Inverters In a Motorhome?

A 3,000watt Inverter can draw up to 290amps (including conversion losses) from a 12v battery, more than a car draws to start the engine.  

It doesn't take much to realise that this is going to place an enormous strain on old fashioned Leisure battery that was designed to provide just few amps over weeks. 

There is an excellent document from Victron Energy about batteries and charging, it is called Victron Energy Unlimited, which you will find it on the "EHU  Full Time ? Yes or No" page. 

It notes that where a current draw of 300 amps is required, the correct size battery bank (to ensure adequate battery life) is five times the power draw converted to Ah. i.e 1,500Ah or 15 x 100Ah batteries. 


Many Starter 100Ah battery technologies will supply 300amps for a few seconds without damage, but if you drain a 100Ah AGM/Gel Leisure battery with that sort of current for more than a minute, temperatures at the plate will soar, degrading the battery significantly. 

The Exide battery guide book, which follows most other battery manufacturers guidelines, suggests that, for maximum life, a Gel battery draw and charge should be no more than 10amps per 100Ah. 

Most manufacturers say the batteries can go outside this upto 20amp without too great a compromise, but go above this for either charging or continuous power draw and the penalty is a shorter lifetime. 


A highly regarded Victron Energy document also warns about the adverse impact to Gel or AGM batteries that prolonged charging/discharging at a higher than a 'normal' current has in raising the battery Plate temperature. Just a small rise in continous charge/discharge, raises the Plate temperature into the zone that can decimate battery AGM/Gel life, as noted above. See section 15 :

"15. Charge current -
The charge current should preferably not exceed 0,2 C (20 A for a 100 Ah battery) otherwise the temperature of a battery will increase by more than 10°C"


This Battery Temperature chart below shows how exceeding a 20A charge rate can be done, but the penalty is a drop in life from 7 - 10 years to just 2 years. The same heat is generated at the Plates from both charging and discharging so the same degeneration results.

Remember these are extra high quality, long life batteries, but even they are badly harmed by fast charging or continuous 'high' current draw. 



To keep below the 20 degree/20amp ideal would require a 100Ah battery for every 20amps that will be drawn, or what is now called the 5 times rule.

As further evidence that an Inverter needs a really big battery bank, go on the Trojan Battery web site. It has a web page dedicated to calculating the size of a battery bank based upon the expected current draw, see : http://www.batterysizingcalculator.com/#step3

We asked it what size battery bank we would need to run a 3000w Invertor for 15 minutes a day. The response depended on how long we wanted the batteries to last. If a 2 year life was acceptable then a 480Ah bank would work, or if 8 year life was required then over 1,100Ah of batteries was required. 

It proposed, that to achieve that 2 year life, we buy some ultra heavy duty INDUSTRIAL batteries, yet even this 480Ah bank of expensive, Industrial bemoths had a predicted life of just 2 years for our 3000 watt Inverter. 

At £200 + a battery for pretty much 5 of the Industrial monster batteries, is a 2 year running cost of £1,000 in batteries alone. 

Are there not cheaper ways of getting 230v power?


 

We suspect that if more conventional batteries were used the bank size would need to be near the 1,500Ah quoted by Victron Energy?  



This all seems to suggest the general 'rule of thumb' 5 times the current drawn converted to AH (5 x 300amp load = 1,500Ah bank size), if it is for more than one minute, is the minimum required for optimum battery life.

 

I think you can guess what will happen if you use a 3,000watt Inverter off two 100Ah batteries? What we normally see is batteries become degraded by the drain, which then takes out the mains 240v charger followed not long after by the Alternator.



Consider also the load placed on the poor Mains Charger and Alternator, that has to put back all that power that was taken out by a Microwave or whatever. 


It is a load they were not designed to take, nor is the wiring infrastructure.  To try and get a Motorhome to deliver serious 230v capability from 12v batteries, requires taking the Motorhome so far outside it's design few self respecting technicians will go near it when it goes wrong. 

When a big Inverter equipped Motorhome comes to us with issues, the Owner will see me trudge out to the Motorhome with a string of Garlic around my neck, a sharpened Stake in my left hand and a hammer in my right hand.    


We think Inverter retailers should be more clear (honest?) on the real impact of their power units on a battery bank. 


We have not seen one Inverter document that explains the size of the battery bank necessary for long battery life.

Inverters are often at the heart of many of the problems we see.






Sorry about the photo at the top of page, I was getting bored of seeing pictures of Batteries!!!

The photo is the only surviving Harrington bodied Albion in the World. Currently on display at the Tacla Taid Anglesey 100 vehicle museum which is part of a Caravan Club CL.