Victron Energy

Victron Energy, based in the Netherlands, have been manufacturing power conversion equipment since 1975 and become well known around the world for producing reliable off-grid battery inverter/chargers and a wide range of quality, affordable solar controllers. Victron especially shine in the automotive/RV/boating market where micro power systems are common and being one of a few high quality manufacturers in this highly competitive market.

In recent years, Victron's higher power battery inverter/chargers, the MultiPlus and Quattro range, along with an array of smart energy management devices have started to compete in the surging home battery storage market. In the past, Victron products have been designed specifically for off-grid installations, but with the recent release of the Multiplus II, there appears to be more focus towards home battery or hybrid systems.

Victron Energy have possibly the widest variety of solar products of any manufacturer, with everything from tiny solar controllers up to a large 15kVA grid-interactive inverter/chargers. Plus a seemingly unlimited combination of add-ons and accessories to create everything from simple battery monitors to remote AC or DC coupled off-grid power systems.

Main products manufactured by Victron Energy:

  • Battery inverters
  • Inverter/chargers
  • Grid-Interactive inverter/chargers
  • Battery chargers
  • Solar charge controllers (PWM & MPPT)
  • Battery monitors
  • Remote control /system monitors
  • Battery balancers and accessories
  • Batteries - Lead-acid & lithium-ion

One of the things that set Victron Energy apart from other manufacturers is that they are continually developing new innovative products and updating existing hardware and software with smart new features. As inverter and power conversion technology has improved substantially over recent years, so too have the range of inverter/chargers and MPPT’s from Victron.

Below are just a few of the more recent products:

  • Multiplus II GX with inbuilt Wifi and ethernet
  • EasySolar 2 GX inverter with 250V 70A MPPT charge controller
  • New Phoenix ‘Smart’ Inverters 1600VA and 2000VA with bluetooth
  • Concept Inverter - RS 6000 with 450V 80A MPPT

There are only a few companies which have a reputation for quality in the world of cheap, solar charge controllers, and this is where Victron Energy really stand out from the crowd. Victron MPPT solar charge controllers are more expensive than the Chinese competition but you get a lot more bang for your buck. Although, the Victron controllers are still reasonably priced and in our experience it is definitely worth spending a little more for quality and reliability when working with solar.

Solar charge controllers, also known as solar regulators, were once the only option for off-grid power systems and are used to create what is known as a DC coupled system – Simply put, DC coupled systems use MPPT solar charge controllers to charge a battery directly from any number of solar panels which is extremely efficient, while the inverter/charger supplies AC power to the home appliances and can charge a battery from an AC source (grid or generator).

AC coupled solar

Nowadays many larger off-grid installations over 5kW in size use solar inverter’s in what is known as an AC coupled system due to the simplicity of using grid-tie solar inverters together with an inverter/charger like the Victron Multiplus. Common grid-tie solar inverters are available in much larger sizes with higher input voltages (up to 1000V), allowing for long strings of panels which are simpler and easier to install, although the higher voltages are far more dangerous and can only be installed by trained solar installers and electricians.

Unlike DC coupled off-grid solar systems, one of the complexities with AC coupling is the regulation of the solar inverter output when the battery is fully charged and load is low. This is where charge control using frequency shifting is required. This is adequate but not as precise as MPPT controlled charging and can affect some sensitive electronic appliances.

DC Coupled Solar

The largest Victron MPPT solar controllers are limited to 250V DC which means a maximum of 6 solar panels can be linked together in series (since most panels have an open circuit voltage (Voc) of 37-45V). This isn’t a huge problem for smaller systems below 5kW, but for larger systems it means multiple strings (groups of panels in series) will need to be linked together in parallel which requires string fusing and larger cables to carry the higher current. Although, there are a few high voltage MPPT charge controllers up to 600V available from other manufacturers, but these are much more expensive.

Since home battery systems are becoming more popular and MPPT solar charge controllers are very efficient at charging batteries, it may result in DC coupling using charge controllers coming back into fashion for certain installations. This is helped with Victron’s latest and largest charge controller the SmartSolar 250/100, with 100A DC output it allows for an impressive 5.8kW of solar on single controller (at 48V).

How Victron compares to the competition

Off-grid - Victron is doing very well and gaining some ground in the tough small to medium off-grid solar market against well-known battery inverter manufacturers such as; SMA in Germany, Outback power in the US, and Selectronic in Australia. These well-known companies have been building off-grid inverters for many years and have dominated the markets in the US and Australia. In Europe and Africa however, Victron is very popular and overall has a more global presence.

In the higher capacity off-grid and commercial end of the market Victron has come up against the big name manufacturers such as SMA, Schneider Electric and Selectronic who have generally focused on the larger end of the market with a range of advanced AC coupled systems. The Victron inverters and solar charge controllers are comparable in both quality and performance to most of the leading brands.

On-grid - The hybrid (grid-interactive) inverter market is an area where Victron is still developing with more functionality, especially since teaming up with Fronius who manufacture possibly the best grid-tie solar inverters available. However with the multitude of dedicated hybrid and multi-mode inverters already available, it will be difficult for Victron to break into this area. The recently released Multiplus II, described below, has highlighted how Victron is now pushing into this rapidly growing market.

