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Charger going bad or just a mis-understanding of how everything works ?

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  • Charger going bad or just a mis-understanding of how everything works ?

    Hi everyone. This forum have been a huge source of information when I've been outfitting my camper van. I've not asked much questions because everything I was trying to understand was already covered... sometimes even a few times..
    But right now I'm facing an "issue" and maybe it's already been covered but I can't find any info that could help, here is my issue..

    For the last 2 years or so, I have a solar system composed of a 290W mono solar panel and a Tracer4210 solar charger to give power to my system's 230AH Trojan 8D (AGM). Before last winter I added a Victron BMV 712 battey monitor.
    Everything have been working good as far as I checked, but today I've been facing something that catched my attention.

    Hit the road yesterday night with the battery at 100% SOC

    In the morning when I woke up, the battery monitor was showing a +-90% SOC, which is pretty common after a night powering the fridge and a roof fan, no problem. Didn't checked voltage and Amps though.. or maybe I did but it didn't ring any bell in my head.

    Blue sky day, parked in the shade on the side of the parking lot because my dog was in the van, went biking..

    Lunch break, noon, the van has been fully exposed to the sun since 11AM, 91% SOC.. I was like "not much charge...", but IIRC the Tracer was showing a 14.4V with +- 9Amps.... 9 amps @ 91% feeled normal. What I noticed is isually when I increase the load (faster fan, lights, charging a camera..) the amps provided by the charger do increase (shown by the Tracker screen) but the battery monitor still shows the same amps (charging amps)... I did the test and it didn't : charger amps didn't change, battery amps lowered... weird... maybe the panel was needing a cleanup I said to myself.. I removed all unnecesary loads, it was just a test..

    Mid afternoon (4PM), still blue sky (full sun) The Victron battery monitor says +-92% SOC, which is weird considering the sun exposure I had (but it increased so it's been charging, even not much...) but it also shows -3.7Amps ( +- consumption of my fridge when "cooling"), and 12.75V battery voltage...
    Meanwhile, the Tracer indicates 13.6V @ 1Amps, which corresponds to float mode. So the charger sees 100% SOC or so... but when the frdge asks for power the charger doesn't give (accessible) solar power, it stays as there was no load and let the battery give amps.... weird !

    So here are my concerns/questions
    If the Tracer charger is in float mode at very low amps and 13.6V, with full sun exposure, it means the battery is fully charged, right ?
    And considering the full sun exposure, with the battery being full, souldn't the power to "feed" the fridge have been coming form the solar charger directly, and not pulling Amps from the battery as showed by the battery monitor ?
    I can get why the Victron monitor would not have shown the real SOC if the last synchronisation was a month old, but it was @100% when I left home (was it wrong at that time ? I don't know...) but I don't understand why the Victron and the Tracer show different voltages, and the amps don't make sense... and why the fridge is pulling energy from the battery while in full-sun exposure...
    I would have been expecting the Tracer to show it provided +- 4 Amps (easily achievable with the sun we had) and the Victron showing +0.5 to +1Amp (amps while in float mode)... both showing the same voltage I guess...

    Am I missing something ?

    on a side note my solar panel seems to max out at +-140W right now... might need to be cleaned a bit.
    any way to check full wattage capacity of a panel ? (Will check that on the forum, just asking since it's in my head and I'm already writing...)

    Thanks for any help !

  • #2
    PV panels flat on a roof, seldom produce rated power, 50% production would be reasonable. have you ever seen 22A from the panel ?

    As to why your controller is not responding with increased amps, as your load increases, I can't explain. Shadows ? Did it complete a charge cycle already today ?
    Powerfab top of pole PV mount (2) | 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



    • #3
      I do agree that I can't expect 100% production.. but let's say at noon, perfect blue sky (absolutely no cloud), early June (almost top season here for solar exposure) and the sun being straight on top of my panel I was expecting between 15 and 18 amps...
      I don't remember the max amps I've witnessed from solar... might have been last year... summer basically just started yesterday, before that we only had very few (if any) sunny days, and snow before that...
      I just came back home, took a ladder to clean the panel it was not that bad at all, only a couple really small "gummy" spots from pine sap, maybe it explains "only" 10-11 amps...

