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Old 16-08-2009, 21:23   #1
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From My Design to My Installation: New AC Power System

So, it's time for a real and decent AC power system aboard Jedi. Our isolation transformer didn't isolate, the Freedom 30 inverter/charger is ancient technology and blew some diodes and I never liked it anyway, and we want 240V in addition to 120V. See s/v Jedi: Jedi AC power system (English) for the old system.

I decided to post my progress in a separate thread here. This first post has the system diagram and explanations about equipment selection. I attached the diagram to this post, click on the thumbnail for a bigger picture.

Every cruiser has a different view of comfort aboard. Some feel that it is good to go with the absolute minimum because that costs less and equipment that is not installed can't break. If you are like that, you will feel an urge to post about all this being foolish. That's cool, but remember that we are a couple of "kids" born in the 60's and raised in a big City with all luxuries and don't want to find out how bad we can make it while still surviving and loving the cruising life.... we want computers, DVD's, hot showers, clean clothes, A/C and loud rock music! ;-)

Due to circumstances, we have been in a marina for a year now.... after living 6 years at anchor or sailing. It's a very different experience. Yes, we like it at anchor better, but we are heading to places where we will have to moor more and anchor less.... we think.

When we are at anchor for some time, I always hang a "grouper zinc" overboard which saves the other (more expensive) zincs somewhat. I did the same in this marina and to my horror I find myself on the 2nd one after a year... the first one completely eaten away. I even get bad dreams about it.

Some time ago, there was another thread on this forum about the Victron 3600W isolation transformer. I was impressed by it (my background is in electrical and electronic engineering). My current transformer is a joke compared to it. So I had a good look at other Victron equipment and what users think of it and it's availability and decided to go ahead and order it.

About the diagram. For the past months this lived in my head but I just finished putting it in TurboCAD. In the rest of this post, I will explain the components from the diagram;

- Genset. Crucial for spoiled cruisers like us. We had a Northen Lights 6 kW and just replaced it with a brand new one, same model. Most 60 Hz gensets have two windings, both 120V. You can connect them in parallel for 120V output, or in series for 240V or 120/240V output. We connected ours in series and only take L1 and L2 (the two "hot" wires with 240V between them) out of it, leaving the neutral for what it is. The metal parts of the genset are connected to the boat-ground but there is no connection between ground and any windings. The output is a floating 240V.

- Isolation transformer. These are basically transformers with a center tap on both primary (input) and secondary (output) windings. You can step up to double the input voltage, step down to half the input voltage or keep the output voltage the same as the input. The special feature is that the protective ground (green wire) from shore stops inside this unit, ie. there is no connection between shore ground and boat ground, so no galvanic corrosion. Even better: there is no galvanic connection between the shore AC service and the boat AC service, making the whole boat installation much safer.
We keep the output of the transformer at 240V floating. This means that both output wires are hot (no connection of one of them to ground). We prefer to take 240V from shore so that we have less loss in the cable and less trouble with melting contacts in the plugs etc.

- Inverter/charger. Our setup is not a standard configuration. Most inverter/chargers would need internal modification which is not easy and voids warranty. Lucky for us, the Victron MultiPlus and Quattro units allow you to change the configuration with internal small (DIP) switches or even with a connected PC. The big difference with standard configuration is 1) 240V output, 2) 60Hz output and 3) no neutral (inputs and output are all floating). Compare this to our old Freedom unit: 120V output only but 60Hz and output neutral is grounded with an internal relay when inverter is switched on.
We have an EU version of the Quattro model. It's standard features are: 230V, 50Hz, 3000W, 12V DC, 120A battery charger, 50A AC input and a 2nd 30A AC input. You can change the inverter to 240V and 60Hz output.

- Autotransformer. This is almost the best part of it. An auto transformer has only one winding with center tap (or two equal windings in series). It is much like the windings in the genset. You connect the 240V floating AC to the winding and the center tap becomes the neutral. You create your own neutral. So after this, you have two hot wires with 240V between them (the auto-transformer only uses them, doesn't "change them") and a neutral that gives 120V between itself and any one of the hot wires. This connects to a standard 120/240V switchpanel, spreading/balancing the 120V consumers over both hot wires. I know this sounds like you can do without this transformer, so now the good stuff about it: the auto transformer (called AT from here on) takes care of any in-balance between the two hot wires, to a maximum of 32A. I will explain this with an example:

Let's say we connect our genset to supply the 120/240V directly. This means we pull two hots out of it (L1 and L2) and a neutral. Each hot can carry a maximum of 25A. If you would draw 20A out of each hot, you can't switch on another 120V 10A load because that would overload the genset winding (30A instead of max. 25A). But at the same time, you have 5A left in the other winding... you just can't use it.

