We pulled into the Lithionics facility in Clearwater, Florida mid-February (2014) for our annual battery checkup. As previously stated, they remove my coach battery, then take the cells out of the case, bench-test the cells, collect the data, put the case back on, and hook me up. I DO NOT end up with a new battery. I do end up with my original cells and head out for another year of field testing.
Also, to reiterate, I do not “take it easy” on these or any other batteries. While I do not mistreat them in any way, batteries are in RVs to be used and my expectation is that they should work. But as stated, I don’t babysit these batteries. I am not out there daily cleaning them (there’s no other maintenance). For example, it was suggested last year that I have my battery compartment enclosed to keep it cleaner. It is not sealed from moisture and dirt because lead acid and AGM batteries cannot be in a sealed compartment. However, I did not seal my battery compartment because the lithium ion batteries need to operate effectively and efficiently in the same environment—and they do. Most RVers I know would not have a sealed battery compartment, either. I’m a real believer in making the field test as real as possible.
With that preface, in 2013, we boondocked a total of 127 nights (a little over 10 nights per month or about 34% of the time and a bit less than our normal of 40%) and lived our normal lifestyle. We spent a cool summer all over the northeast US and returned to an even colder south in early November. We did not go into Canada in 2013.
It must also be noted that there was only one major change in our coach. In March 2013, we had all new LED lighting installed (bulbs replaced) in all but two fixtures inside the closet (that are never on). While we don’t sit around with all the lights on, changing to LEDs would require less energy.
Last year (2013) during the checkup, it was suggested that we update the remote for the Magnum Inverter. We had the MS–RC Remote (that came with my coach, a 2007 Monaco Dynasty). We upgraded to the ME-ARC50, installed it while we were at Lithionics, called Magnum, and they walked us through every setting. Okay, so far. Off we went. This was in February and we were headed north to Indiana.
I simply cannot explain why, but I was getting the feeling that my “battery time” was getting shorter. I define “battery time” as the amount of time we live our normal lifestyle solely on battery power (plus any solar help). It was bugging me and I couldn’t determine why. Since battery time is flexible and based on usage, there are just too many variables to predict (with any accuracy) how long you can live “normally” on battery power.
I was also writing my new book, “The Best RV Trips in North America”and our plan was to head east through Pennsylvania, present seminars at The Rally in Syracuse, NY, then head on up to the St. Lawrence river, follow it east on into New England, end up in Maine and then head back to Pennsylvania to present seminars at the Hershey RV Show. As always, we would boondock where we could (our normal style of travel) and get campgrounds when we needed them. Interestingly, in New England, there are fewer places to boondock than elsewhere in the USA.
I mention all that because since we had to reduce our nights of boondocking, so when we did, I was keeping a closer watch on our battery, amp-draw, and generator run-time. By the end of summer, my generator (that was set to run for 4.5 hours) was running about two times in 24 hours! Not good.
[Sidebar… When RVers question me about the cost savings when boondocking, they often mention that it takes fuel to run the generator so there is a cost. I agree. However, it took me a long time to get a close estimate of my generator fuel costs. Finally, with the help of Cummins and others, we determined that my generator uses about 1/4 gallon of diesel fuel per hour on a half load. At $4.00 per gallon for fuel, my generator costs $1.00 per hour for us to live normally and charge my batteries. (I’m not trying to start a discussion of generator fuel-usage here. I am happy with my figure.)
I have always believed that a 4-5 hour generator run time in 24 hours is acceptable for the cost difference between a campground and boondocking. However, my generator was regularly running twice (two, 4.5-hour runs) in 24 hours—therefore, unacceptable.]
Who You Gonna Call
We made an appointment with the Inverter Service Company (White House, Tennessee) to have PJ and Randy look over our system. You should note that I have a world of respect for these guys and trust their judgement when it comes to inverter questions.