      So what infos I gathered today (my previous post was from yesterday actually) :
      morning (9:30 AM) full sun before bike ride : everything looked like it was charging : Tracer Charger was around 14.4V, 10 or so Amps. Victron monitor said 81% SOC and was showing a bit less Volts (13.8V IIRC) , Amps depending if the fridge was running or not (10ish Amps if fridge is off, 7ish Amps if it's running)
      Noon, lunch break, full sun exposure : Tracer charger seemed to be in float mode : 13.6V, less than 1 Amp. Victron monitor said 83% SOC and showed 12.8V or so at the battery, 1Amp with fridge off, -3Amps when fridge is running. When I turn ON other loads than the fridge, Tracer stays at 1 amp, Victron shows increase in amps consumption (went down to -8Amps)
      Back home: Victron still says 84% SOC, switched off the solar charger and all my loads, then plugged my 120V charger (Samlex SEC-1230UL) -> BAM ! 14.4V / 18Amps... let it stabilise for 15 minutes, still 14.4V / 18Amps or so... I tun ON my loads (fridge, fan, etc...) -> 14.4V, 18Amps, but the ammeter on the Samlex shows roughly 23 amps produced, which is exactly the behavior I was expecting.

      What I understand :
      - The Victron monitor was right in its estimate of the SOC, the battery was definitely not full
      - Yes, when power is available the amps at the battery should be the max the battery can accept, but the charger provides this amount of Amps + what the loads need.

      What I don't get :
      - Why the Tracer thought the battery was fully charged and switched to float mode ?
      - Why in float mode it kept providing only 1 Amp even when loads where requesting more than that (and full sun was available to produce the needed amps)
      Last edited by ben_mtl; 06-09-2019, 08:51 PM.


      • #4
        Less capable controllers have weak brains and sometimes cannot recover from a numb state till the next day. That's all I can think of. Watch it closely tomorrow, record voltages, amps and at what time. Minimize loads till the battery is full.
        Powerfab top of pole PV mount (2) | 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



        • #5
          Thanks for the advise, I turned off all the loads but the battery just reached 100% SOC from my AC charger I turned the solar charger off to "restart" it, maybe it will help for next time...


          • #6
            Your charger will be in Float mode when it sees a particular voltage on its output terminals and assumes that is the same as the battery voltage. At the end of the Boost (Absorb) stage of charging (constant voltage, current reducing to hold that voltage as battery nears 100 SOC) the charger will go into a lower voltage Float stage and stay there until the terminal voltage has dropped to the Recharge voltage or the DC input to the CC has cycled (no panel output during the night).
            If you increase the load drawn during Float, you may reach a built-in current limit before the battery voltage drops to Recharge. That will force current to be drawn from the batteries to feed the load up to the point that the battery reaches Recharge. Once recharge is reached, the CC will enter Bulk mode and any load current lower than the panel output will be supplied by the CC.

            You need to look at the battery terminal voltage as you go through the behavior you describe to see what the CC is expected to be doing. A bad connection between the CC and the battery ccould make the voltage seen by the CC incorrect.
            SunnyBoy 3000 US, 18 BP Solar 175B panels.


            • #7
              As a test.....Turn off solar input to the tracer, wait a minute, turn off tracer, wait another minute, turn on tracer, wait one more minute, turn on solar input.
              This will simulate a new day, clear out the faulty programming and give the tracer a fresh start. If this results in the expected output the tracer programming is the cause.
              I admit that I am biased against the EP Solar AKA EP Ever Tracer controllers due to a inadequate programming and thermal drift which will leave batteries under charged, I had two, a 3210 and a 4215, both drifted in calibration and could not be corrected. I bit the bullet, spent $610 , bought a MidNite Classic 150 , and have never had undercharged batteries since. I now have two MidNite Classic 150's and two MidNite Kid controllers, I don't need my generator anymore. A superior controller is well worth the price. In my first year with the Classic I saved it's price in generator fuel, and time messing with system to get the results I wanted. Now 6 years with the MidNite Classic's and no failures, just routine maintaince, gotta love that good old American know how!


              • #8
                inetdog , Tecnodave -> Thanks for your inputs, I'll definitely look into that tonight !

                Meanwhile, this morning I had to take something in the van before going to work and noticed the Tracer was delivering 14.4V... the thing is my battery was already at 100% SOC since it was still plugged to my AC charger (and the battery monitor confirmed the 100% SOC too).
                I disconnected the solar charger, (AC charger still plugged) no surprise the voltage went down to 13.6V shortly.. (absolutely no load on my system since yesterday night).
                Left it like that (Solar unplugged) for today..


