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Old 16-09-2012, 02:56   #1
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Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

Our battery isolator diodes just died, prompting me to look, once again, at our battery charging setup which has led, once again, to more confusion. So I am hoping that someone might be able to help us to optimize our system. This is a long post but I hope the discussion will prove useful to many people as I am sure I am not the only one struggling to get this right!

We are on a Leopard 42 catamaran. Living on board. If it is sunny and windy we are 100% sufficient with our wind and solar energy. At other times we have to run the engines every day or two.

We have 3 East Penn AGM batteries rated at 198Ahr @20hr and 1110 CCA for our house batteries.

We have two Yanmar 34 engines. Each has a 90amp alternator and its own 90Ahr wet cell battery. The alternators have their bolted-on field regulators. The alternators go to a diode isolator, and from that go to charge the engine battery and the house batteries. I notice that, despite the fact we have 90 Amp alternators, I rarely get more than 20 amps of charging. I believe that this is because we have traditional regulators instead of multi-stage, and that the latter would give me much higher charging current up until it reaches the float stage?

Our background draw is 6amps for the freezer. If we run the laptop (which we do, quite a bit) the draw adds another 4amps. In the evening, with our LED cabin lights on and the laptop going, our draw is upto about 14 amps. Typically overnight on a calm night I believe we use about 45 AHr.

We also have two BP Solar SX170B 170 watt solar panels, connected to a BlueSky Solar Boost 3024i and an IPN-ProRemote.

And then we have an Eclectic DM400 wind generator, connected to a 6TB voltage regulator with diversion resistors. This regulator is, I believe, an all-or-nothing regulator, ie either all the current goes to the batteries, or all the current goes to the diversion resistors.

So, potentially we can have 4 sources of charging occurring at one time: 2 alternators (though we rarely run both engines at the same time) plus the solar panels plus the wind generator - all of these going through their own different regulators which are, no doubt, decreasing each other's efficiency.

We also have a Xantrex/Heart Interface Freedom 20 charger/inverter which has a Xantrex basic remote control panel

All of these pass through the shunt that is monitored by our IPN-Pro Remote monitor, which adds up all the current in and out to provide our current battery levels. However, only the solar boost is actually controlled by the IPN-remote.

As I said, one of our isolation diodes has died (excessive voltage drop leading to the house battery), so that engine no longer contributes. From what I have read so far, this is what I believe I need to be doing:

1) Replace the two isolator diodes with two series regulators. Anyone have recommendations on which to use (eg Balmar duo charge, Xantrex echo charge, etc) bearing in mind that we have wet cell starter batteries and AGM house batteries?

2) Replace the bolt-on regulators with multi-step regulators.
a) Do we need two? Or is it possible to put two alternators through one regulator?
b) Does the series regulator get wired in between the alternator and multi-stage regulator, or between the multi-stage regulator and the house battery?
c) Recommendations on which brand of multi-stage regulator?

Questions that remain:

If we have the solar and possibly wind generator producing output at the same time:

1) Does the output from them interfere with each other? ie do we get less charging from our solar panel when the wind gen is producing output? Looking at the monitor, it does not appear to be the case, as I can see the current go up when we get a gust of wind. Presumably if the charging voltage (voltage at battery terminals) is still below the threshold, then the solar boost will still operate on maximum charge?

2) Does the output from the two impede the charging rate from a multi-stage alternator regulator? Again, presumably not, provided the terminal voltage is still below the threshold.

3) Are there other tweaks we could be making to make the system more efficient?

