Lithium Battery and Solar Upgrade on our Hybrid Camper
After months and months of thinking about how to upgrade the electrical system on our Reconn R2 Hybrid, we’ve finally made a commitment, and its a fairly substantial one. We’ve also just had it installed (except the solar panels) and have been playing with it to see how it performs.
What did we purchase?
60 amp Renogy Rover MPPT Solar charger
Two 170aH Lithium Renogy batteries
Three 200W solar panels made by Renogy
3000W Pure Sine Wave Inverter (also Renogy brand)
What did it cost?
The total cost was $3164.93, direct from the Renogy website. I paid via PayPal through our credit card as apparently you can get stung an overseas transaction fee, which seems to have worked as nothing has come through.
It’s worth noting that this was done during the boxing day sale (which actually runs for about 2 weeks) and we probably saved about $1100, which makes their already good prices absolutely amazing.
Now, you need to know that we paid full retail of our own money for this product, and we are not associated with Renogy or being paid to do any of this.
There’s some big players in the 12V world. Enerdrive, Redarc, Victron, Revolution, Safiery, Custom Lithium, DCS and Allspark are commonly used, and Renogy is one of the lesser known brands in Australia.
Want to read a comprehensive post about why we went with a Renogy Lithium Battery?
Renogy appear to make good quality gear, have a reasonable warranty and most importantly, are extremely economical. Yes, they are probably not the best quality lithium batteries out there, but they should be fine for what we need.
We paid $909 for each of our 170aH Renogy Lithiums, and there’s plenty of 100 amp hour lithium batteries that are just as expensive, or even more.
We always try and find the perfect balance between quality and price, and whilst there are guaranteed to be better products out there, you have to pay a huge amount to get them, and I’m always questioning whether its worth it.
We’ll do a thorough, unbiased review on all of the Renogy 12V gear in due course, and if we have to eat our words, I’ll do that. We aren’t attached to any brands, and comment freely based on our experience, and that’s it.
From what I’ve read and heard, we’ll be OK. There’s a lot of comments about their customer service being difficult to work with, and hopefully we won’t have to find out! I hope this won’t be a similar story to our Projecta DCDC!
The batteries fitted perfectly
Another major swaying point towards getting the Renogy 170aH lithium batteries was that they’d drop in with zero modifications to make them fit.
The R2 came with two 120aH AGM batteries that ran in the other direction (East/West instead of the new lithium’s running North/South), and the battery area was pretty clearly marked out, with electrical gear, hoses, water pumps, a wheel arch and lots of water tanks making it extremely difficult to put it elsewhere.
I did consider getting 2 more iTech lithiums and putting 3 together (as we already had one), but they wouldn’t have fitted.
I also couldn’t fit a standard 200aH lithium very easily, and I was chasing a bit more than 200aH of lithium (as its only really 160aH usable, which is only 40aH increase on what we had). The Renogy 170aH batteries are only marginally bigger (mainly in height) than a normal 120aH AGM, and we had height, but not width or length to play with.
The Renogy batteries literally dropped in the same floor space, with the only modifications needed being how I’m going to clamp them in, which should be easy enough to remedy.
Why the upgrade?
Our AGM batteries in the camper are nearing end of life, and are going to be up for replacement out of necessity shortly. We also lost one of my solar panels some time ago, and the single 120W panel just doesn’t keep up without putting a portable panel out, which I’d much rather avoid doing.
On top of this, our current setup gives us barely 1.5 days of storage without sun before we need to charge up, and that’s really not good enough when its cloudy for a few days at a time.
I actually purchased an iTech Lithium battery in a box and kept it as a portable unit as a backup for our 6 week trip up north, knowing that if we got a couple of cloudy days I’d be struggling with battery power for our freezer.
Lastly, we wanted to be able to run some extra appliances, with an induction cook top high on the priority list, possibly a toaster/kettle and maybe even an electric water heater.
Our primary consumer right now is the 82L Evakool which we are running as a complete freezer. This allows us to travel off grid for much longer by carrying frozen food, and we live our of our Upright Fridge in the Dmax on a day to day basis.
Lithium batteries are fast becoming a no brainer. They last longer, they weigh half as much, they charge faster and can discharge much quicker too. With the prices heading south it won’t be long before you’d be mad to buy a traditional lead acid battery for deep cycle applications. Perhaps that time is already here.
Extra usable capacity
This upgrade gives us a huge amount of extra usable capacity. We’ve gone from two 120ah AGM batteries, of which you can only really use about 50% from, giving us 120 amp hours of usable capacity.
Our 340aH of lithium has a usable capacity of 272aH (actually a bit more than that, but lets be conservative), which means we have 2.26 times the amount of usable capacity.
We should get about 3.5 – 5 days of use under normal circumstances, with no solar charge going in before needing to top up, which means if we get a cloudy day (or two) here or there I won’t have to worry about it.
