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Old 31-12-2014, 18:48   #1
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Charging System Problem

Our charging system has been very reliable for the last four years when we started our circumnavigation but a problem has arisen that I can't figure out.

To charge our house bank of eight Trojan T-145 6-volt golf cart batteries (slightly over 1,000 amp hours at 12 volts), we have the following systems:

1. Single-cylinder Kubota 6-horsepower diesel that drives a 150-amp Delco Remy alternator with a Balmar Smart regulator.
2. Our Kubota has two alternators, a 100-amp and a 175-amp. The 100-amp just charges the starting battery and the 175-amp is wired to the house bank.
3. A brand new Victron Phoenix MultiPlus 12/3000/120 inverter/charger.
4. Two Kyocera 235-watt solar panels with a Morningstar MPPT controller.

About two months ago, we were anchored out and I was looking at our Xantrax LinkPro battery monitor and I said to my wife, "The genset is running great!" And precisely at that moment, its output fell to zero amps (that should teach me to keep my mouth shut). We sent the alternator in for repair and when it came back, it would start to output its full rated amount but would quickly taper down to 50 amps or so.

What is odd is that our 175-amp alternator on the Kubota is doing the exact same thing. And our brand new Victron will only output about 60 amps when it should be twice that. Our solar panel appear to be working normally.

At first, I presumed it was the batteries so I removed each battery cable and tested each battery independently with a battery load tester. Sure enough, one battery was bad so we replaced it with a new one of the exact same model as the rest (no small feat in Thailand). We still have the same problem. I have cleaned and tested all of the connections and all of the cables are good.

Whereas I don't like to admit it, we are power hogs and we easily go through 400 amps in a day (please, no lectures about this - I know how to solve that problem but the solution is completely impractical here and now). We are scheduled to start our passage across the Indian Ocean in about three weeks and our electrical usage goes up with the running of the autopilot and radar. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Fair winds, calm seas and Happy New Year.
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Old 31-12-2014, 19:16   #2
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Re: Charging System Problem

Could it possibly be a load problem? Maybe try unplugging/turning off everything and if that works turn on 1 outlet at a time. Good luck and Happy New Year.
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Old 31-12-2014, 19:21   #3
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Re: Charging System Problem

You haven't said anything about your alternator regulators; internal/external/make/settings. What is the battery voltage when the alternators cut back?
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Old 31-12-2014, 19:35   #4
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Re: Charging System Problem

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Originally Posted by DeepFrz View Post
You haven't said anything about your alternator regulators; internal/external/make/settings. What is the battery voltage when the alternators cut back?
The 175-amp Iskra alternator on the Kubota propulsion engine only has an internal regulator and is not adjustable. As I said, the Delco Remy alternator on the single-cylinder genset is regulated by a Balmar MC-614 external regulator. It's set for a 14.6 bulk voltage and a 13.2 float setting.

The voltage on the batteries remains very low when the amps drop - less than 13.5 volts but it couldn't be much higher as this happens so quickly after the genset or main engine is started - within just a couple of minutes.

Also, these changes seemed to have happened suddenly and not after some significant change had been made.

As far as loads go, do you think the amps would drop off because the load is high? I'm no electrical engineer but it would seem to me that if the load was high, the amps would increase but they're not - they're decreasing substantially.

Thanks for the help.
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Old 31-12-2014, 19:57   #5
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Re: Charging System Problem

Is it possible the outputs are dropping because of high alternator/battery temps.? The balmar MC614 regulator can be dialed back so that it will limit the output. You can do this using the Small Engine Mode which will limit the output to about 50%. You could use this as a diagnostic tool.

Is the 150 amp alternator driven by 1 or 2 belts, serpentine belt or direct drive? I suppose that when the load comes on the belt could start slipping. That should but many not be obvious. Is there lots of belt dust around?

Its best to work on one problem at a time. You may have several different problems or it may be one problem but focusing on one alternator at a time is the better way to go, IMO.
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Old 31-12-2014, 19:58   #6
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Re: Charging System Problem

BTW, Happy New Year...
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Old 31-12-2014, 20:03   #7
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Re: Charging System Problem

We have had several cruisers lately who have had their alternators bench tested and told they were good when they weren't so be aware that you may have to get into some detailed alternator trouble shooting. I wont be able to help you with that.
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Old 31-12-2014, 20:34   #8
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Re: Charging System Problem

Sounds to me very much like a battery problem. Could be that one or more of those T-145's has a shorted cell, or is otherwise unable to take a charge properly.