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

Noel
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Old 16-09-2012, 06:17   #2
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

You seem to have a very similar set up to mine with a few exceptions. I don't have the wind generator yet and my yanmar alternators are only 55 amps and I don't have the blocking diodes. I do find that my charging sources do intrefere with each other, but only when above about 80% of charge when the charging voltages are approaching 14V. The various regulators read each other's output voltage rather than the actual battery voltage. I have a different model Xantrax charger, but I notice that every 10 minutes or so it shuts down charging to read the battery voltage. If there is no other charging source it returns to full output, but if there's voltage available from one of the other sources it definitely throttles back as it interprets the higher voltage as the batteries being at a higher SOC. The isolator diodes definitely have a voltage drop associated with them. If your alternator field coil is measuring the voltage on the alternator side it will interpret this to b a higher state of charge. I have a friend who had a similar problem because of the voltage drop associated with having his house bank at the end of some very long (22 feet) charging cables that were undersized for the distance. He could not get a full charge on his batteries from the engine as regulators were shutting down prematurely. He moved the sensing wire to the battery bank and the problem was solved. It would seem that you might have a similar problem with your alternator regulators. I have a Bluesky 2512x and the ipn-proremote. I have had a difficult time adjusting the 2512x to get a full charge on my AGM batteries as it prematurely switches to float mode. I've talked to technical support about the problem and they tell me that this is the way it is supposed to work. The acceptance phase voltage threshold is factory defaulted to 1.5V/100 ah. If the panel cannot maintain at least that amperage at the set acceptance voltage it immediately switches to float mode. So once it gets to acceptance voltage if a cloud goes by the thing immediately switches to float and won't switch back until you go back into bulk mode. When it switches to float mode it immediately tells me that i'm at 100% charge on my IPN remote, though clearly I am not. I have lowered the threshold amperage to .5v per 100ah, but it does not solve the problem if the fridge is running. Frankly the charging algorthm seems to be too simple minded for the real world.

You have clerly identified a major problem in the multisource battery charging world. That is there is no integrated charging system that can monitor and control all of the charging sources. Bluesky actually has the basic components of an integrated system for solar and wind. Their controllers can be connected together on a simple communications bus. One controller becomes the master and the others are the slaves. Only the master measures the SOC and tells the other controllers on the bus what voltage to put out. The only problem is that they need to add a couple of new items to their product line. The first is a multistage regulator for alternators and the second is a battery charger. Of course they also need to change their chaging algorthm to allow for a cloud to pass by without switching to float mode.

I have personally not made a decision yet on what alternator regulators to get so I look forward to hearing some of the other input you get.
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Old 16-09-2012, 06:31   #3
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

Noel:

First, multiple sources of charging with each having their own regulator don't really interfere with each other. If you add up all of their potential current output you won't get that much current going to your batteries. But that is more problem of your batteries ability to accept all of that current. If you had one very large source of charging current, it would supply roughly as much as the multiples ones connected in parallel.

Yes you do need at least one external regulator as running an interally regulated alternator will take forever to charge. But Yanmar alternators do not have external connections for one. You can have a shop modify the Yanmar but you would be better off with a high output alternator. Balmar, Hamilton Ferris, Ample Power make them. Balmar makes a good regulator. I have one on the port engine of my cat (Yanmar 3gm30fs) and after a number of years I will switch it to the stbd engine to equalize hours. You can set up with two high output alternators and Balmar makes one regulator that handles two alternators, but I would prefer the redundency of two regulators. But like I said one high output alternator works for me.

The Balmar Duo Charge is probably the best to use with multiple battery types, but there really isn't enough difference to matter between AGMs and flooded cell types. An Echo Charger will also work but it just drops the voltage a bit to the starting battery whereas the DuoCharge lets you set the battery type and supplies the appropriate voltage.

But your Freedom 20 has an internal "Echo Charge" that does exactly the same thing as a separate one. Read your owners manual and you will find a 15 amp starting battery supply connection. It works independently of the inverter/charge, ie any charging current source connected to the battery will trigger the EC output once the voltage rises to about 13.5 V.

To use any of these you will need to wire all charging sources straight to the house bank with no connection to the starting batteries. Then use the Duo Charge, Echo Charge or built in Echo Charge on the Freedom to keep the starting batteries topped off. That way you do not need isolators. The DC/EC keeps them isolated.

