This earlier article about inverter power boost is background for this article. As I mentioned, my power system design relies heavily on inverter power boost to help manage loads when they temporarily spike above the available shore power or generator capacity. This almost completely eliminates the need to do manual load management on the boat, and was a mandatory feature in any inverter I was going to select for use on 6837.
When evaluating inverters, Victron was high on the list. They have power boost, and I knew people who were actively using it, so I was confident that it worked. But I found it incredibly frustrating and time consuming trying to find all the info I needed on Victron's products. It's not that the info isn't available. Quite the contrary. They are the most open inverter vendor that I have encountered. But it's a maddening treasure hunt to try to find it all. Most vendors have a product web page with links to all the pertinent technical information. Victron has that, but it only includes links to a superficial manual, and a few other scraps of info. Everything else is scattered across three or four different web sites (Victron.com, Disqus, Victron Community, Victron Professional) with no organization whatsoever. And some documents are PDFs, while others are just HTML web pages which makes assembling a document library very difficult. In fact, it's something I shouldn't have to do at all. The manufacturer should do all that for me to aid in selling their product.
I spent weeks pouring over manuals, web pages, searching, learning something, searching more, trying to figure out how to piece together a system that would meet my needs. At the same time, I discovered that Outback Power had a new version of their inverters that now included the power boost function. I had well over a decade of experience with outback products, including their inverters on N6062. They have one of the most confused user interfaces that I have ever encountered, but once set up they just work, and work well. I had previously rejected them because they didn't have power boost, but with this new revision they now met my requirements. By this point, I was so fed up with trying to figure out Victron that I decided to switch my focus to Outback.
|Outback Features from 2017 Datasheet
Having been schnookered before over advertised features that I later find don't really work, I decided to check out Outback a little more closely. I found a user forum, and was able to confirm that people were using the product and that this power boost feature was working for them. Great, decision made.
|Four Outback VFXR Inverters Powering N6837
Dial forward to commissioning of N6837, and I had a bunch of issues getting the Outback system working properly that in the end turned out to be software bugs. No problem, that happens, and all seemed to be working OK after updates. Well, not entirely, it turns out.
After taking delivery, we moved to BC and spent a few days out in the Gulf Islands. During the second day at anchor, it was time to recharge the batteries, so I started up the generator. The inverters connected to the generator, started charging, then disconnected a few minutes later. Huh? This had worked fine on shore power. After a bunch of messing around, I found the only way to keep the inverters connected to the generator was to run them in "Generator Mode" rather than "Support" mode. Generator Mode is more accepting of different generator wave forms, but as the mode names imply, it means that the Support feature isn't active.
I also discovered another problem which is that the voltage sensing in the Outbacks is very sloppy. For starters, voltage settings are only in increments of 0.2V, and sensing doesn't appear to be more accurate than +/- 0.2V. There also is no remote sensing of battery voltage, so inverter load or charge current will induce further voltage inaccuracies. With lead batteries this doesn't really matter, but with LFP it does. I found that when charging off of shore power at a lower charger rate, the batteries would charge to full just fine. But if I charged off the generator at a much higher rate, the outbacks would think the batteries were full well before they really were. And if I adjusted the charge voltage for the higher charge rate, when I charged slower it would overcharge the batteries. There was just no setting that worked well in both cases.
But wait, there's more. The inverters claimed to put out 82A of charge current each. With 4 inverters, that means 328A of charge current, assuming I have the requisite AC input power, which I do. Well, I never saw more than 250A-260A of charging current out of those inverters, so that wasn't living up to specs either.
The charging issues were frustrating, but not having power boost mode was a killer. After much back and fourth with Outback, their insistence that I had a crappy generator, they finally fessed up that the boost function didn't work with stacked inverters. WTF? OK, I can actually be patient, so I offered to work with them to get it fixed, told them that my boat was just a short distance from their headquarters and that I'd be happy to have them aboard to instrument and sort this out. Nope, they said that engineering was in the middle of a new product and wouldn't spend any time on this. I pointed out that this feature was prominently advertised and that I built this system on the presumption that they weren't just making that up. Nope, they couldn't help me. OK then, I said I wanted to return all the equipment for a full refund.
|Outback Datasheet Continues to Advertise "Generator Assist" in 2022 Even Though They Admit it Doesn't Work. This Datasheet is still on their web site as of today, Jan 23, 2024.
That started a 6 month cat and mouse game to get return approval, tear out all the Outback equipment (at my expense), convince them that I had returned the equipment, and actually get my money back. Not once in the whole process did they do what they said they would do, respond when they said they would, or in most cases ever respond at all. I uniformly had to hound them multiple times to get any response at all. In the end I told them that the next email was going to their parent company CEO, with a CC to their legal department and the SEC. I pointed out that they are a public company prominently advertising that they have an important competitive feature, when that feature doesn't work, and they know it doesn't work. I'm no attorney, but that sounds like securities fraud if I've ever seen it. A couple of weeks later I finally got a refund check.
|Bye Bye Outback
Regardless, to this day they continue to claim they have this feature. Here is what's on the web site today (Jan 23, 2024) for the VFXR products, still highlighting Generator Assist as a feature even though they know it doesn't work.
|Web Site Still Highlights Generator Assist
Needless to say, I'm done with Outback products, and they have earned a well deserved place on the Wall of Shame.