Now the same scenario with the AT. You don't use the neutral from the genset, only the two hot wires. This means the genset is always balanced perfectly. There is no problem loading one hot wire with 20A and the other with 30A behind the AT. The genset only sees a 240V 25A draw and the inbalance is only 10A which is far below the AT maximum of 32A. You can take it much further: draw 40A from L1 and only 10A from L2. For the genset, this is still 25A at 240V and the in-balance is now 30A, still below the 32A max. of the AT.
The AT makes sure you can use all available power without worrying about balancing the two hot wires in a 120/240V setup.

There are many other ways to put an AT to use, like step up from 120V to 240V (connect input-hot to center tap, neutral top one side of the winding and get 240V between both sides of the winding).

The Victron AT has an relay that can connect the center tap to ground. The control signal comes from the inverter/charger; only connecting it to ground when the inverter switches on. In our setup, this isn't needed because everything in front of the AT is floating. Instead, we connect a jumper wire between the center tap of the AT and the boat ground, ie: it is always grounded.

- The 1500W inverter and the 50A charger. These are just there as a second system, backup or whatever you want to call it. Maybe we will use the inverter for light loads at night when I determine that is has less overhead (less draw from batteries) later. The charger is one of those "world" models so you can connect it to AC anywhere in the world, regardless of voltage and frequency. Nice for backup or when leaving the boat for a couple of weeks.

- The main panel service select breakers. Here I get a little tricky. Almost every AC panel have these: two double pole breakers with some slider that forces you to switch off one before you can switch on the other. They are intended for shore/generator or generator/inverter selection. I select between the main system and the small inverter. But now the tricky part: the main system is 120/240V and the small inverter is 120V only. The double-pole breaker for the main system has L1 on one pole and L2 on the other, at 25A breaker value. We don't put neutral on there for several reasons (need 3-pole breaker, neutral=jumpered hard to ground etc.). The second breaker, for the small inverter has a trick: one pole switches L; neutral isn't connected here either and the second pole inter-connects the two 120V bus bars of the panel (L1 and L2). This means that the output of the small inverter is available at all 120V breakers. You normally need two inverters for that, or an extra AT.

- The 12V wiring. Normally, the inverter (or inverter/charger but it is about the inverter part here) must be very close to the batteries. However, as you can see in the diagram (blue line), the inverter/charger is in the engine room and the batteries are in the main cabin. There is 30' of wire distance between them (30' positive and 30' negative). This means that the voltage drop becomes significant and full inverter output is not available. So, keep it as close to your batteries as possible!
We can get away with this for several reasons: we have 12V bus bars in the engine room in addition to the main ones in the cabin. The distance between them is 20', so 2/3 of the total length. The cables between these bus bars are two 4/0 for positive and two 4/0 for negative. A brute force solution with a lot of weight and cost. It also means that the voltage drop at 400A is 0.39V. A single 2/0 cable as often used would create a drop of 1.232V and would be overloaded at 400A.
The reason for these massive cables is the big alternators on the main engine for charging the house batteries (max. 440A output).

But there's more: who needs 3000W of inverter power? not us, normally. We select an inverter/charger first for charger output and this brings us to biggish units. The only use for 3000W inverter would be to power the water maker when the genset doesn't work, so in a fall-back scenario. Our batteries wouldn't handle that for long so we would run the main engine and it's 12V alternators provide the juice. And these alternators are connected to the same bus bars in the engine room, making the path to the inverter/charger very short again. (when two power sources are connected parallel, like alternators and batteries in this example, the source with the highest output voltage "wins" and supplies all the power). As long as the alternators output more than the inverter needs, no power from the batteries is used... instead, when the alternators generate more than the demand from the inverter, the rest is used for charging the batteries.

I know that there are more cruisers that select a high power inverter for this reason so keep this in mind. When your inverter is close to the batteries it is always better, because you can still use the output from the alternators as long as their voltage after the drop in the cabling is still more than the battery voltage (is easy, no brute force methods needed).