David
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Old 16-09-2012, 07:25   #4
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

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Originally Posted by djmarchand View Post
Noel:

First, multiple sources of charging with each having their own regulator don't really interfere with each other. If you add up all of their potential current output you won't get that much current going to your batteries. But that is more problem of your batteries ability to accept all of that current. If you had one very large source of charging current, it would supply roughly as much as the multiples ones connected in parallel.

Yes you do need at least one external regulator as running an interally regulated alternator will take forever to charge. But Yanmar alternators do not have external connections for one. You can have a shop modify the Yanmar but you would be better off with a high output alternator. Balmar, Hamilton Ferris, Ample Power make them. Balmar makes a good regulator. I have one on the port engine of my cat (Yanmar 3gm30fs) and after a number of years I will switch it to the stbd engine to equalize hours. You can set up with two high output alternators and Balmar makes one regulator that handles two alternators, but I would prefer the redundency of two regulators. But like I said one high output alternator works for me.

The Balmar Duo Charge is probably the best to use with multiple battery types, but there really isn't enough difference to matter between AGMs and flooded cell types. An Echo Charger will also work but it just drops the voltage a bit to the starting battery whereas the DuoCharge lets you set the battery type and supplies the appropriate voltage.

But your Freedom 20 has an internal "Echo Charge" that does exactly the same thing as a separate one. Read your owners manual and you will find a 15 amp starting battery supply connection. It works independently of the inverter/charge, ie any charging current source connected to the battery will trigger the EC output once the voltage rises to about 13.5 V.

To use any of these you will need to wire all charging sources straight to the house bank with no connection to the starting batteries. Then use the Duo Charge, Echo Charge or built in Echo Charge on the Freedom to keep the starting batteries topped off. That way you do not need isolators. The DC/EC keeps them isolated.

David
Pretty much what David said, but the diode isolator with internal regulation, is the major reason that you don't get any power out of your alternators. Your alternator output is like 14.1V, and the 0.6v voltage drop across the diodes means that your batteries only see 13.5v. If you wire direct to the house battery, you will probably see 50 amps per engine if the batteries are down. The other solution is external regulation with the sense voltage coming from the battery, which means the regulator drives the alternator at 14.7 v so that the battery sees 14.1v.
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Old 16-09-2012, 08:01   #5
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

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Originally Posted by Captain Bill View Post
I have had a difficult time adjusting the 2512x to get a full charge on my AGM batteries as it prematurely switches to float mode.
.
This is one of the very few conficlicts that occurs with multiple charging sources. It's due to the inflexibility of blue skies battery return amps setting (BTW its 1.5A /100AHrs)
You can fit some of the Blue Sky models with an external shunt so it can use the true battery return amps, which should solve the problem, but this is not an option on all their models.
BlueSky should really add a software option that allows this setting to be disabled.

You can minimise the effects by:
1.Setting the battery return amps as low as possible (as you have already done).

2.Setting the battery size as small as possible (the battery % will then be incorrect, but amp hours in and out will still be accurate)

3.Setting the battery return voltage at a high level (this is not adjustable on all regulators)
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Old 17-09-2012, 02:59   #6
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

Thanks for some excellent comments!

Interesting what you say, Captain Bill, about the cloud passing overhead. I have noticed that my IPN ProRemote will suddenly jump from 70% to 100%. However, I had put this down to it getting out of sync with the battery on account of its various fudge factors. For instance, on going through the settings the other day I noticed that the self-discharge rate was set at 12%pm (for wet cell) whereas it should be 2%pm for an AGM (according to Nigel Calder). So that fudge factor would have put the current SOC lower than reality which, to my mind, explained the sudden jump from 70% to 100%. Now I have set that correctly, it will be interesting to see how it performs.

I had understood that it had to remain at the 1.5amp/100AHr for a period of time (couple of hours) before it reset to 100%. I have noticed that sometimes it will be blinking at me (indicating float mode) for a while, and then some load kicks in and the voltage drops and it goes back to bulk, but it doesn't reset the SOC to 100% at that time. Mine does read off an external shunt, so that may explain the difference.