How old are the batteries?

Any chance you have access to a good conductance tester, like a Midtronics??

Assuming you've done all the obvious things, including verifying that all connections are clean and tight, and that you have no other way to check the remaining capacity of your batteries, you might try the following:

- get your batteries down to about 50-60% charge level (12.3-12.4 RESTING voltage)

- test the voltage of each individual battery; they should be very nearly the same

- if you find one or more with lower voltage than the others, disconnect it's pair from the bank

- start the engine or the generator and see what charging level you're getting

This procedure MIGHT help identify deficient battery or batteries in the bank.

Please note that 14.6VDC is a bit low for T-145s; Trojan recommends 14.8 to 15.0VDC. However, being in Thailand might mean the ambient temp is higher than normal, so the lower charging voltage might well be appropriate.

Bill
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Old 31-12-2014, 20:44   #9
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Re: Charging System Problem

I agree with Bill but want to reinforce the point he made about all connections being clean and tight. If you measure the output of the alternator right at the alternator terminals is it much higher than the battery terminal voltage? If so you may have a high resistance connection somewhere. For some reason the minus connections are most often the culprit. Check every connection very carefully. At 100A it only takes 5 milliohms to drop 0.5V.

When was the last time you equalized all the batteries? I don't like equalizing big parallel banks all at once. I like to equalize each parallel battery on its own if that's possible. Preferably I would equalize each 6V by itself but it would take over a week to do your bank like that and require a 6V equalizing charger which you probably don't have.
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Old 31-12-2014, 21:29   #10
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Re: Charging System Problem

Quote:
Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
Sounds to me very much like a battery problem. Could be that one or more of those T-145's has a shorted cell, or is otherwise unable to take a charge properly.

How old are the batteries?
The batteries are a little over four years old but they have lived a hard life with hundreds of deep cycles. However, a battery load tester showed that they were all good except for the one we replaced.

Any chance you have access to a good conductance tester, like a Midtronics??
I borrowed a friend's of mine tester (I don't remember the make of it) but he calls it his 'toaster' as it has huge coils in side it that get very hot when you're conducting a test. It doesn't test conductance per se but I felt it was able to accurately identify the defective battery.

Assuming you've done all the obvious things, including verifying that all connections are clean and tight, and that you have no other way to check the remaining capacity of your batteries, you might try the following:

- get your batteries down to about 50-60% charge level (12.3-12.4 RESTING voltage)

- test the voltage of each individual battery; they should be very nearly the same

- if you find one or more with lower voltage than the others, disconnect it's pair from the bank

- start the engine or the generator and see what charging level you're getting

This procedure MIGHT help identify deficient battery or batteries in the bank.

Please note that 14.6VDC is a bit low for T-145s; Trojan recommends 14.8 to 15.0VDC. However, being in Thailand might mean the ambient temp is higher than normal, so the lower charging voltage might well be appropriate.

Bill
DeepFrz's question about belt slippage is appropriate but if the 6-rib serpentine belt on the 150-amp alternator isn't banjo string tight, it squeals like a banshee.

It is very hot here in Thailand and the water temperature is frequently in the low 90s. Makes keeping cool difficult.

Thanks for everyone's assistance. I'll keep working on this as it's critical to solve before we depart.

Fair winds and calm seas.
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Old 31-12-2014, 23:02   #11
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Re: Charging System Problem

the fact that 2 different large alternators and your charger are putting low amps in. is probably a battery or cable issue. and not an issue with any of those 3 things.


when you are running your gen with low batteries. you should be getting 200+ amps in. since the gen alt and charger would be on together.


it's also possible that your battery monitor is out of sync. so the amps drop off when the monitor says the batteries are low. but really the batteries are at 95. or something like that. all of them cutting back at 90% + is normal




also keep in mind the battery monitor is showing you net amps into the battery.


if you have the 150a alternator going. and the battery monitor is showing +50. it's possible the alt is putting out 100a but you are using 50a in loads. netting 50 to the battery. which wouldn't be too bad.


best to have a clamp multi meter so you can read actual alternator or charger currents.
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Old 05-01-2015, 21:46   #12
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Re: Charging System Problem

Try putting an additional heavy load on the system, like using your windlass, and see if the output on your generator output rises.
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Old 05-01-2015, 21:51   #13
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Re: Charging System Problem

Any progress to report on this problem?
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