converters designed for RV use often are designed for a constant voltage output, usually around 13.6 volts, since their primary use is considered to be not killing the batteries while providing a constant voltage to the many 12 volt appliances and gadgets they need to supply stable power to while connected to a pedestal for months on end.  In other words, battery charging is the secondary application.  Some, like the Iota, have a "Charge Wizard" option or add-on to allow them to do what we consider real multi-stage charging.   Just something to consider when reading the sheets on these things.  There is a difference between a converter and a charger, and this is just a part of it.

Brian
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« Reply #22 on: February 07, 2012, 11:32:54 PM »

Although I have been told that AGM's can take a higher charge rate. I have also been told that they do not deal with overcharging well.

Those are two separate issues.  You can overcharge a battery just as easily with C/5 or even C/10 as you can with C/2 if you don't lower the voltage after the bulk phase completes.  This is not so much a function of the charger's rate or maximum delivered current as it is of the charger's ability to detect the drop in current that signifies completion of bulk charging and then lower the voltage (usually after an adjustable absorption period) to the float setting.

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...  my batteries were designed for a UPS and, therefore, have some differences from those specifically designed for RV use.

UPS/telecom batteries are a very different animal from deep cycle house batteries, designed for a very different kind of service.  It is not surprising to see a UPS AGM battery specified at a max charge rate of C/5.  I detailed some of the differences among battery types in this post from several years ago:
http://www.busconversions.com/bbs/index.php?topic=3291.msg29687#msg29687

Note that the excellent battery information web site I reference in that post has since moved and can now be found here:
http://batteryfaq.org/

FWIW, a good charger will let you set the maximum current delivered during the bulk phase.  With these chargers it is always preferable to have one which is capable of too much current rather than one capable of too little.

... Converters designed for RV use often are designed for a constant voltage output, usually around 13.6 volts, since their primary use is considered to be not killing the batteries while providing a constant voltage to the many 12 volt appliances and gadgets they need to supply stable power to while connected to a pedestal for months on end. ...

Just to be clear about this, the voltage a converter provides to the appliances is different from the voltage it provides to the batteries, as I explained in the first post I linked above.  Here is the link again:
http://www.busconversions.com/bbs/index.php?topic=16283.msg175122#msg175122

In this post I went over some reasons why one might choose a converter over a charger (whether part of an inverter or standalone):
http://www.busconversions.com/bbs/index.php?topic=8911.msg88297#msg88297

-Sean
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« Reply #23 on: February 08, 2012, 04:09:38 AM »

Sean, for what it's worth the several converters I own, including the Iota that I referenced, have only one output that is dedicated to both the battery charging and the load supply function, and they function exactly as I described.  Constant relatively low voltage.   Mind you, they are just now out of production and have been replaced by three stage versions. 

Brian
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« Reply #24 on: February 08, 2012, 09:44:39 AM »

Sean, for what it's worth the several converters I own, including the Iota that I referenced, have only one output that is dedicated to both the battery charging and the load supply function, ...

Well, if it has only a single DC output, then I would call it either a charger or a power supply, not a converter, no matter what the manufacturer calls it.  True RV "converters" have separate connections for the DC loads and the batteries.  Otherwise it's just a crappy charger with a different name.

As I have written many times, I am not a fan of converters in any case.  To hear that someone is selling a single-connection power supply and calling it a converter only makes me more emphatic in recommending against them.

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« Reply #25 on: February 08, 2012, 10:14:45 AM »

OK, so Brian's last post prompted me to survey the RV "converter" market, something I have not done for many years (since I don't ever recommend them anyway).  And it turns out that there are now a wide range of inexpensive battery chargers being marketed as "RV converters," so I will need to modify my earlier treatise on them.  Mostly to add one more step after my current "least expensive" to include battery chargers will no additional hardware.  From my standpoint these would be the least preferable of all the alternatives, being essentially the worst of both worlds.

To relate this back to the OP, I will reiterate that with few exceptions, the chargers built into even the least expensive inverter/chargers are more sophisticated than just a single stage and will lower the voltage to float once current drops.  If you have no need of an inverter, there are certainly stand-alone battery chargers that also do this, and most quality chargers will be marketed as just that: battery chargers.

If you are concerned that bulk voltage will be too high for some of your DC loads, OR if you are concerned that one or more DC loads are heavy enough to trick the charger into continuing bulk charge past the point where it should stop, then I would recommend either the style of converter that isolates the loads from the charger, or adding a power supply and a make-before-break relay to isolate them yourself.

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« Reply #26 on: February 08, 2012, 10:40:11 AM »

And that was basically the point of my post - to let people know that there are converters on the market, or were a couple of years ago, that were basically current limiting, constant voltage "power supplies" (I like that term better too) that really didn't do much more than float charge the battery.  It's beyond me how they can be a 45 amp supply/charger and be voltage limited to 13.6 or 13.8 volts, since I have no idea now current controlled supplies work, they came along after I got out of electron pushing and into electron selling so to speak.  But Google suggest that there are commonly available constant voltage, current controlled supplies for charging some types of batteries that have a constant voltage and do indeed limit the current after the appropriate charging has taken place, I just don't know how they do that...

While I have the converters, I don't actually use them for anything except float maintenance on one battery.  I also have the three stage chargers that I use to actually do charging when that is required.  The "converters" are handy in a little truck camper because they also act as the AC breaker/distribution panel and the DC fuse box.  I agree they don't suit a large RV very well at all.

Brian
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« Reply #27 on: February 08, 2012, 03:58:45 PM »

Mine isn't limited to 13.+ volts. The first stage is something like 14.1-4 as I remember. It is too cold to go outside and look. It is three stage and works  very well.

It is a very old one that I updated with a kit last year. The old one was a battery boiler!!
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« Reply #28 on: February 08, 2012, 07:27:36 PM »

Gus, sounds like you might have the iota 9100 series with the added charge wizard module? the 9200 series is the same thing as the 9100 series but with the charge wizard built in. They look exactly the same. the voltage points are 14.4v bulk, 13.6v absorption, and 13.2v float. the iota with charge wizard also has an extended storage feature which enters a desulfate mode after 21 days of float, and cycles every 21 days thereafter until it senses a load, at which point it starts all over.
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« Reply #29 on: February 09, 2012, 06:41:08 PM »

Yeah, mine had the built in charger so I replaced it with a PD4645 45 Amp Converter Upgrade Section which I think is an Iota but not sure. It is too cold to go out and check!!

Those charge rates sound just right too.
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PD4107-152
PD4104-1274
Ash Flat, AR
thomasinnv
Derrick Thomas
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« Reply #30 on: February 09, 2012, 08:03:23 PM »

Sorry, that should have read Progressive Dynamics, not Iota. I had just been working on some Iota transfer switches when I posted that, so thats what came out of my mouth. (via my fingers) Grin Grin
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There are three kinds of people in this world....those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those that just wonder what the heck is happening. Which one are you?

1977 MCI Crusader MC-8
8V71N/740
95% converted (they're never really done, are they?)
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« Reply #31 on: February 10, 2012, 07:24:42 PM »

My thanks to all of you for the wealth of information. My computer got shut down by a virus just after I posted my question.
Mal
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1987 MCI 102A-3, 8V92, HT-740 conversion in progress.
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