The LVenergy system
Living Vehicle is a sophisticated energy masterpiece, capable of incredible feats to provide the ultimate off-grid living solution. As with any advanced technology, a basic understanding of what’s happening is necessary to get the most enjoyment and use. The designers of LV’s goal are to provide future owners with the resources and tools to be well-versed in how things operate to have the best experience possible. This article is an introduction on the features and concepts behind the LVenergy system that enable our motto of “Luxury Unplugged.”
Energy can be challenging to understand at first because you can’t know how much power is stored in a battery or how much energy is used. Fuel usage in motor-driven cars and trucks is a simple concept, and it’s easy to understand – put in a gallon of gas and travel for so many miles – aka MPGs. We know what a gallon looks like and can visualize a 20-gallon fuel tank. If a vehicle gets 20 MPG, with a full 20-gallon tank, you can drive 400 miles. Simple.
Today’s homes are powered by electrical energy that we consume every day. At the end of every month, an electric bill is received, a payment is made, and the energy consumption process continues. When you get your electricity and gas bills, what do you look at? Of course, most of us look at the total cost to ensure we haven’t built up an enormous credit or debit balance. You may check the meter readings to make sure they match the ones on your meter, but do you ever look closely at the number of kilowatt-hours (kWh) you’ve used – and do you know what it means? Most of us don’t.
So, what is a kilowatt-hour (kWh)?
A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is a measure of how much energy you’re using, although it doesn’t mean the number of kilowatts you’re using per hour. It is simply a unit of measurement that equals the amount of energy a 1,000-watt appliance uses in an hour. For example, if you switched ON a 100-watt light bulb and let it run for 10 hours, that light bulb would use 1 kWh (or 1,000 watts) of energy - 100 watts for every hour of run time.
A 2,000-watt appliance would use 1 kWh in just half an hour and a 50-watt appliance would operate for 20 hours and use 1 kWh.
What Consumes 1-kilowatt hour?
It’s hard to be precise because similar appliances can have very different wattages, but here are some basic examples of what uses 1 kWh and for how long:
- An air conditioner rated at 1,500-watts, cooling for a little less than an hour.
- An 11-watt living room light ON for 24 days if using it 4 hours per day.
- The 25-watt Insta-Hot heater on standby mode would run for about 2 days.
- A 1,000-watt microwave for one hour.
- A 500-watt baseboard heater for two hours.
- A 43-watt TV for 24 hours, (and that would be a serious Netflix binge!)
- About three hours watching a plasma TV (280-450 watts).
- Less than an hour running a dishwasher (1,000-1,500 watts).
- Operating a refrigerator/freezer for one day (about 40 watts).
- An electric blanket (130-200 watts) all night.
- A laptop all day (20-50 watts).
- A mobile router for five days (7-10 watts).
What’s the difference between kWh and kW?
A kW is a measure of energy and stands for kilowatt, so a KWh is a kilowatt is a kilowatt-hour or 1,000 watts. The 1,500-watt air conditioner in the list above is also known as a 1.5-kilowatt appliance.
A TV or computer on standby still uses power and creates a kWh charge on your energy bill. For this reason, if you are off-grid and not planning on using an appliance, it’s a good idea to turn OFF the breaker to that device so as not consume phantom power in standby mode.
On-Grid vs. Off-Grid
The LV energy system provides power to many electronics, equipment, and appliances. Running “on-grid” vs “off-grid” is very different. When on-grid, and connected to shore power, we don’t pay much attention to how much energy is used because the source provides unlimited power because shore power provides as much energy as the electric company can provide, a seemingly endless amount. This is the attitude we are accustomed to in our homes because we’re connected to the grid and powered by electricity. We take the availability of electricity for granted.
When you remove that charging cable from your LV, you are operating a completely self-contained system that is reliant on stored electricity, and all energy will come from the battery pack. The more energy that’s consumed the more the battery pack will be drained of the storage.
Let’s return to the concept of the traditional fuel tank on a motor vehicle. When driving, fuel is consumed. As cars are not yet able to create fuel while on-the-go they must stop at service stations to fill up the tank. It’s similar to electricity in an LV. The battery pack will last for a limited amount of time without being plugged into shore power or some other source of power generation, such as solar panels or a generator. The length of time and number of lights or appliances that can be operated depends on how much energy is being used. Use fewer appliances, lights, equipment, etc. for shorter periods of time and the energy pack will last longer.
