SYSTEM UPDATE! RV Lithium/AGM Battery & Electrical System Upgrade

TheRVgeeks Electrical, Great RV Products, Updates & Upgrades 32 Comments

If you’ve been watching our video series about upgrading our batteries and electrical system, you’ll surely want to see our first update on how things are going so far. We’ve been putting the systems through their paces for the past 3 1/2 months, and it’s time to share our first impressions of what it’s like… especially our 600 Ah Xantrex Freedom e-GEN house battery!

Thanks to all of the fine companies that are participating in this project for providing the expertise, equipment and service required to get this big job done.


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We're handy RVers, not professional technicians. We're happy with the techniques and products we use, but be sure to confirm that all methods and materials you use are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.

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Comments 32

  1. Hi guys. I’ve really enjoyed your videos – you are a great resource for someone like me whose been RVing for 2-3 years. I have a class C Sprinter and made the lithium upgrade last year (Battle Born). It’s great but I’m looking for resources to get a better understanding of the relationship between the alternator and charging the lithium batteries. When I start the engine the charge (using the Victrom battery monitor as a gauge) shows 20-30 amps going to the batteries but it quickly drops off to nothing. The only charge while on the road appears to be coming from solar. Also I’ve noticed that when I use my headlights, there is a negative charge – power is being pulled from the lithium batteries. Otherwise when parked, charging the batteries from solar, the generator, shore power all works as expected. The dual lithium 12V batteries in parallel otherwise provide all the power I need to boondock and run my 3000 watt inverter as needed. I’d appreciate your thoughts. Thanks!

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Jonathan! Thanks so much for the kind words… we always love to hear that we’ve been helpful! And sorry to hear you’re having trouble with your lithium charging from the engine. We don’t have a specific answer for you, but have a thought: it sounds like it’s probably an issue with the voltage regulator on the alternator. Since we assume that your RV originally came with flooded lead-acid batteries, your alternator was probably matched to them… and relies on specific voltages and resistance to know when to supply power to charge them. Since Lithium batteries are a different beast, we’d guess that you’re running into an incompatibility issue.

      For example, the eGEN system from Xantrex, when installed at the factory as a generator replacement in a Class B/C RV, usually has a very high-amperage, lithium-compatible alternator installed. As we understand it, the “lithium-compatible” part has to do with the voltage regulating circuits… that are programmed to the proper voltages for lithium charging. So our guess is that one of two things is happening:

      1. Your alternator’s voltage-regulating circuit is seeing the higher voltage from the lithium batteries (either initially OR after a few minutes of charging… where the lithium’s voltage rises quickly) and is thinking the batteries are full, so it disconnects
      2. Your alternator’s output is too high… causing the BMS in the Battle Borns to shut down charging input.

      The headlights situation also sounds like a voltage-difference issue. Since lithium batteries rest at about 13.3 (± a couple of tenths of a volt, based on manufacturer), it’s likely that the alternator isn’t kicking in because it is “seeing” the higher voltage… and thus the lithium batteries are providing charge to replenish the starting battery (which is at a lower resting voltage), draining them while you’re driving. Sounds like you may need to install a large diode system between the Battle Borns and the rest of the system, which at least would keep power from draining from them back to the engine loads.

      There were similar issues early on with a lot of Airstream owners who installed lithium batteries. Even though the battery manufacturers claimed that their BMS would handle charging by just about any charger… the reality was often different. They’d take their RV out for the weekend, using power. When they returned and plugged them in to charge up, the charger would kick on… making them think the batteries would be re-charged fully for their next trip out. But since the lithium batteries have different voltage and charging behavior, the RV’s charger would kick off after about 10-15 minutes, thinking the batteries were already full. When the owners would take them out the following week… the batteries were not at 100%! They ended up having to replace their converter/charger in order to get one that worked better with lithium. This is why we’re always skeptical of claims that lithium batteries are “drop-in replacements” for lead-acid. They may be SIZED the same, but the differences in voltage profile and charging characteristics can cause niggling issues that make them misbehave.

      We’d suggest that you contact Battle Born to see what input they may have for you. It’s possible that you could install a voltage regulator (which might have its own diode to prevent unwanted discharge) inline between the engine’s alternator and your Lithium batteries… one that would handle the differences and ensure the battery get charged. Barring that, you may need rewire things to disconnect your house batteries from the engine’s existing alternator… and add a second, lithium-compatible alternator that would be dedicated to charging your house batteries while you’re driving.