They put their heads together, dove right in, and determined that the various electronic controls were somewhat incompatible due to software revisions. After all, there is the Inverter, Remote, Battery Monitoring Kit, and Auto-Generator Start and they all have to work together and be compatible. With the correct revisions in place, PJ and Randy checked the settings and off we went.
Instantly, our “battery time” increased and our generator run time decreased (by about half). I was, once again, getting about 9-10-11 hours of “battery time” with one generator run in 24 hours. I can only attribute this change to the updated revisions and the settings as we did not change anything else, add/delete any electrical devices, and there was no change in lifestyle.
[Very Brief Review… Our normal usage is about 30-35 amp-hours in the daytime, about 45-50 amp-hours evenings, and about 20-25 amp-hours at night. Solar is always on.]
Some More News
Below is the data from the most recent visit (about three weeks ago but remember, this took place in 2014). This is not “MY” data but was given to me by Lithionics from their bench-testing of my coach battery. You will note that there is no data from February 2012. That’s because the testing facilities had not been set up at that time. Here it is, from Lithionics, verbatim…
March 5, 2011: the battery was installed with 380.98 net usable amp hours
February 12, 2013: we measured the battery at 363.86 usage amp hours, or, 95.5% of initial capacity.
February 19, 2014: we measured the battery at 338.13 usable amp hours, or 88.7% of initial capacity.
A battery is considered “worn” when it’s capacity is reduced to 80% state-of-original-capacity (sometimes called SOIC or “State of Initial Capacity”). It has taken THREE full years for my battery to reach 88.7% and therefore, I am a little over half-way to the point in the battery’s life where capacity will begin falling faster. It is not possible to accurately predict when this battery will require rebuilding, however, it is safe to estimate that I could likely get another 2–3 years from it.
They also confirmed that my charging system performed extremely well (Magnum and AM Solar). Everyone was extremely pleased that the newest software update from Magnum Energy filled my battery to within 2% of a lithium ion high-frequency battery charger… a fantastic result with a GEL-based algorithm. The support from the Inverter Service Center was outstanding.
The Accurate Data for the 8D Batteries I Had Initially
- My original two sets of Lifeline 8D batteries lasted 52 months (you read all this in the blog).
- Amazon today shows that I can purchase an 8D battery for $650.00 each PLUS SHIPPING
- To replace all 8 of the 8D batteries I used would be $5,200.00 (8 x 650 = 5200)
- So, $5,200.00 for 52 months equals a monthly cost of $100.00
The Accurate Data for the the Lithium Ion Battery
- I have used this battery for 36 months and capacity is down 11%.
- At installation, my battery cost $4,200.00
- So, $4,200.00 for 36 months equals a monthly cost of $116.00
- In six more months, my monthly cost will be $100.00 ($4,200.00/42 months) equal to my 8D monthly cost. This is “breakeven.”
As stated, my battery capacity is down by 11% in three years. The estimate is that there is another 2–3 years of use before reaching the 80% capacity. Allow me to speculate a bit here…
- Breakeven is at 42 months—6 months from now (that is known). Therefore, 2 more years from today (5 years total use) would be 18 months past the breakeven point and a savings of $1,800.00. Three more years use would, of course, be a savings of $3,000.00 when compared to my previous batteries.
Finally, when my Lithium ion battery reaches the 80% mark, if I notice the increase in generator run time, my battery can be rebuilt. The estimated cost today for cell replacement is $1,900.00 but that would be, essentially, a new battery with a new warranty, and potentially, another 5-6 years of use.
While the above cost-comparison is accurate and the breakeven is real, there are numerous other cost-saving advantages. My generator runs less. The electric-powered “things” in our coach run better/smoother (slides for example), those electrical “things” seem to last longer (like solenoids, etc.) and I base this on the fact that I haven’t replaced any since using the batteries. My coach is 600+ pounds lighter. That has to help.
Those of you who check back here regularly know that I don’t post very often but that’s because there’s typically nothing new to report. I have mentioned that if everything is going fine, what am I going to say? But as always, check back occasionally, tell your friends about the site, and be safe.