So, that's part one of it. My next update will be the wiring diagram, which I am working on now. I hope to show photo's with amps flowing soon ;-)

ciao!
Nick.
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Old 16-08-2009, 21:40   #2
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Old 17-08-2009, 00:05   #3
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Great explanation and your solutions all make sense. (I am also a Victron user and fan)

My only question is why complicate consumers with still providing 120V/60Hz service as well as your default 240V/50Hz)?

Perhaps it is your normal Marina location or an evolution from 120v original gear but most boats that do this eventually experience a user problem with a contractor’s power tool or a guest’s plug in ( a la Murphy) ruining the electrical consumer.

What I like about the Victron isolation gear is that you can step up to 240v from shore side and then manage both AC and DC from there to be default 240v supply.

Also 50Hz on a Gen (I have a Northern Lights 12kw) runs at the mechanically more dependable 1500rpm, which has less MTBF than the 1200 or 1800rpm 60Hz.
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Old 17-08-2009, 01:31   #4
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Pelagic,

Ah, the 240V is 60Hz, not 50Hz. Also, it doesn't have a neutral, both wires at hot. This is the US system as our boat is US built and all the "stuff" we have is 120V.

The US system is different in design from the rest of the world. In the EU, you have 230V 50Hz. This has a hot wire (the phase) and a neutral wire. The neutral is grounded, so 0V. This can be compared with the US 120V 60Hz. But the US 240V is an extra hot wire, which is shifted 180 degrees from the first hot wire. Both hot wires have 120V to neutral, but between the two hot wires is 240V. Next step is 3-phase, which is comparable with EU again (but 208V instead of 380V).

For generator: yes, 1500 rpm is nice for the diesel part. But it also means you loose about 20% power output from the otherwise same genset. Our 6kW at 60Hz/1800RPM becomes a 5kW at 50Hz/1500RPM. I kind of think the 1800RPM is nicely in between the 1500 and 3000/3600 RPM sets and close to the best side of them while gaining a nice 20% power bonus over 1500 RPM.

For shorepower: we will always try to get 240V 60Hz, using adapters to carry that over a regular 120V 30A cord (limited to 16A). But if 120V is the only option, we can take that and step it up to 240V in the isolation transformer. We can also take 230V 50Hz but some motors and pumps are troubled by it.

So, in short: we have lots of 120V stuff, from coffeemaker to tools, but want 240V for the high power consumers for all the good reasons (half the current, less problems with start-up surge etc.)

cheers,
Nick.
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Old 17-08-2009, 01:38   #5
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Thanks....makes sense...for some reason I thought you were in Europe
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Old 17-08-2009, 04:10   #6
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Old 17-08-2009, 13:57   #7
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Pelagic: yes, we are Dutch but we emigrated from Holland more than 6 years ago.

Gord: yes, it's about the final solution apart from frequency conversion, which we don't really need. If we ever need that, I will install a 3 kW switching 12V supply and feed that to the inverter. That's how they do it with those retail systems anyway (at higher DC voltage) but you get into the "mega yacht" systems quickly, with huge power ratings.

The only extra device I install now is the auto transformer, which is about half the size/volume of the inverter/charger. I am making room for everything today, had to cut through a lot of fiberglass (5/16") to remove a shelf. First time I really needed the Multimaster tool... very happy with it!

And now, I'm waiting for epoxy to cure and drawing the wiring diagram ;-)

cheers,
Nick.
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Old 17-08-2009, 14:58   #8
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You know, I'm starting to be a believer in the few on this Forum who wanted to go with a portable gen set (Nick's system looks great for a boat his size). I had the opportunity to use a Honda 2000i Generator over the weekend. I used it for about 6 hours non stop. It is rated at 13.3 amps AC (also has a 12Volt output) I had 9 different appliances connected to it totaling between 22 and 25 amps (based on ratings) I put gas in it once just in case it was getting low. When I was shown the unit, I almost tripped over it it was so quiet.. It's rated at 59Db (when I'm speaking on the phone I'm about 62-65 Db) Costs about $1000....When you think of the complication of everything else, You have to carry dingy gas anyway, maybe a sealed on board gas tank and one of these DOES make a lot of sense.. especially if all your batteries are dead and you cant start your engine! (sorry not meaning to steal the thread...)
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Old 17-08-2009, 16:06   #9
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Once I did a little research and found out that an auto transformer is not necessarily an ignition coil, I was actually able to follow most of this (I think). Great explanation, Nick!
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Old 17-08-2009, 16:17   #10
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Yes, I like the Honda's. But I don't think you can draw 25A when it's rated for 13A... it would just flip a breaker or stall the engine.