      Sorry we don’t have a more-definitive answer. But let us know how you make out… or if you have more questions! We’ll do our best to clear things up (and not muddy them more)! LOL!

  2. Hi
    After watching your recent live intro to the Newmar Super Star, I wanted to see what you guys have been up to. I had no idea Xantrex had a system like this. I saw the Volta system, smaller battery but requires a converter to go from 58v to 12v.

    I am considering a new inverter/charger but a smaller inverter like the Freedom XC 2000W. It only has a 80 amp charger, wondering how fast that would charge the lithium batteries? I also hope Xantrex offers a couple of sizes, the battery tray on our Bay Star has 4 batteries in a row (11 ” wide) and the lithium cell you have would not fit. We would certainly be happy with 300-400 ah useable battery instead of our 230 now!

    Great job on the videos. I always learn something.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Don! We’ve been seeing more and more info about the Volta power system recently, most likely because of their involvement with Winnebago. It’s definitely an interesting looking system, and there are some advantages to operating at higher voltage, but we definitely liked the (relative) simplicity of installing a 12 V battery into our existing 12V system as an aftermarket install.

      We’re not 100% plugged into what Xantrex’s plans are long-term, but we do know that they currently offer a 400Ah version of the same battery we have, that’s being installed in Class B units like the Coachmen. It’s basically a similar form factor to ours, just a little bit smaller… so we’re not sure if it would fit in your battery tray, since you have just a single row of batteries instead of a grouping of two pairs side-by-side.

      More details about the The batteries, etc., should be coming out sometime this year. Again, we don’t know the schedule, but we do know that it was Xantrexks intention to start having authorized installers certified in 2019. So once that happens, the information should start becoming more public.

      Sorry we couldn’t be of more help, but we hope this provided some more information for you.

      1. One more question. Do you have a remote temperature sensor in the battery bay? I would be interested in knowing how your racing insulation works in the heat. I would have to do even more to seal the bay in our Bay Star, and wondering if I would have to add venting into the coach.

        Keep us posted on how your setup works in the heat.
        I

        1. Post
          Author

          Hi Don! Good question! We did, indeed, have a remote temperature sensor in the battery compartment for most of the past year. That enabled us to watch the temperature in the compartment around the battery, so we could combine that data with the temperature that the battery itself reported (it has its own temp sensor built in… needed to ensure it can trigger the built-in heater if it approaches freezing). On our hottest driving day (bright, sunny day of 94 degrees), spent on the hot asphalt interstate in Northern Ohio & New York State… the battery compartment reached 123°F, while the battery itself only reached 78°F. WELL within it’s range of acceptable temps.

          So the insulation did a great job keeping the engine & exhaust heat out of the compartment. We’re thinking we may add a layer of the same insulation on the inside of the compartment door, though… as we think a lot of the warming that happens on hot, sunny driving days is radiant heat from the metal of the door itself. Since that part of the RV is painted the darkest color green, those doors get VERY hot in direct sun. Insulating the inside of the door should help reduce the temperature of the compartment itself a bit more, and keep us even more in the green.

          Hope that helps!

      2. Hi guys. My wife and I enjoy watching your videos. We’ve recently upgraded our AGM batteries to a lithium system and are having some issues. Maybe you guys can help. I have an Onan 10k genny with a Multiplus 24 3000. My cables are 50mm2 600v welding cables upgraded from AGM to lithium with bmv 712 and smartsolar mppt 150. When I’m on shore power, I have no problems. My AGS cables, when connected to Multiplus, disables my genny. With the AGS disconnected, and I start my genny, it shuts down the Multiplus and kills all the power in my coach. I get an error log on my CCGX that the genny isn’t connected to AC power. I’ve gone through programming the Multiplus for lithium per Victron’s guidelines. I have no solar panels yet, but plan on installing in the near future. Any help would be great. Solutions even better.

        1. Post
          Author

          Oh boy, Justin. There’s a lot going on here… and without being there to see the details of how everything is wired, we’re not sure we can provide any guidance. It’s possible it’s a configuration issue (why would the system expect the generator to be connected to AC power… it SUPPLIES it!). It’s possible it’s a wiring issue (connecting the AGS cables to the Victron shouldn’t disable the generator!). Or it could be a communication issue between the Victron equipment and your AGS (for instance, in our setup, we have a generator start switch on the dash… if we use that to start the generator, instead of triggering it to start through the Xantrex system, it throws an error… since the Xantrex system isn’t aware the switch exists and thinks the generator started on its own). We’re not that familiar with the Victron equipment (seen it, but never used it), and we know it has a LOT of options/settings!! You’d probably be best asking this in one of the solar groups (lots of experience with Victron equipment)… like this one on Facebook: DIY RV Solar Systems (it’s a closed group you have to join).