                • #9

                  inetdog has has just nailed it for you. Your tracer is not "seeing" battery voltage correctly. It is very important that the tracer output goes directly to the battery with 10 ga. wire with only the breaker between the battery and the controller. Any extra connections or wire will cause too much voltage drop. How far is it from your controller to the battery? Should be short and sweet. A couple of feet is best. The inverter also needs to be connected directly to the battery. Short and sweet here as well. Voltage drop in low voltage is way more costly of power than with AC use.


                  • #10
                    Well, the Tracer is close, but not that close... I'll take some measurements and check the wire gauge since I don't have my electrical plan nor the van on hand. I have more than a couple feet thats for sure :-/

                    Basically from the Tracer positive terminal it goes to a breaker, then to a (+) bus bar, then to a big battery switch, then to the battery (+) terminal.
                    From the negative terminal of the battery, it goes back to the Tracer as follows : (-) terminal -> Shunt (for the battery monitor) -> (-) bus bar -> Tracer negative terminal

                    I've put the bus bars (+ and -) because I needed to connect the battery to the Solar Charger, but also to the AC charger, to an ACR (charging from van's alternator when no other choice), then of course to the fuse box from which all my loads are connected...

                    I don't have any inverter.

                    edit : found an e-mail with some wiring info...
                    here are the details :

                    - Tracer (+) terminal to "solar" breaker : 4AWG - 66"
                    - "solar" breaker to (+) bus bar : 4AWG - 8.5"
                    - (+) bus bar to Battery ON/OFF switch : 4AWG - 5.5"
                    - ON/OFF switch to (+) battery terminal : 4AWG - 38"

                    - Battery (-) terminal to (-) bus bar : 4 AWG - 43" (this length was split close to the battery (-) terminal when I installed the shunt)
                    - (-) bus bar to Tracer's (-) terminal : 4 AWG - 66"

                    Lots of cable length, I've installed the different components of my electrical system where there was room for each...
                    Last edited by ben_mtl; 06-10-2019, 11:39 AM.


                    • #11
                      Impressively large guage wiring for no inverter, you have the handle on that. Do you have a good digital voltmeter? Check the voltage right at the battery, then right at the controller when it is producing the most power. With that guage you should not have excessive voltage drop. Using DVM on low volt range to check loss at connections. Do you have a infrared temperature gun ? Check for hot spots indicating poor connections.

                      rereadiing the thread I think that your tracer is doing what mine did. I had several charging a large bank at 470 a.h. 6 volt L-16 , 24 volt battery. It worked good for a while then the controller would drift down in voltage. It was really too big a job for them and they did not have user settings. The proof was made very clear when I connected three fluke DVM to controllers and battery, they would differ quite a bit. Heat and time, ended up running generator weekly to top off batteries.Bought the MidNite Classic, totally programmable, works perfect
                      Last edited by Tecnodave; 06-10-2019, 12:39 PM.


                      • #12
                        Yeah the large guage wiring is there because even if I don't have an inverter for now (everything I have works on 12V).. maybe at some point I will need one.. or maybe if/when I sell the van the new owner will want it... better prepare for it rather than having to rewire everything..

                        I'll check all the connections tonight see if there's any loose end... I do have a digital voltmeter I'll check Voltage at different locations and compare to what the Tracer and the Victron monitor says..
                        no infrared gun but I'll make sure every connection is correct...
                        I have to admit though, I'm already checking for a better quality charge controller, I already have other Victron components, seems good quality and their customer service has been very helpful and super fast to answer my questions... their SmartSolar MPPT 100/20 might work for me... + it's ways more compact that the Tracer so I should be able to fit it closer to the battery !


                        • #13
                          I like Victron's equipment except I do not like the lack of display, as seen on the smart solar line. You need to get an app for your phone,iPad, or tablet from app stores then Bluetooth connect to controller to see anything, possibly it communicates with the battery monitor This makes it so cumbersome to just check things. I really like the full programmability of the Classic with the MNGP , it's all the display that I need for a glance at anything or to set most anything. I can also Ethernet in with a program but that is cumbersome as well. A quick peek to see what's going on and if easy you will be more able to take a minute to peek.