The noise level: I started one once (and only once I believe ;-) and it was dead quiet. But it was idling. When I switched on a battery charger, the rpm's went up and it became loud enough that I started to look around for angry faces on other boats!

For 30'-36' foot boats, I think it's a no-brainer. But as soon as you have separate house and starter batteries, it is very unlikely that you run them all down enough. I thought about backup for the diesel genset once, but the main engine + alternators and inverter is the backup, so I don't need it.

The system I describe here is very suitable for any live aboard cruiser 42' and up I believe. Most have the big inverter/charger already. If they never take shore power, they can leave out the isolation transformer. It will fit and be used.

p.s.: The total price of the Victron isolation transformer + inverter/charger + remote panel + auto transformer + battery monitor + silly interface for configuration with PC is about $4,500.- The stupid Freedom 30 with link2000 is already over $2000.- and that's not even a true sine inverter!

cheers,
Nick.
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Old 17-08-2009, 16:47   #11
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The RATED amp draws on the units were, 3, 3, 5, 1, 7, 3, and 3 large wall warts. But as I said those are the Ratings, I assume that would be max draw for the units at startup...not while just operating.
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Old 17-08-2009, 20:55   #12
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Ah wall warts. Those are just power supplies; they will only draw the amount of power they need to supply whatever they are feeding. And, those rated amps might have been amps on their output because I never ever saw a wall wart that draws 7A from the outlet (that would be 7 x 120 = 840W). If it would be rated for 7A output at 12V, it would only draw 0.7A from the 120V outlet, give or take. And that's only when it would be loaded to the max. while most wall warts are not even loaded to 50%.

You might have only been drawing a couple of amps, which makes the sound level you experienced very likely. These Honda's are variable speed so they rev up when you really start loading them. You can not have a conversation next to one when it's loaded up to maximum.

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Old 18-08-2009, 15:26   #13
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The wiring diagram.

So, after some epoxy and paint work yesterday, we installed the isolation transformer today. It works, all is good ;-) We found that it gives a small power boost: 120V input becomes 124V output, so that's about a 3.5% boost. This is nice when shore power is somewhat low.

The manual states to use #10 wire for 120V 30A input. We used #8 instead and it fits the internal terminal block perfectly (but a #6 doesn't fit... yes, I tried ;-)

We also removed the old Charles transformer. It was about twice the size and at least twice the weight of the new one, while the rating was equal. I am very glad it's now in the junkyard here in the marina!

I attached the wiring diagram to this post. It's pretty straightforward actually. Here's the specifics:

The shore power inlet is a standard US 125V 30A inlet, providing max. 3.6kW of power. This is enough for us. However, we will prefer to take 240V shore power to minimize losses in the long cable (we use the same cable), less burned plugs etc. You need an adapter for that but you can't use the ones they sell in the shops, even though they have a 120/240V 50A plug on one end an a 125V 30A connector on the other end. Internally, they are wired to take L1 and neutral out of the 50A service, giving you 120V and not the 240V we want. So we make our own and take L1 and L2 and ground from the 50A outlet instead. This means that both wires are hot, so we color coded the wiring like L1 and L2, black and red. When we plug into 120V service, we change the jumpers on the isolation transformer and L2 becomes the neutral. You can feed anything into the transformer, but you can't do this without a transformer!

We removed the jumper in the transformer that connects output-neutral to boat-ground and configured for 240V output. All configuration is done with these jumpers, short wires with push-on/pull-off terminals that connect to the circuit board inside the transformer. I found a very interesting text inside the transformer or the manual: when you are on the hard, you must connect input-ground to output-ground again because your boat ground doesn't work (no metal in the water). I never heard that before but it's very true. All jumpers come with the transformer.

The neutral of the generator is not connected at all. There's some discussion going on with Victron support about grounding it or not. I think it should not be grounded because all we want is a 240V floating output.

