Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

alexf1852alexf1852 Registered Users Posts: 8
I'm looking at off-grid, 48V dual inverter/controller system. I would like to know what the top most reliable brands are that have good customer support. I'm looking at Outback, Magnum, SMA, Conext XW+ inverters and Outback, Midnite Solar, Conext charge controllers.

I would like to discuss the brands in each category and rank them with pros and cons. Discuss things like which have communications between each in dual config, upgradable firmware, monitoring, warranty, etc.

I don't have any experience with any of the brands so looking for some direction.

Comments

  • mike95490mike95490 Solar Expert Posts: 9,021 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    Windoze 8 is no good for firmware updates via USB (Midnight). Ethernet / Router monitor via app is OK
    Schnider/Conext gear needs a "Implanter" or a Combox to update firmware. Combox has some nice Logging features via ethernet / router.
    Morningstar RS232 firmware works fine via a USB/Serial adapter. Nice ethernet/router monitor interface w/internal web server in MPPT-60 ethernet / router
    Powerfab top of pole PV mount | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
    || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
    || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

    solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
    gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister ,

  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 31,061 admin
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    I would also suggest you define your needs (grid/no grid/generator/size of inverter/size of battery bank/networking-remote control/etc.)... Sealed units can be helpful (local bugs, dust, humidity) but can also be more expensive/lower ratings (more difficult to remove heat from sealed boxes).

    There are a lot of options out there, and many times you can narrow the field by defining you requirements first.

    Also, possible end use/location may matter too... Will this be in the US, or Caribbean, or where?

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    Because I love painting a target on myself ....

    Outback: top stuff.
    Victron: top stuff.
    SMA: top stuff.
    Magnum: a few emerging complaints.
    Schenider/Xantrex/Conext: a lot of complaints.

    That would be the major brands of inverter-chargers.

    All are 'stackable' and so will have some form of communication between inverters.
    Outback has the best integration of inverters & controllers (all within the same brand).
    SMA has the best AC coupling system.

    MidNite does not make inverters (yet) but they have the best MPPT charge controllers.

    Of course some people feel my opinions, based as they are on the information related from hundreds of users not just one, aren't valid. :p
  • alexf1852alexf1852 Registered Users Posts: 8
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    More details...I'm planning to use one inverter to power my small house and the other to power my parent's small house. Since panels are cheap, we bought 42 280W panels (36 Vmp, 45Voc).
    My parent's power needs are significantly less than mine. Both inverters will be in the range of 3600W to 4500W. Both will be the same capacity since the cost doesn't differ much in capacity of inverter. I'm not opposed to going with a single inverter with larger capacity. In this scenario, I would think I could use two charge controllers to charge a single larger bank of batteries.

    I plan to over-panel the controllers and place some facing east and some facing west as to not overpower the controllers.

    If I go the dual route, I plan for each controller to charge a 48V single string bank. 1 bank will have a minimum of 400ah. The other will have a minimum of 250ah for my parent's house. Any issues with having unequal battery capacities. I can see that I wouldn't be able to parallel them if one inverter or charge controller were to fail. This alone might be the best reason to make both strings equal capacity.

    Anyways, back to the topic. Any issues with Outback inverters and Midnite Solar controllers? Do they communicate with each other? Do they need to? How about warranty? The FlexPower Two seems like an attractive option. But doesn't look like their VFX inverters or charge controllers have upgradable firmware.
  • westbranchwestbranch Solar Expert Posts: 5,183 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    How close are the houses?
     
    KID #51B  4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM
    CL#29032 FW 2126/ 2073/ 2133 175A E-Panel WBjr, 3 x 4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM 
    Cotek ST1500W 24V Inverter,OmniCharge 3024,
    2 x Cisco WRT54GL i/c DD-WRT Rtr & Bridge,
    Eu3/2/1000i Gens, 1680W & E-Panel/WBjr to come, CL #647 asleep
    West Chilcotin, BC, Canada
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    Outback inverters and MidNite controllers do not communicate with each other. However, you usually do not need this ability.