                          • #14
                            Back home, took the multimeter out of the garage... disconnected the AC charger, disconnected the solar panel from the Tracer, Turned the Tracer OFF, made sure there was no load.
                            The battery was supposed to be 100% SOC according to the Victron battery monitor (that is to be expected since it's plugged on the AC charger since yesterday night)

                            Battery monitor (Victron) says 13.28V
                            Tracer said 13.28V before turned OFF
                            Multimeter directly at the battery says 13.28V
                            Multimeter between the 2 bus bars says 13.28V
                            Multimeter at the Tracer connector reads 13.28V too

                            so everything looks OK "voltagewise", no voltage drop suspected

                            13.28V for a full AGM battery with no load and no charge at all seemed a bit high, tuned on a light to see if voltage would go closer to the 12.8V or so I would expect for a fully charged AGM battery, maybe it's just a residual voltage...
                            Voltage just went slightly down to 13.18V... and when I turned the light off it went back to 13.28V... oh well.... I kept all charging devices disconnected, will see how the voltage behaves later today..

                            another thing I tried : reconnect the solar charger, then reconnect the panel to the charger (it's 4PM but we still have lots of sun today)... voltage rose to 14.4V and the Tracer provided 6Amps ! I waited a few minutes to see if it would go back to float mode... nope ! I'm no expert but 14.4V/6Amps is not what it should do on a 100% full battery...
                            Disconnected the panel again and turned off the solar charger... might order the Victron MPPT tonight !

                            TecnoDave -> I totally agree the Victron devices lack display... I guess I can feel better knowing I'm getting available space on my control panel by removing a charger screen.... I already have the Battery Monitor which gives me some data on a small screen + BT on my phone for a bit more, the Victron MPPT also connect via BT and gives all necessary data too... not as practical but you get the data if you want to see it..
                            Honestly what I think they lack more, especially the BMV battery monitor is some real history data ! I even find it lame that such an expensive monitor doesn't store what it measures (or at least it doesn't give access to this data if it stores it...) If you want to see diagrams of your daily electrical consumption/production you have to add another expensive extra module that connects to all Victron equipment : Control Color GX.. only $520...


                            • #15
                              On the 14.4 volts.....that is what it should do....I got to explain that detail a bit. So at startup the charger is in bulk mode, using all the available current to push the voltage up to 14.4 volts then it switches to absorb mode and continues to charge at 14.4 volts for a fixed time usually 120 minutes then it will switch to float mode and let voltage drop to 13.7 volts and hold that voltage while powering all loads. Thes "absorb timer" is adjustable for duration in high end controllers such as the Classic's , Outbacks, Morningstar, and Schnieder charge controllers, It may be and should be adjustable on all controllers but that is an area where economies are taken.

                              So don't worry that it will stay in absorb for 120 minutes or so, it won't hurt the batteries and should force the Victron battery monitor to recalibrate itself.

                              I did use Tracers for two years or so and abandoned the use of any and all Chinese gear in my solar system. I make only one exception to that, my standby inverter is a. Taiwanese Company who has a manufacturing facility in China, Cotek I use a Cotek SK-1500-124 inverter. I use several of their inverters and have just installed 2 new Cotek SD-1500-124 inverters for freind's and will be installing one SD-2500-148 to be stacked with another SD-2500-148. I have never hasd an issue with Cotek inverters, power supplies, battery chargers. Many other companies have Cotek put their names on them including Samlex-America, Vanner, an ambulance and fire truck outfit and other big name companies
                              Cotek actually answers phone support calls with more than scripted answers, rare for Asian manufacturers . They also have operations here in the states...Cotek America, I think sales, support and warehousing but all manufacturing is in China in Cotek's own factory

                              On the subject of historical data I use shunts on both battery banks with dual monitors on each shunt. I use the WhizbangJr current sensor for the Classic controllers and Bogart Engineering Tri-metric monitor which spits out serial data to an IBM class computer along with other data is incorporated into graphical software including my environmental monitoring with a 13 channel NRG Systems wind energy monitor including anemometers , wind vanes, pyrometers, temp guages, etc, logging data every 10 minutes from every second averages. I had the Bogart monitors long before the Classics as he (Bogart Engineering)is right up the hill from me,only miles away and well known here. Very good product but built with more of an engineering bent than the more consumer units from Victron and MagnaSine, and as such a bit more not user friendly in its display.......but it does spit out serial data that can be massaged any way you want.