I didn't realize that the Freedom 20 has an echo charge built in. Very interesting. I need to go study the manual (again). However, presumably that would only do for one starting battery, so the other would still need its own echo charge? Otherwise the two starter batteries wouldn't be isolated from each other. It also means running another long cable from the battery to the Freedom.

As David says, it is a shame that BlueSky don't have alternator and wind regulators that can also plug into their IPN network bus. It would seem to make sense to have all the regulators coordinated, but I guess each company specializes in different types of regulators. <sigh>.

Don is right about the voltage drop, it does indeed take forever to charge up the batteries. I could never understand why people kept talking about high output alternators when I could only get 20amps out of my 90amp one. With the dead diode preventing any charging, I temporarily took out both the diodes and the starter battery so the alternator was charging only the house battery directly. I did indeed see almost 50amps with the batter at 60%. And the higher charge rate persisted much longer as the battery charged up. But a multi-step would still, I believe, do a better job.

So, conclusion seems to be:

1) replace diodes with Duo Charge or Echo Charge
2) get at least one external multi-stage regulator, such as Balmar's
3) maybe get a high output alternator
4) wind, solar and alternators probably don't interfere with each other significantly

Cool. Now I just have to figure out how to get the parts out here:-)

Thanks for everyone's help!

Noel
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Old 17-09-2012, 05:33   #7
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

I have an external shunt for my IPN-Proremote so I'm pretty sure about the amps in and amps out. I forgot to mention one other charge interference I have. The guys that built my boat hooked my genset to the house batteries instead of the start batteries. The genset diesel has a 12v battery charger built in that produces about 10 amps through it's own regulator. When I'm charging with the genset and Xantrax battery charger I initially see about 50 amps. This is good at the beginning, but the Xantrax stops charging every once in a while to look at the battery voltage. When it does it sees the voltage from the genset start circuit, not the actual battery voltage. If I watch the voltages and shut down the genset the voltage is substatially below what it is with the genset running, in the order of .5 to 1v. Consequently the "smarts" in the battery charger are fooled into thinking the battery is at a higher SOC than it really is and reduces its output. Essentially I am unable to get a 100% charge from my genset in anything approaching a normal lifetime. Unfortunately the genset start circuit cable is buried in a bundle and is very difficult to access otherwise I wouldhave moved it to the start bank already.

The consequence of my inability to get a true full charge while on the hook is that my batteries are already showing significant reductions in capacity and they won't even be 3 months old until next week. They are Concorde Lifelines so I can do an equalization on them which is supposed to restore them, but I need to get them to 100% before applying the equalization voltage. The last time I was plugged into shore power was late July so undercharging really screws them up fast. When they were new a discharge of 120ah out of the 420 ah bank left me with 12.5-12.6V even with a 5A load (fridge). Now a 65 ah discharge leaves me at 12.3 with just the background load. The background load as I call it are the various leds in the panel, and the water pump and fridge control circuits etc. which seem to total about .5a.
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Old 17-09-2012, 08:50   #8
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

Quote:
You can set up with two high output alternators and Balmar makes one regulator that handles two alternators, but I would prefer the redundency of two regulators.
A point that was not made clear is that the Balmar MC-612-Dual regulator is designed to control two alternators on the same engine.
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Old 17-09-2012, 11:43   #9
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

Noel:

I don't think that you need two Echo Chargers for two starting batteries. You could run the EC output to the two starting batteries in parallel. You need to put a 20 amp fuse (if you use 14 gauge or bigger wire) at each battery. The only downside of this is if one starting battery develops a bad cell, it could discharge the other battery, so you loose a bit of redundancy this way.

And remember you can't hook an external multistage regulator to the Yanmar's (made by Hitachi) alternator without taking it to a shop and bringing the field terminals out the back of the case.

Otherwise your electrical upgrade plan seems sound.