    How far apart are the two houses? It sounds as though you believe it would be possible to run AC lines between the two, and that would be mean close together. Despite that I'd suggest two separate systems for the redundancy factor; if one goes down the other can power that house.

    Outback inverters range up to 3600 Watts for the FX series. You can stack them, but then the cost gets very high. Although it might be possible under the circumstances to use two together like this: share the power potential between the two homes and still have a degree of redundancy in the event one should fail.

    Otherwise if you need a 4kW to 6kW inverter you will be looking at other brands. Outback makes an 8kW Radian (and now a 4kW one I just noticed).

    Let's look at it from the panels you've already got: forty-two 280 Watt units. 11,760 Watts. That's a lot of panel. Divided in two (odd number per) 5880 Watts. On a 48 Volt system: 94 Amps peak current. You're looking at either two controllers each system or dividing it up differently or reducing/increasing panels or clipping power.

    Anyway that's 940 Amp hours battery capacity, or up to 22kW hours @ 50% DOD. Lots of power there.

    What you really need, as always, is a Watt hour consumption number to plan around.
  • john pjohn p Solar Expert Posts: 814 ✭✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    Cariboocoot your opinions are reliable and well accepted..
    My only complaint is when you or anyone states such and such inverter,charge controller is the best. Far to many variables .To say that,as different people have different requirements.
    Its like saying A Bugatti is the best car.Its about the fastest production car so that makes it best to some. but try carrying 8 people from New York to Dalas in one.. A Toyota Terago is one of the best for that.. This is only example and subject to availability and time of year.
  • alexf1852alexf1852 Registered Users Posts: 8
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    westbranch wrote: »
    How close are the houses?

    About 30 ft. apart. The panels will be mounted on raised posts on the ground. There's nothing to block the sun. I will be having a small block room built for batteries and electronics.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    alexf1852 wrote: »
    About 30 ft. apart. The panels will be mounted on raised posts on the ground. There's nothing to block the sun. I will be having a small block room built for batteries and electronics.

    You know what you could do here? One Outback Radian 8kW. It's like two 4kW inverters - literally; if half fails the other half still works. The houses could share power no problem. One side needs a little extra to start a pump or run A/C: the power is there.

    Then you'd have a central battery bank that all charge controllers would connect to. Easier to configure arrays because of no worry about which system needs more capacity.

    But it would still be a good idea to figure out how much power you want. Or go with the max the panels can provide (note 940 Amp hour battery bank happens to work well with an 8kW inverter that needs at least 800 Amp hours).
  • zonebluezoneblue Solar Expert Posts: 1,218 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    I agree: one system. Radian, XW, or dual vfx. XW/Radian's main additional strength over dual vfx, is its grid interactivity modes. Which you may or may not need. You can also use the grid modes to do generator support, but sounds like you will be good for power. Two midnite classic 150s should be enough. They can do about 4.5kW each, and for virtual tracker that wont be far off. I doubt youd ever recover the "lost" kW by adding a thrid controller.

    And Ill second third the load budget. If you dont do it, you wont have a benchmark to compare performance to, wont know where to expect surpises etc.

    Midnite controllers with whizbang: way cheaper than FM80 plus hub plus mate, plus flexnet. Better features, even if it wont talk to the outback stuff.

    These are rough ideas based on the little we know about your system. Thus best you spell out some more about the constraints/requirements you have.
    1.8kWp CSUN, 10kWh AGM, Midnite Classic 150, Outback VFX3024E,
    http://zoneblue.org/cms/page.php?view=off-grid-solar


  • mike95490mike95490 Solar Expert Posts: 9,021 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    I plan to over-panel the controllers and place some facing east and some facing west as to not overpower the controllers.

    And what is the current wisdom about mixed alignment arrays on the same MPPT controller ??
    Powerfab top of pole PV mount | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
    || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
    || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

    solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
    gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister ,

  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    mike95490 wrote: »
    And what is the current wisdom about mixed alignment arrays on the same MPPT controller ??