The recently released Multiplus II inverter/chargers from Victron combine the functionality of both the multiplus and multigrid inverter/chargers in a new modern design. The now obsolete multigrid inverter was the first grid-interactive hybrid inverter/charger released by Victron with the ability to 'island' or disconnect from the grid in the event of a blackout (a safety requirement by electricity network operators).

The Multiplus II has been completely redesigned from the ground up with several improvements over the previous outdated looking Multiplus. The new model is available in two sizes, 3kVA and 5kVA, incorporating energy management and control features including anti-islanding (internal contactors) and an external current sensor (CT) input designed for use with grid-connected energy storage systems (ESS) for monitoring household energy consumption and providing back-up power in the event of blackout.

The new Multiplus II inverters are slightly cheaper than the older models but it does come at a slight cost to performance with the peak surge power rating reducing slightly from 6000W to 5500W in the new 3kVA model and from 10000W to 9000W on the larger 5kVA model.

The range of battery inverter/chargers from Victron is just as impressive as the variety of charge controllers. Victron manufactures everything from a tiny 0.5kVA inverters up to a large 15kVA grid-interactive inverter/charger. Not only do they have a wide range of sizes but also a multitude of devices designed specifically for various applications. For example the compact all-in-one units with inbuilt solar charge controllers are perfect for lighting systems, cabins and caravans. The more advanced Victron Multiplus inverters have multiple AC inputs and can seamlessly supply power from the grid or a generator depending on which is active.

The large Quattro range of inverter/chargers are designed for high end applications requiring advanced power management and incorporate multiple AC inputs and outputs which can be configured depending on the application. The Multiplus and Quattro inverter/chargers can also be setup in parallel (up to 6 units) for high power output situations or in 3-phase configurations for larger commercial systems.

One of the few downfalls of the Victron inverters is the relatively low IP 21 rating (weather rating) which means the inverter/chargers must be installed in a protected area such as a garage, shed or dedicated room.

Careful - Inverter sizing in kVA not kW - One thing to watch out for is Victron size the inverter power output in kVA, not the more common kW (kilowatt) rating. This can be a little misleading when sizing an inverter for your needs; for example a 3000VA (3kVA) continuous power output inverter generally only outputs 2400 Watts continuously, so approximately 80% of the ‘apparent’ power rating.

High surge power rating - The surge power rating of the Victron inverters is very good being roughly 2.5 times the rated continuous power output. This equates to a 2400W (2.4kW) continuous output inverter providing peak output of 6000W, although it is not specified how long this can be maintained.

The Victron range of inverters are compatible with a wide range of lead-acid and lithium battery systems and the Victron MPPT solar charge controllers are fully programmable to match the charging parameters of almost any battery on the market. However, ‘managed’ lithium batteries require specific communications (Can-bus) which means the battery must be certified to be used with Victron.

In the age of smart apps and cloud monitoring the ability to remotely monitor and control a system is becoming essential for both solar installers and end users. With this in mind the biggest leap forward by Victron is the release of the colour control (CCGX) and VRM cloud portal. The colour control is simply a small box with a display which connects the Victron VRM internet portal with all the Victron products (inverters, charge controllers, battery monitors etc.) It also allows you to configure and monitor all the individual components directly from the CCGX, as well as logging data and controlling relays.

Victron has also made the bold move of making their software open source which means anyone can re-configure the CCGX or reprogram the system to operate on alternative platforms (such as raspberry Pi). This is clever as it enables the people to integrate victron products into unique customised systems.

Setting up the VRM is seamless and is an easily configured remote monitoring system. The Victron color control GX outshines the competition including big names like SMA, Selectronic and Schnieder Electric. The biggest downside of the CCGX is the high price. Fortunately Victron have several alternatives including the Venus GX and Cerbo GX which is basically the CCGX unit without the display, plus with built in wifi for close to half the price.

Victron’s battery monitoring units (BMV series) are simple, compact units which can be used to monitor everything from a single caravan battery, up to large battery banks for homes or businesses. Also the addition of an add-on blue-tooth unit allows simple wireless setup and monitoring. The BMV together with the unique VE.Direct interface allows all Victron products to be interconnected, providing simple setup, communication, and monitoring of multiple products. Victron also provides multiple data interface converters and connections for everything from common USB to VE.Bus, VE.Can and BMS.Can which is used for managed batteries like LG Chem and BYD.

Summary

The huge range of Victron MPPT solar charge controllers are very well regarded and are some of the best on the market, especially when it comes to value for money and huge variety of smart add-ons available. For both small and large scale DC coupled solar systems, there are not many manufacturers which can compete with Victron's diverse range of products and standard 5 year warranty.

For smaller scale and mobile systems (below 5kW PV), the Victron Inverters and chargers are some of the highest quality and best value compared to the many cheaper, low quality options available. For remote web-based system management then Victron is one of the best options.

With the growing popularity of solar energy storage and off-grid systems, the need for smart, remote control and system monitoring will be critical, and it seems Victron Energy are one of the leaders in this field.