David
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Old 17-09-2012, 16:35   #10
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Noel,
I don't know if this will help but let me describe my set up. My house bank is 4 Trojan T-105's 6 volts couple in series & paralleled to make (1) 450 amp bank. These are wet cells. I also have 1 AGM battery for starting my Perkins 4-108. When I bought the boat it had the typical battery switch ( 1-2-combine) connected to a battery isolator. The solar panel was wired to the isolator along with the alternator and the Charles battery charger didn't work. The alternator was a Balmar 90 coupled to their model ARS III smart regulator. I was reading a lot about problems with battery isolators and voltage drop and I could never go more than 2 or 3 days with out charging the batteries.

Bought the boat in 07 and over the years after reading a lot and amassing the parts this summer I attacked the charging system. I rewired the solar panel and installed a Blue Skies Solar Boost 2000 regulator. I simplified the wiring to the batteries and installed proper over current protection. I installed an Air-Breeze wind generator. I replaced the battery switch with a Blue Sea switch that separates the house from the starting circuit and I installed a Blue Sea SL Battery ACR.

All of my charging sources connect to the house bank. When the engine is running the amps drive up the voltage to the point where the ACR combines my house bank and start battery. When I shut off the engine the voltage drops below a set threshold and separates the house and start circuits. It works the same for the wind, solar & shoreside battery charger. I eliminated the isolator. Between the solar panel, wind generator & alternator I can be anchored for quite awhile without running the engine. Now I haven't done any ocean cruising so this set up might not be enough. My most power hungry accessory is refrigeration. I have also reduced my power demand as much as possible with LED lights. I hope this helps.

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Old 19-09-2012, 20:41   #11
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

Noel

The previous posts about the diodes cutting voltage to .6V are true and they interfere with your monitors' ability to cahrge/monitor battery voltage at the batteries. Here are a couple of thoughts:

-Different battery charging systems sometimes interfere with each other: you are running the engine(s) and the IPN senses higher voltage at the batteries and reduces PV output, gusty winds in the wind turbine momentarily raises the voltage at the batteries and the IPN reduces Pv output again, etc

- batteries that are charged to a higher degree do not readily accept high charging current - do you have a way to monitor the true state of batteries' charge? The IPN PRo does not do that unless you connect all your batteries thru it's (double?) shunt - might not be enough space on the shunt!

-A Xantrex LInk Pro battery monitoring unit will count the amps in/amps out of the batteries and Net them. It is compatible with the Freedom 20 / Heart systems. Hence, it will be a 2 shunt system. I could not do it with one on our boat.

-The wind generators' "all or nothing" regulator might cut curent production if it senses higher voltage at the batteries- can it be adjusted to a higher voltage?

-The ACR was mentioned and I believe it is a great idea: put all the charging on the house batteries and when they reach a higher voltage it automatically combines the start and house batts and isolates them when the voltage gets low to a certain point for about 30 seconds. Hence no accidental draining the start batteries. I put a on/off switch on our ACR and that helps in some instances such as when I really want to top off the house batteries or want to equalize them with the IPN, etc.

Hope that helps
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Old 20-09-2012, 04:50   #12
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

Thanks again for the input

My alternators are Leece-Neville which have a bolted on regulator. So it is easy to remove that and connect a separate regulator.

Nigel Calder says that the ACR's are ok if the batteries are of the same type. If they are different - eg Wet cell and AGM - then one is better off with the series regulator (eg duo charge).

Would it work using just one echo charge for both starters? I guess that would put the two starters into parallel with each other, so the risk is if one of the batteries dies it would drain the other? So if I have an echo charge built in to the Freedom, all I need to do is take a long proper-sized cable (10 guage?) from the Freedom aux battery output to the positive terminal of each starter? That would be nice and simple, and cheap to do.

The current in and out of the starter batteries is not monitored. Everything going in and out of the house batteries goes through the IPN shunt and is monitored. On the starter batteries all I have is a simply analogue voltage meter.