          Sorry we can’t be of more help on this one!

  3. Hey guys loved the watching about the new battery system I have installed. Was wondering what does a system like this cost?

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      Author
  4. I am thinking of mounting my Hughes Autoformer inside my RV. On the side of the Autoformer it says to ensure all four lights are green before connecting to your RV. The way you show it being mounted in your rig,before and after the new cord real install appears to make it difficult for you to have checked the four lights before connecting it to your RV. Did and do you do this step each time before connecting it to your RV’s electrical system?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Don. The new units (like the one you have) work differently than our older one (which doesn’t have the same surge protection and circuit-testing capabilities). Technically, with our unit, you’re supposed to plug it into the pedestal and check that the center of three lights is lit… if not, don’t plug the RV into the Autoformer. Since we also have a SurgeGuard unit, downstream from our Hughes, that does some of the same circuit testing, we actually rely on THAT unit for determining the viability of the connection. With the newer Autoformer units, we’d suggest following their instructions to ensure you’re benefitting from all of the circuit testing they are doing on the pedestal power… BEFORE connecting your RV. Makes for a bit more complicated of a connection process, but it will help ensure you don’t expose your RV to bad power.

  5. Hi guys!
    Been watching the youtube channel for a while now. We just had our inverter die (a super old xantrex model) and are looking to get it replaced. Looking to go with the same freedom SW 3012 that you guys put in which puts us on the track to getting the xantrex lithium ion system as well. Any idea on price or when xantrex might make this available to end users for upgrades?
    Our flooded lead acid batteries have a couple useful years of life left and I want to try and skip AGM and go straight to Lithium. If the xantrex system ends up not being released to end users, would you happen to have any other recommendations for a lithium system that is available?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Matt! Sorry to hear your inverter died on you, but we think you’ll be happy replacing it with the same Freedom SW 3012 we’re using. We’ve been loving ours… it just works! Unfortunately, we still have no idea on the pricing or availability schedule for the Freedom e-GEN battery. It’s currently only available as an OEM/factory-installed option from a couple of manufacturers (mostly Class B), but we know they’re working to get it installed in Class A’s, too. Just don’t know when… they’re doing their due diligence and being very thorough to be sure everything is working as expected. As soon as we hear anything more, we’ll be sure to post an update about it.

      As far as recommendations for other lithium systems, we don’t really have much to share. There are one or two systems like the Freedom e-GEN that are currently being tested by various RV manufacturers (for instance, Winnebago is working with Volta), but as far as we know, they aren’t available for aftermarket install, either. Aside from those, there are a whole slew of “drop-in” replacement batteries available now (and it seems like there are more available every day), but we don’t have any experience with them to be able to recommend one over another.

      While it may not turn out to be an issue in the long run, one concern we have with them is that there currently aren’t any that have been tested against the UL1973 standard (for “Stationary, Vehicle Auxiliary Power, and Light Electric Rail (LER) Applications”), which is the standard that applies to RV household batteries. A key component of that standard is a test of their ability to be daisy-chained together (like in typical RV applications with series, parallel, and series-parallel configurations). Since these drop-in replacements are often just re-packaged versions of standard consumer-level lithium cells (with some additional circuitry added in and wrapped in a standard-sized battery case), we worry that they could be a hazard.

      1. Thanks for the info! Sad that there are not anymore options for after-market install. I guess for now I will just start buying the various components of the E-GEN system that are available to be ready when they release the battery. Should be able to just drop it in at that point.

        Been reading all the DIY stuff on Technomadia and the writeups that the Wynns have done back in the day on Lithium setups but am still waiting for a commercial product to be released. In my line of work I have seen lithium battery fires and wouldn’t want to risk a DIY lithium battery setup in my RV.

  6. I too am interested in the cost and size specs to see what I might be able to fit in my compartment. Are they yet available? It didn’t appear so on their site that I could find but wasn’t sure if I was just not searching in the right area of the site.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Kevin,

      Cost isn’t available yet, as Xantrex is currently only offering the Freedom e-GEN system as an OEM/Factory-installed option. Our installation is a case-study for them to prove the viability of the offering as an aftermarket solution… but they are still evaluating things (we’ll post an update as soon as we hear from them that they are moving forward with aftermarket availability).