Ability to run a whole new world of appliances
The bigger thing though, is that lithium batteries are able to be discharged at a much higher rate. AGM batteries get badly hurt when you discharge them quickly, and that rules out the ability to run high wattage appliances through a big inverter.
We picked up a 3000W inverter, which in theory will allow us to run anything that we would at home. It will comfortably do an induction cook top, hot water unit, microwave, air fryer, air conditioner, blender, toaster, kettle or anything else we’d like to run.
Yes, you’d have to do one appliance at a time (for the most part), and the limitation will be how long it will run for, and not so much whether it will run or not.
To give you an idea, an induction cook top on medium heat (around 1000 – 1200W) would be able to run off our new battery setup for about 3 hours before they are around 20% state of charge (or basically ‘flat’).
Now, I don’t know about you, but we don’t intend on using any high wattage appliances for that long and its for short term use only.
I would seriously consider getting a toaster, blender, 240V kettle and sandwich press. We won’t be getting air-conditioning (and realistically you’d need a bigger system), but there might be some other interesting things we run at a later date.
Initially, I was considering just upgrading the solar and batteries, but for $370 for a 3000W pure wine wave inverter and under $100 for an induction cook top it seemed silly not to put it in and have far more options.
Want to know our thoughts on Induction Cooktop vs Gas?
I’ve always been big on having a backup plan, and this setup will allow us a couple of different options. We will keep the Enerdrive DCDC for the factory fitted 120W solar panel, and it will take the alternator charge from our Dmax and top the batteries up while we are driving.
However, we’ll now have a second solar controller (Renogy MPPT), which will look after the 600W of panels and also charge the batteries as well. In essence they will work together, and if one fails, we still have some charge going in, and we won’t be completely dead.
How much weight are we adding?
This is where things get really interesting. If we remove the two batteries in place now, we take 60kg off the camper trailer.
Then, we add the two lithium batteries (22kg each), the inverter (7kg), three panels (12kg each) and the charger (3.6kg) you get a total weight of 91kg, which means we’ve added 31kg of weight to get 2.26 times the usable capacity and 6 times the amount of solar.
30kg in the scheme of things is almost nothing, and I’m really happy with it. We still have about 400kg of payload available on the Reconn R2 if we really wanted it.
Now, we could remove the existing 120W solar panel on the roof and save even more weight, but I’m going to leave it there connected to our Enerdrive DCDC, and it can do its thing, giving us a total of 720W of fixed solar panels on the roof. If you are comparing fixed vs portable solar panels, we’ve got a clear preference.
What are we expecting from the solar?
It will be interesting to see what we can actually generate from our solar panels. Previous 200W panels that I’ve bought seem to cap out at about 11 amps, and interestingly these Renogy Panels are marginally smaller than the ones I’ve dealt with in the past.
On the subject of size, its important you check the rated output of the panel against the actual size, as thousands of people are getting ripped off every day online buying panels that are falsely advertised. You might pay for a 200W panel and get a 160W, or even a 100W panel. For more information, check this out – How to avoid getting ripped off with 12V solar panels.
With the 720W of panels on the roof (which never face the sun properly), I suspect in some conditions we’ll get nearly 40 amps going into the battery, and for a lot of the day probably less than this. With 6 hours of decent sun a day (being conservative) I’d say we will do around the 180 – 240 amps, or 2kwh of power. It will be interesting to compare them to the Low Energy Development Solar Panels that we’ve been using for years.
I don’t expect to be using that much power every day, and am hoping that we’ll basically never have to look at the battery monitor out of concern again!
To give you an idea, that would run an induction cook top for 2 hours, or if we look at it a different way, every hour of running an induction cook top is going to be about 2 – 3 hours of solar required to top it back up again, which is pretty reasonable.
What will it actually do? Time will tell, and I’ll do a full report on it soon.
Where’s it all going to fit?
Unboxing the inverter and solar controller had me pretty worried; they are absolutely massive, and we really don’t have much room, so finding a suitable location is going to be interesting!
In terms of roof space we’ll be fine as there’s plenty of that, but the inverter and solar controller are going to be all sorts of fun to fit in somewhere!
There really isn’t much room left to fit these. Fortunately, we realised they’d both fit on the fold down hatch, and once secured properly they shouldn’t go anywhere. It also means we don’t lose any space that we’d really like to keep, which is a huge win.
What other brands did we look at?
Honestly, I looked at everything. Originally I was going to go with Enerdrive, but the pricing of the Renogy gear just trumps everything, by a long, long shot.
I considered getting Allspark Lithium Batteries, along with DCS, Custom Lithium, Powerpaul and even considered using the Itech battery (and getting more) that we already have as a bit of a test.
To get the same system in Enerdrive, or Allspark, or DCS we’d be looking at several grand extra, and I’d question whether its really worth the money.
I’d be loathe to buy some of the cheap 12V lithium batteries out there, but Renogy is good quality gear that is made in house and sold direct to the public, and it just made the most sense.