As far as I can see the regulator for the wind gen is not adjustable and is set at somewhere around 14.2v so that rarely kicks in as most of the time my batteries are in the 60% to 80% range. So I think that most of the time the wind and solar are not conflicting. Certainly, if a gust comes, the amperage goes up. If I switch off the solars, the amperage goes down, suggesting that both are working concurrently.

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Old 20-09-2012, 15:41   #13
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

Good point -the combining of different types of batteries is not a good idea - they require different voltages to properly charge.

NOt sure how your start batteries are connected - can you combine them or are they permanently isolated? You are correct in stating that if accidentally left combined, the weaker one would become a load on the other. I would think it would be a good idea to keep them separated but in case one gets drained, combining them would enable you to start the engine with the weaker battery. This could also be done with the house (even better) where you would combine the faulty start batt with the more powerful house bank.
Insofar as the cable, gauge is determined by the length of cable run...10 gauge is pretty small for starter cables unles it is a really short run (less than 1'?)

Also not sure if you are staring both engines together... then it would be a big load on the start batts if one of them is weaker. It seems to me safer to start each engine separately if one of the start batts is weak...

One the wind gen, is 14.2 the kick-in or the cut-off voltage? If it cuts off at 14.2, you could remove the regulator and let the wind gen keep charging since you are constantly at less than full capacity...when leaving the boat for a while, just turn it off and let the PVs keep the batts topped off (assuming you have a fuse inline)

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Old 21-09-2012, 03:26   #14
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

Well, on investigating further, it turns out that the Freedom 20 does indeed have two echo charge outputs AND they are already connected to my starter batteries. I always did wonder what those pink wires to the battery were about. Incidentally, they do look like about 10 guage, but I believe the charging current through there is never above 15 amp. The cables for actually starting the engines are, of course, big fat 0 gauge.

So now I am really puzzled as, looking at the wiring diagram in my boat manual (ie from the builder) I see that the echo charge wires are in there and also the isolator diodes. This doesn't seem to make any sense to me at all. Why would they have output from the alternator go to the battery isolator diodes then from there direct to the starter batter and also direct to the house batter which then inputs into the Freedom and comes back to the starter battery via the echo charge?

So I have disconnected both isolator diodes. Now the alternator goes to the house battery. From there it goes through the Freedom 20 echo charge to both starter batteries separately. The starter batteries are thus isolated from each other, and from the house batteries.

Seems to me that is job done and I didn't even have to buy anything. Though I still do want to get the multi-stage regulators for the alternators rather than continue to use the ordinary bolted on ones.

As for the wind gen, yes, it cuts off at 14.2 which means that most of the time it is indeed full on. doesn't seem to be any reason to change that, as I don't want to overcharge the batteries if we have a few days in a nice sunny and windy anchorage.
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Old 21-09-2012, 07:27   #15
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Re: Combining Solar, Wind and Alternators efficiently

"Why would they have output from the alternator go to the battery isolator diodes then from there direct to the starter batter and also direct to the house batter which then inputs into the Freedom and comes back to the starter battery via the echo charge?"

-Seems fine except the house and start batteries were permanently combined...did the builder or a subsequent owner do that?

" Now the alternator goes to the house battery. From there it goes through the Freedom 20 echo charge to both starter batteries separately. The starter batteries are thus isolated from each other, and from the house batteries. "

-This sounds better...your echo charger will keep the start batteries topped off with a small charge...yes, the 10 ga wire is enough. BTW, can house and starter batts still be combined via methods such as an isolator switch?

"As for the wind gen, yes, it cuts off at 14.2 which means that most of the time it is indeed full on. doesn't seem to be any reason to change that, as I don't want to overcharge the batteries if we have a few days in a nice sunny and windy anchorage. "

-When the batts are 100% charged, the 3024 will also turn the PV output off...hence only wind generator will keep charging...Unless it is a VERY windy day, the batts are completely topped off, no loads are placed at all on the batts then it is possible for the wind gen to bring the house batts to the 14. 2 regulator cut off point! Sounds more theoretical though...
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