Every LV is designed with a specific number of solar panels to recharge the energy system when the sun is shining. Unlike a motor vehicle, an LV creates its own power supply without having to stop at a fueling station. Of course, if more power is used than is stored in the energy pack then it will be necessary to recharge the system before continuing with off-grid travels. Again, this may be done in several ways:
- the charging cable connection,
- running the backup generator or
- the energy integration that draws power from the tow vehicle engine.
Any one of these power sources will charge the lvEnergy pack.
Off-grid energy usage is a lesson in awareness. Without a shore power connection, it’s necessary to know how much energy is being used. The types and sizes of electrical equipment being used while traveling off-grid will have a direct impact on how long one can stay off-grid. If all the equipment connected to the battery pack or 120-volt inverter is turned ON, you could run out of power in one day! With time, you will gain an awareness of how much energy you consume, the conversation efforts required, and the ways you may extend your time off-grid.
Tips for Extending Off-Grid Energy
Here are a few tips to be aware of energy usage and conserve more power:
- The air conditioner uses lots of power, so use the AC when sunlight is available. If using the AC overnight, expect to use about 5-10kWh of energy.
- Turn OFF breakers to both 120-volt and 12-volt equipment when not in use so as not to consume electricity in standby mode.
- If not using any of 120-volt appliances, turn OFF the inverter because it also consumes power in standby.
- Regularly monitor the solar being captured when the sun is out to better understand how much energy is going into the energy pack with various sun conditions.
- Keep the solar panels clean. Dirty solar panels are significantly less effective than clean ones. Never step on the solar panels as this could damage the solar cells.
- Clouds and shade make the solar panels less effective, so park in full sun to collect the greatest amount of solar energy.
- Turn OFF lights and appliances when not in use.
- The Insta-Hot water heater uses a lot of power so be sure to turn it OFF at the breaker.
Low Voltage System
The low-voltage system is everything that operates direct current – aka DC electricity. DC energy is stored in the energy packs, or batteries, that are charged from the four sources named earlier. The LV utilizes a 24-volt DC energy system that is highly efficient. Many of the onboard appliances are operated by 12-volts and use a DC-to-DC converter to step down 24-volts to 12-volts.
Monitor the amount of electricity being used in the control panel, represented as a fuel gauge from 0-100%. Easy! This will indicate how much energy is stored and available for use.
Low-Voltage DC Breaker Panel
There is a low-voltage DC breaker panel and has several breakers which control power to all low-voltage equipment. The DC power system is on its own breaker panel and is separate from the 120-volt AC system. To turn any equipment OFF, simply switch a breaker from the ON to OFF position. If a piece of equipment is not functioning, the first place to look is a breaker to see if it has tripped.
Here’s a list of the equipment that is on the low-voltage DC system. Each LV system is different, but this provides a basic understanding of the type of equipment that is powered by the energy system.
High Voltage 120-volt AC Power System
Much like in a traditional home, LVs also operate with 120-volt electricity for select appliances.
The LV can power many electronics from the energy system depending on the configuration. In general, all LVs run the following 120-volt equipment using the battery pack and inverter:
Typically, the following appliances may or may not be connected to the off-grid inverter system. Again, this varies from model to model.
All 120-volt equipment is powered using several different sources of electricity. The first way to power lights and equipment is by using shore power. Simply plug-in the electrical connector and all lights and appliances will operate.
The second way to run lights and equipment is using the power generator, if equipped. The generator is a motor that powers through an alternator much like your automobile.
The third way to create 120-volt electricity is from an inverter that pulls power from a low-voltage DC energy pack. The inverter may be turned ON or OFF using the touchscreen control panel. Remember, whenever the inverter is turned ON power is available to all connected 120-volt lights and equipment. Even if an appliance is not on, power is running this equipment in standby mode or a monitoring state. The amount of power coming out of the inverter and being pulled from the energy pack can be monitored via a Bluetooth or WiFi connected VRM app.
Sources of Power
There are two primary sources of power in an LV. The main source of power comes from the energy pack, which collectively is a large battery, and stores solar power in low-voltage. The energy pack is a 24-volt DC system and discharged from a variety of sources. The following sources of power will charge the energy pack:
- The solar panel system is always ON and charges the energy pack when exposed to sunlight. Charge efficiency is dependent on variables, such as the angle of the sun, cloud cover, shade, or dirt/ dust on the panels which will affect the charge rate and how much sun the panels can collect. We recommend keeping the unit in full sunlight, and not in the shade, regularly cleaned with a telescoping brush, soap, and water. Do not walk on the panels and do not put anything on top of the panels. These thin-film panels are designed to be impact resistant but can be damaged. We recommend using a ladder to access the roof from the sides.