I am not in a rush to get this done, and I’ve been looking for more than a year now, but the boxing day sales just came at the right time, and were a great incentive to lock it all in.
Installing it all
Stephen from Hunter Autoelectrics came out again to do the install. I usually do the mechanical side of things, and we decided to split the job in half, and do the solar panels later on. I want to make sure they are rock solid, so we don’t have a solar panel fly off again!
Stephen has done a fair chunk of electrical work on our Dmax and Camper trailer before, and I know he does great quality, quick work that lasts and lasts.
I look forward to never having to worry about looking at the state of charge of the batteries again, or trying to work out whether we have enough power until we hook up and drive again.
For reference, the actual installation took about 3.5 hours, and I was charged around $430 which included all of the cabling, fuses, heat shrink, lugs, P clamps and other bits and pieces that were needed, and of course his labour.
I did some of the mechanical work including mounting the inverter, batteries and solar controller, but Stephen did the rest, and as usual, did a fantastic job. Completely worth it.
From here, we’ll do some testing; we are heading up north soon and will give the batteries a whirl (being careful that we only have portable panels and a 120W panel on the roof to charge them back up at the moment).
We are also building a lithium battery for the back of our Dmax, which will be another project in the next few months.
Are you running Lithium Batteries? Are you happy with them?
Good to hear you’re happy with the Renogy gear. Awesome that its delivering its rated power too!
I left my 400W Enerdrive inverter on the other day and found our Dmax battery sitting at near on 50% after only a few days – lucky catch and something I’ll be more aware of going forward.
Our Enerdrive DCDC in the camper seems to go to 23 amps, but no more. I figure that in conjunction with the solar will be fine.
Thanks for your comment and insight!
I installed Renogy, 100 ah battery, panels, 2KW inverter, dcdc charger,
+2 years ago.
Had a pretty good run. Just had to reset the dcdc charger when it froze on the communication with Bluetooth BT2.
I have 2x 100w + 80w panels due to space.
I have had peak charging at over 300w on mid summer days.
50w while raining in autumn.
The dcdc charge from the car can be a real life saver, as 100a/h batter will drain with the 2KW inverter “left on”.
Trying to get full charge from the tug alternator can be tricky- I had the smart function turned off, but due to length and cables dia still only getting 10amp
Have just ungraded so will see what improvements.
Ps sleep mode on the battery is great when your store the van with a cover / garaged…
It might not take 3 – 4 weeks. You can ask Renogy for a more up to date lead time.
No idea on those batteries – never even heard of them.
Also, hardly any information on them – cell type, maximum charge rate, discharge rate, cycle expectancy etc
All the best
Thanks Aaron, good to hear, I’m keen to order some renogy gear myself just not sure I want to wait another 3-4 weeks before getting going…
Did you review the offering from Access Antennas / 12V Warehouse who are local in WA? – access12voltwarehouse atg-batteries-150ah-12v-lithium
About 3 – 4 weeks in total from memory, but the panels were pre-order and everything came in multiple deliveries, quite efficiently and without any problems.
There’s some bad reviews from Renogy on there, but plenty of people running it with great experiences (search on the 4WD/electrical groups on Facebook) and you only ever hear the bad experiences on product review.
That said, I’m not recommending them until I’ve used and abused the batteries, and other gear. Our auto electrician did recommend them though
So far we’ve done 6 nights running an induction cooktop between 200 and 2000W (when boiling water) and its been brilliant. We’ll update as we go along, but I’m pleased so far
All the best
Hi Aaron, How long did the Renology delivery take?
Some concerning reviews on here – https://www.productreview.com.au/listings/renogy, but seems you didn’t have any issues?
Yep, will be fun to see how it goes. If its no good, you’ll hear about it!
All the best
looks great – keen to see how it goes in real time. cheers
I haven’t installed them yet. They are marginally smaller, but I’d expect the same, or slightly better performance.
It will be a bit difficult to get an exact measurement though, as I won’t have them side by side
I’ll do a post when they are in and running
How are you finding the Renogy panels performance vs the Low Energy Dev panels?
Cheers for the comment. Yep, sometimes its not a straightforward swap from AGM’s to Lithium’s.
Running two controllers is not uncommon, and my auto sparky has no issues with doing it that way. I’ll be able to see what each is doing and make changes as needed but I’m not expecting any issues by doing it this way.
Hi Aaron, always good to get some unbiased info on products. Look forward to seeing how they all go longer term. Had to replace out 2 x AGms last trip mid trip, and ended up with 2 more AGMs as going Lithium at that stage would have been too much work. Would caution the use of 2 x controllers at the same time; I assume some very interesting things could occur, especially if they are slightly out of synch re charge profiles. We always carry a spare charge controller, but would not run both at the same time.
Thanks Ken, much appreciated. I’ve got high hopes for the Renogy gear too.
A very good article and great setup. I have some Renogy products and have found them good value and reliable. When I go lithium it will be Renogy as well. Look forward to your next email. Cheers.