The Quattro inverter/charger has two internal transfer switches. When power is available on both inputs, it chooses input1, so this is where the genset is connected to (genset overrides shore power when it's started). When none of the inputs is powered, the inverter switches on, if it is enabled by the operator.
Again, the output is made floating. You must defeat an internal relay for this, which normally connects output-neutral to ground when the inverter switches on. The Victron unit has a configuration setting for this, so no need to cut or remove a wire.

Finally, the floating 240V goes into the auto transformer, which creates a neutral with it's center-tap. This neutral is drawn in blue because white doesn't show well on white paper. You can see it is connected to boat ground, this is done with an external jumper wire. And this leaves us with the 120-0-120 output of the system which is fed to the main switch panel.

ciao!
Nick.
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Old 22-08-2009, 22:24   #14
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Nick, I have been unable to post for awhile...your system is well thought out...congratulations and BZ.

Best regards,
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Old 08-09-2009, 22:40   #15
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Installation completed.

Time for a follow up.

We installed all the components and today finished with a new battery monitor (Victron BMV-600, seems to work good) and the computer interface for the VE-Bus (Victron's communication bus).

First thing I can say is that everything works as expected. I made two interesting observations:

1. The Victron 3600W isolation transformer gives a 4% voltage boost, even when a load is connected. Nice feature, but I would have liked it more when this could be jumpered on & off. As our marina dock power is very hot, I get 252V out of it now but the Quattro inverter/charger is happy with that as it can go as high as 270V (and as low as 180V).

2. The auto transformer works very good. The center tap on the winding isn't exactly at the center because we measure a 1.5V difference between the tap (which becomes the neutral for 120V service) and both hot wires. This is not a problem at all, and we gladly took the higher leg for the large 120V consumers like water heater and microwave.

The biggest amount of time went into preparing the bulkhead where the three units are mounted, and the 12V DC wiring.

For now, we did not ground the neutral, so we have a completely floating AC service, like EU code. I must admit that I need to study this further because I measure 3V between neutral and boat ground (grounded to water with 2 bronze plates). I expected something different but don't know why (yes, electric engineering can be more difficult than electronics ;-)

The Quattro has two RJ-45 connectors for it's VE-Bus. You use standard ethernet cables for connecting devices to this. We connected a "Digital Multi Control" (remote control panel) to one port and a computer interface to the other. We planned for 1 cable, but I found out you can use both remote panel and computer control simultaniously.

Configuring this system has been fun. I started with a quick DIP-switch method to quickly start it up. During that process, I selected that the maximum genset current is 25A (@240V) and shore power 15A (@240V). Later, I connected the remote panel which has a control to limit incoming current, and to my surprise I could bring shorepower up to 30A again, the default setting! It turns out that you have to configure the remote panel too!

Some time after that, I test the configuration using the computer interface and the software I downloaded from the Victron website. And now it all became clear. This software has many more settings than available with the DIP switches. The shore power current limit was indeed 15A but there's also a setting that allows a remote panel to overrule that!

Next thing I did was playing with the PowerAssist feature. Although it was 2pm already and a cloudy day, I still got 30A from my solar array when I switched it on. Nice. Also, the marina here charges outragious for shorepower, so let's use less without switching anything off! I started bringing down the maximum allowed shorepower current with the control on the remote panel, just turning the dial. The battery charger wasn't doing much because of the solar array being on-line, but at some point I see it is turned off completely. Now the trick, what happens when we limit further ;-) I turn the knob again and see input current becoming less than output current!! I look at the remote panel and the inverter LED is now flashing instead of off. And I see the Quattro is now taking power from the 12V battery connection instead of charging... but no power comes out of the batteries because the solar panels are doing their work! I am saving money!! I know this PowerAssist feature is meant to cope with large loads but this experiment works really well too. As it got later, the output from the solar array went down and I started using the batteries for part of the power demand. I need to do some calculations to find the optimal range for saving money because the steps up & down for the shore power limiting are high as compared to my AC load so you end up with either not using all available solar power or, one step further, using all solar power but also a little from the batteries and charging them costs me again. As a good Dutchmen, I will find the right formula ;-)

No photo's yet, but I attached a screenshot of the software program. On the left you see the real time values for all in- and out-puts, AC and DC. On the right I selected the "charger" tab where I defined a new battery-type "Trojan L16H" with the charge parameters as advised by Trojan. You see the charge curve changing as you change settings, very nice. This is the easiest way to configure equipment.

cheers,
Nick.
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