    It's not a problem.
    Trust me on this; I've just been testing mixed arrays on an MX60 and was pleasantly surprised at the results. Unfortunately the fire smoke moved in before I could finish the tests.

    The newer MPPT controllers (which adjust continually) will have even less issue with arrays facing different directions. The arrays should be matched on Vmp for best results.
  • alexf1852alexf1852 Registered Users Posts: 8
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    I did start out with a power consumption estimate. I'm near the 7.8kwh mark. My parents 4.2kwh. These are max figures considering that we are not going to use Air conditioning or water heaters on the system. When I calculated the battery capacity needed at 20% DOD w/ 5 days autonomy, the cost was huge. So we backed off to 40% DOD w/ 1 day of autonomy. Hopefully we can manage our power usage to keep the battery health up for 5-7 years. We plan to have a generator to help out with heavy loads or charging in a pinch. Where we are going to be, it has a lengthy rainy season. Hence my consideration of over-paneling the controllers with some panels offset.

    So two controllers charging a single large bank is not a problem? The controllers will talk to each other when charging?
  • alexf1852alexf1852 Registered Users Posts: 8
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    It's not a problem.
    Trust me on this; I've just been testing mixed arrays on an MX60 and was pleasantly surprised at the results. Unfortunately the fire smoke moved in before I could finish the tests.

    The newer MPPT controllers (which adjust continually) will have even less issue with arrays facing different directions. The arrays should be matched on Vmp for best results.

    This is good to hear. All my panels are the same model.
  • alexf1852alexf1852 Registered Users Posts: 8
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    I should mention that there is no option for grid power at my place.
  • westbranchwestbranch Solar Expert Posts: 5,183 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    alexf1852 wrote: »
    So two controllers charging a single large bank is not a problem? The controllers will talk to each other when charging?

    Not a problem if they are MN ( MidNite) Classics in Follow Me mode and even better with a Whiz Bang jr...
     
    KID #51B  4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM
    CL#29032 FW 2126/ 2073/ 2133 175A E-Panel WBjr, 3 x 4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM 
    Cotek ST1500W 24V Inverter,OmniCharge 3024,
    2 x Cisco WRT54GL i/c DD-WRT Rtr & Bridge,
    Eu3/2/1000i Gens, 1680W & E-Panel/WBjr to come, CL #647 asleep
    West Chilcotin, BC, Canada
  • ZoNiEZoNiE Solar Expert Posts: 100 ✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    Just a noob here, but Midnight stuff talks to a mac. That's a good place for me to start, and any time industry veterans get together and do their own thing, so much the better.

    uh... What's a Toyota Terago?

    I once had a person ask me about my truck in a parking lot. Some girl walked by and interrupted and said her Prius was the best car. I asked her if it could tow my 3 Ton trailer. No response.:p

    john p wrote: »
    Cariboocoot your opinions are reliable and well accepted..
    My only complaint is when you or anyone states such and such inverter,charge controller is the best. Far to many variables .To say that,as different people have different requirements.
    Its like saying A Bugatti is the best car.Its about the fastest production car so that makes it best to some. but try carrying 8 people from New York to Dalas in one.. A Toyota Terago is one of the best for that.. This is only example and subject to availability and time of year.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    alexf1852 wrote: »
    I did start out with a power consumption estimate. I'm near the 7.8kwh mark. My parents 4.2kwh. These are max figures considering that we are not going to use Air conditioning or water heaters on the system. When I calculated the battery capacity needed at 20% DOD w/ 5 days autonomy, the cost was huge. So we backed off to 40% DOD w/ 1 day of autonomy. Hopefully we can manage our power usage to keep the battery health up for 5-7 years. We plan to have a generator to help out with heavy loads or charging in a pinch. Where we are going to be, it has a lengthy rainy season. Hence my consideration of over-paneling the controllers with some panels offset.

    So two controllers charging a single large bank is not a problem? The controllers will talk to each other when charging?