- Shore power is a large power cable connection plugged into an outlet that’s connected to the electrical grid. This is called shore power, from the marine industry, when boats plugged into a dock connection when by the shore. Whenever possible, plug into a 4-prong 50-amp connection, as the unit is capable of drawing lots of energy and may likely trip a breaker if using a 50-amp adapter down to a 30-amp connector. We do not recommend ever using a 20-amp or 15-amp household outlet, as this will likely cause breakers to trip. When you plug into a shore power connection, you’re charging your energy system and providing direct power to your 120-volt high-energy use appliances, equipment, and outlets. Depending on the model, certain equipment is only capable of running off a shore power connection. A generator is essentially a shore power connection.
- An onboard or portable generator allows you to take shore power with you wherever you go. A 50-amp shore power connection provides 10,000 to 12,000 watts. Typical generators are rated from 5,000-7000 watts. Because of this, you will need an awareness of how much equipment is used when the generator is turned ON. A generator can charge the energy system when sunlight is not available for the solar panels. The charger will automatically turn ON when the generator is running. When the generator is running, the controller will indicate how much energy is going into the battery system. The onboard LV generator uses propane fuel and consumes about 1 gallon per hour of propane. It should also be noted that a generator should be considered a backup option to shore or solar power.
- The tow vehicle alternator, or Energy Integration package, is another way to charge her energy back and provide electricity to your Living Vehicle. This high-power alternator is only available with the specialty package and requires aftermarket equipment. A standard tow vehicle connection is nowhere near powerful enough to charge the Living Vehicle system. This alternator has a special voltage that allows direct communication with the energy pack and a high rate of charge. You must be connected to your tow vehicle with the engine ON to collect power from the tow vehicle alternator. This is a DC power system and will only charge the energy pack. The alternator will not provide electricity to your 120-volt electrical system. You will need to run your inverter to provide power to your 120-volt system. The engine needs to be running to collect power from the tow vehicle alternator.
In order to properly operate while traveling off-grid, it’s important to have a clear understanding of how much power is being used from the energy pack. The LVenergy control panel provides a real-time view of many data points with complete visibility of the current state and energy system performance. Included on this touch screen panel are key points of information, including:
1. Battery pack charge state
Expressed in a percentage, this will show a gauge of how much energy is stored in the battery pack. The more energy stored, the more available.
2. Solar Panel Power
This shows real time how many watts of solar power are being generated.
3. Inverter Status and AC Power Consumption
The inverter is what changes DC power (low voltage) to AC power (120-volt) for 120-volt appliances while traveling off-grid. This shows a real-time gauge of the energy flow to your AC appliances. The inverter may be turned ON and OFF.
4. DC Power Consumption
All low voltage appliances, lighting, and equipment draw DC power directly from the LVenergy battery pack. This is shown real time in watts.
5. Shore Power Input
By plugging into shore power, power is provided to all 120-volt appliances and charge your energy system. The amount of power being provided is shown in Watts and will be expressed in real-time. The most power that may be drawn from a 50 AMP shore power line is 12,000 Watts.
6. Generator Power Input
If equipped with the backup power generation option, you may turn your generator ON and OFF from this control panel. When the generator is running, you will be able to see how much power is being generated real-time, shown in Watts. The generator provides 240/120-volt power to the entire system and performs the same function as shore power.
Real-Time Power Flow
The LVenergy control panel shows in real time how much power is being created, stored, and used. Small blue dots flow in the direction of real-time energy from one system to another.
The most basic and valuable information from this power flow feature is to reveal if your LVenergy battery pack is charging UP or drawing power DOWN. There is also an estimate till empty expressed in hours on the battery pack diagram. This valuable piece of information enables forecasts into how long off-grid use is available in the environmental situation.
The bottom-line value is what the NET energy value is. This is the total energy IN or energy OUT at any given time. Using electronics inside the LV will consume energy. Operating the generator, collecting solar, or plugging into shore power is how power is supplied to the energy system.
The Net Energy Value is an excellent number to check from time to time while getting to know the energy system. This indicates how much energy is being consumed and if it’s charging or draining the energy pack in real-time. The battery meter indicates the current level of the battery pack.
All LVs with the LVenergy system installed have the capability to monitor energy remotely. The LV is equipped with a SIM card and GPS that will provide a signal to the cloud so you may control the system wherever a mobile device or internet connection is available.
Download the app Victron VRM from the Android or IOS Apple App Store and connect to your energy system using Bluetooth.
We’re Here for You!
The LV service team is ready and available to answer any questions about the LVenergy system or support with any other service needs. Feel free to contact us at Service@LivingVehicle.com