      As for size, the battery itself measures 11.25″H x 13″W x 24″L (approximately the size of a single 8D battery) and weighs 160lbs (over 100 pounds lighter than the 4 x Lifeline GPL-4CT AGM batteries it replaced) while the separate BMS module is 11.25″L x 7″W x 4″H.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Hi Guys

    I am a keen watcher of your videos and have been particularly interested in your lithium battery upgrade. I have lithium on our rig and been using it for approx 2 years . It is amazing and having just watched your update 6 I can agree with all your comments.

    I run a mainly Victron system which was fitted by Outback Marine here on the Gold Coast in Australia. I have 360 ah x 24 volt battery capacity with 1075W solar and we rarely ever run the generator. These are great systems for plenty of power when free camping (boondocking to you). We try to spend about 9 months a year on the road so good power supply is a must.

    Look forward to your solar upgrade and other topics.

    Safe travelling from Australia

    Rowland

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks, Rowland! Sounds like you’ve got yourself a great system for free camping! We’re really looking forward to upgrading our solar array, as our current system is definitely not enough for our needs. Still doing our research on what we want and how we’re going to tackle the project! Safe travels… and say “Hi!” to Australia for us… we had such a fantastic time down there that we (1) always tell everyone they HAVE to go visit and (2) constantly say how much WE want/need to get back down under… we really miss it!

  8. You did a great job of explaining the key virtues of goin with e-GEN: 1) Much lower weight, especially if you needed to have the same AH’s of AGM or Wet to yield the useable AH’s of e-Gen; Full power constant power charging, shortens charging time. With either lower generator usage, or once you upgrade your solar, higher probability of total solar replenishment; 3) Constant linear power output.

    The unknown, is how long the lifecycle will be for e-Gen. That will be important for those who look at only the dollars and cents. But another point you made that my wife and give high value to – is the intrinsic benefit of potentially zero noise power generation (Once you get the solar upgrade.), or much less generator noise to accomplish the recharge cycle.

    Maybe I was lucky after all, having to replace out Lifeline AGM’s recently, as this should allow 5-7 years for more info to come in on e-Gen, and yes, other products, like LifeBlue, Reliant, etc. – in real life usage conditions:)!

    Thanks for the informative status thread of your Lithium upgrade,
    Smitty

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      Author

      Thanks, Smitty! Glad you liked the video. We’ve been waiting to do it until we had enough time under our belts with the new system to be confident things were working as expected… AND we were happy with it!

      In response to your lifespan question… the Xantrex battery should be able to provide 2,500 cycles at 90% DOD (it goes up to about 2,700 cycles at 80%). A typical AGM battery would get about 500 cycles at 50% DOD (and significantly fewer if you exceed 50% DOD!!!), which means the e-GEN should last about 5 times as long as AGMs. And since you’d need about 10 typical AGM batteries to equal the amp-hour capacity, you’d be talking about a LOT of money spent on AGMs over the same amount of time (not to mention the fuel spent hauling all that weight around, LOL!). For a really great cost-benefit analysis of Lithium batteries -vs- lead acid… check out Nikki & Jason Wynn’s post & video here: https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/sailboat-tech-why-lithium-batteries

      Hope this helps!

  9. After your presentation on the BMK, it seems like a good product for my use as I do have solar but I still have 6 volt 230 AMP HR batteries and I’m never sure exactly the percentage left. I’m assuming the BMK would still work with my system until I upgrade. Thanks for all the technical info as I always learn something from you. Also I didn’t know that if the batteries were not charged to the max every time, their life would be shortened.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Roger. Yes, a battery monitoring system would definitely help you to determine the state of charge of your batteries, so you could maintain them properly. There are several different systems available… if you have a Magnum inverter, you may want to opt for the Magnum BMK, as it integrates with the system control panel (depends on the age & versions on your inverter & panel). If you don’t have a Magnum, then you could look into the Xantrex LinkPro ( https://amzn.to/2xZNFUf ) or the Victron BMV ( https://amzn.to/2IErCXl )… although you should read the thread from Terry below to see about his issue with the Victron unit. Not sure if the LinkPro would have the same issue or not.

      And lead-acid batteries (whether they are flooded or gel or AGM) all suffer from the same problem: sulfation. As you remove power from the battery, sulfur in the electrolyte (fluid/gel) reacts with the lead to form Lead Sulfate crystals. When you re-charge the battery, the formation of those crystals is supposed to be reversed. But, because the recharging process is not 100% efficient… and because many times the batteries are not returned to 100% charged, lead sulfate crystals remain on the lead plates, reducing the amount of lead available to react and generate power. Over time, that results in diminished capacity. You can recover some/most of that by performing an equalization procedure, which over-charges the battery to try and force the crystals back into solution. But, again, it’s not 100% effective AND can result in some of the lead from the plates sloughing off and depositing on the bottom of the battery case.