    Okay the first thing you drop is the notion of 5 days autonomy. That is just a big waste of money for most people. You have to think like this: 25% DOD daily leaves you 25% more for day two if needed and then start the generator on day three. This idea, coupled with some understanding of local weather conditions, will see you through better. For example in habitually cloudy areas you can over-panel the controllers, set a current limit on them, and have at least partial charging capacity on less-than-sunny days. This is without buying a huge battery bank. That is something to be avoided, especially if most of the time it just sits there as wasted capacity dying slowly with time (which it is going to do no matter what).

    So 12 kW hours capacity on a 48 Volt system (278 Amp hours) with 25% DOD is around 1200 Amp hours. Now if some of that load is during daylight when batteries are charged (and it can be with some management) then that can be adjusted downwards. You also have some "fudge factor" from using the nominal system Voltage for the calculation; there will be capacity added when batteries are above that Voltage.

    With forty-two 280 Watt panels you have nearly twice as much PV as you need. That's not a bad thing.
  • mike95490mike95490 Solar Expert Posts: 9,021 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    alexf1852 wrote: »
    ....So two controllers charging a single large bank is not a problem? The controllers will talk to each other when charging?

    Not a problem, each controller reads the battery bank voltage, and if they are set the same, they will work pretty well with each other.
    Powerfab top of pole PV mount | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
    || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
    || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

    solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
    gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister ,

  • alexf1852alexf1852 Registered Users Posts: 8
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    You know what you could do here? One Outback Radian 8kW. It's like two 4kW inverters - literally; if half fails the other half still works. The houses could share power no problem. One side needs a little extra to start a pump or run A/C: the power is there.

    Then you'd have a central battery bank that all charge controllers would connect to. Easier to configure arrays because of no worry about which system needs more capacity.

    But it would still be a good idea to figure out how much power you want. Or go with the max the panels can provide (note 940 Amp hour battery bank happens to work well with an 8kW inverter that needs at least 800 Amp hours).

    How good is the Radian hardware? Is it better than the FX inverters? More reliable?
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    alexf1852 wrote: »
    How good is the Radian hardware? Is it better than the FX inverters? More reliable?

    It's actually based on the FX inverters. Just adjusted to be the equivalent of four of them stacked to give 240 VAC and 8kW of output. They have not been available for very long so there is no real track record on them yet. As a whole Outback equipment has proven to be very dependable.
  • vtmapsvtmaps Solar Expert Posts: 3,738 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    It's actually based on the FX inverters. Just adjusted to be the equivalent of four of them stacked to give 240 VAC and 8kW of output.

    I think they've added 4 kw radians to their line. --vtMaps
    4 X 235watt Samsung, Midnite ePanel, Outback VFX3524 FM60 & mate, 4 Interstate L16, trimetric, Honda eu2000i
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands
    vtmaps wrote: »
    I think they've added 4 kw radians to their line. --vtMaps

    Yes I see that. Same principle but slightly smaller power package. It's good. :D
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    1 warning and 1 piece of advice.

    the warning-do not tie all pvs together to go to more than 1 controller with a common battery bank. you are planning to split the array up so dedicate 1 array to 1 controller and the other array to the other controller. no pv should be connected to more than 1 cc.

    the advice-(noting that i don't know where you are) for split arrays if you are in areas of the world near the equator the east/west arrays will be perfect. as you go far enough away from the equator like those in northern u s or in canada the winter exposure window (sunup to sunset) will be narrower. that means you won't reap much power by aiming east or west. if this is the case then a good compromise may be southeast and southwest so that both arrays can still collect enough from the sun in the narrow exposure window. ideally you don't want the arrays to point outside the boundaries of which your solar window will be in its worst case. this is of course for a place occupied during the worst case as a place empty will not pose much of a draw to the batteries and can be left at angles better suited to summer windows of insolation. also note that the sun will sit lower in the sky when aiming off from south so you don't want to put it at the solar noon angle.
  • alexf1852alexf1852 Registered Users Posts: 8
    Re: Top Inverter and Charge Controller brands

    I will be dividing up the PV panels between two controllers. The location is near Belmopan, Belize. The home will be occupied year round.
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