      Hope this helps!

  10. Regarding battery monitors, I installed a Victron unit some years ago – properly, I believe. It seems that as the battery capacity diminishes over time, for the reasons you’ve described, the monitor will give inaccurate readings, e.g. too high for state-of-charge and time-to-go (to 50% SOC), since the cumulative current draw is compared against the original, not the diminished, battery capacity. Am I understanding this issue correctly? Thanks.

    1. I also have a Victron battery monitor. You have to tell it the battery capacity. So unless you reprogram it with the new diminished capacity it will work as you described. If that is important you should be able to set the new (estimated?) capacity fairly easily.

      wayne

      1. Yes, I know how to change the battery capacity, but I really don’t know to what extent it may be diminished, if any. I suppose, I’ll just keep an eye on resting voltage vs SOC. If things are way off that might tell me something.

    2. Post
      Author

      Hi Terry! It sounds like your determination of what’s happening with your Victron Battery Monitor is correct… but we have to add the caveat that we’re not 100% sure, since we’ve never used the Victron system. You may want to contact Victron to see if there’s any simple procedure you can use to determine the current battery capacity, so that it’s not a guessing game as to how to configure that parameter. If we remember correctly from things we’ve read, there’s some kind of a “synchronization” procedure that might help to ensure the BMV is correctly representing 100% SOC.

      1. There are several ways to “sync” the Victron to show 100% SOC, manually and via setting various parameters, however an accurate battery capacity (ah) is needed to track SOC as battery discharges. Just something for those with older batteries to be aware of. Based on my camping style, 35 hours on generator (and twice as many years on me) after 6 seasons, I will probably never go lithium, but the technology is fascinating. As technology improves and prices drop, I see this becoming mainstream in RVs as it has in other fields such as drones.

        Full-timers face RV issues differently than we part-timers. When I have an issue, my first thought is “When I get home ….” Full-timers don’t have that luxury.

        Thanks for such a great review!

  11. I’m trying to get my hands on the EGen battery. I have 2 residential frig’s. Trying to keep them going all night with 4 6volt batteries are difficult.
    I have 4 72 cell solar panels on the roof of my 5er. I have the Schneider Electric MPPT 60 150 charge controller. Solar power is not my problem, battery life is. Many people say that the lithium ion batteries are dangerous especially in a moving environment like an RV. Battery experts here in Ottawa say that Li batteries still can only discharge to 50% before damaging the battery. Listening to you guys I feel more confident to go the Li way. Less weight more power.
    Looking forward to seeing what solar is in your future
    Jay Chowhan
    Ottawa Ontario

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Jay! At this point, it’s still going to be hard to get an e-GEN as they are not yet available for aftermarket sale. As far as we know, Xantrex is still interested in entering that market, but they are being cautious and doing their due diligence first. We can’t speak for EVERY LiFePO4 battery, as there are a lot of options with a lot of variation, but we’ve NEVER heard of any that could only be discharged to 50% without damage. While it may TECHNICALLY be true that their lifespan is being reduced by discharging beyond that… their lifespan is SOOOO long compared to traditional batteries, that it’s likely not an issue. So it’s possible that your local “battery experts” are either being overly-specific about higher discharge rates… or disingenuous about it’s actual impact… or they’re just not comfortable with the idea of lithium in an “automotive” application. Our Xantrex battery can, definitely, be discharged down as low as 90% DOD and still have a lifespan that is long enough to keep it cost-competitive with AGMs.

      Now… as far as being “dangerous” in a moving environment like an RV… that was, again, a motivating force for us in choosing the Freedom e-GEN. Xantrex has gone the extra mile to ensure the battery passes the UL1973 specification for “use in Stationary, Vehicle Auxiliary Power, and Light Electric Rail (LER) Applications.” As far as we know, it’s the first and only one to have achieved that. Other Lithium batteries (even those being marketed for use in RVs) haven’t passed that stringent a standard (they often list themselves as being UL approved for a lower standard that’s designed for Lithium battery use in small electronics, probably because that’s true of the lithium cells they assemble into their systems), so we’d have some concern about using one of those in our RV. It’s true that RV/automotive environments are harsh… but we’re confident the e-GEN is capable of handling it.

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