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Spring has sprung here in the south of France. After a few days of intense wind and heavy rain, the thermometer has crept steadily north. Our isolated spot on a rocky beach overlooking Leucate’s shallow lagoon would have been the perfect place to bask in the early spring sun. Which is a shame really, because we had to move.

With an almost empty water tank, we drove two kilometres to Air de Camping Le Goulet, a sizeable terraced motorhome parking area overlooking the lagoon. One of the many benefits of winter tours in France is free parking, even on fully serviced aires. We’ve used this site regularly. The exit barrier has been left open to allow motorhomes to enter without paying the regular €10 per night fee. It’s too close to the main road for us to consider paying to stay, but its free facilities have been useful. At least they were until the aire owners prepared themselves for the new season on 1st March.

The exit barrier was down. The aire is now fully operational and charging for admission. We didn’t want to pay €10 to resupply, so we drove north to the five-euros-a-night aire at Peyriac de Mer with its acres of peaceful parking. Thanks to recent heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding, all of the aire’s tree-shaded parking was cordoned off. We had to stop for the night on a muddy grass verge in front of the local rugby club changing rooms.

After a quiet night’s sleep, we prepared ourselves for two nights plugged into the mains electricity supply on Narbonne’s city centre aire. Our two battery leisure bank isn’t performing as well as we would like. Many site visitors suggested that the issue is simple. We are drawing more out of the batteries than we are putting in. We need to either run our generator for longer each day, visit aires more often to charge the batteries overnight or use less electricity.

We were offered some very welcome solutions. Suggestions included installing a more substantial battery bank, adopting a better charging regime and fitting more solar panels. We’re investigating all of these options.

Several commenters also suggested that we dig very deep into our savings for a set of lithium batteries.

I’ve now spent many hours trawling the internet for information about this relatively new technology. I have come to the conclusion that current lithium battery benefits, at least where boats and motorhomes are concerned, are about as real as the emperor’s new clothes.

Lithium manufacturers claim long battery life but offer short warranties. Old lead acid or AGM batteries can’t easily be replaced with supposedly high-performance alternatives. The new technology needs mollycoddling.  More substantial wiring is required and better power management systems to stop them from overcharging. Lithium batteries don’t like being continually charged from solar panels, and they can only be fitted by someone well versed in Lithium battery system installations, which would be a significant hurdle to overcome if we had them installed in the UK and we had a problem with them on the continent.

My narrowboat had a robust electrical system on board; four 160Ah AGM batteries charged by a 300W solar array with an MPPT controller and the engine’s alternator. I chose AGM batteries after extensive research. Dave Renolds, Calcutt Boats’ favoured electrical engineer, uses them on his own boat. His current set was installed ten years ago. They’re still going strong. Boatyard fitters recommend them. Time served live aboard boaters rave about AGM batteries. I had the four batteries fitted, monitored them regularly and enjoyed a problem and maintenance free electrical storage system until I sold my narrowboat eighteen months ago.

My recent online research unearthed many adverts for lithium batteries in the USA suitable for motorhomes. I read a few blog posts written by boat and RV owners who have installed them. They paid a small fortune for both the batteries and the infrastructure necessary to keep them healthy. I couldn’t find any information at all detailing battery performance several years down the line.

Until lithium batteries and their eye-watering cost are proven to be a realistic alternative to a decent set of AGM batteries I won’t consider them any further. I know there are hundreds of boaters and motorhome owners reading these blog posts. If you are one of them and you have installed lithium batteries, or know anyone else who has installed them, I would love to hear about your experience so far.

In the meantime, we’ll prepare ourselves for forty-eight hours with thirty other motorhomes packed together like sardines next to Narbonne’s rugby club as we try to coax some life back into our battery bank. You can read the battery problem post and its comments here.

Sunset over Narbonne’s aire

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 28 comments
Neil - March 7, 2018

Hi Paul,
I think your batteries might benefit from equalizing/desulphating, as they might not be storing there full capacity even if they are showing 100% charged as its only 100% of the capacity that’s available on the unsulphated plates. I hope this makes sense and I am no expert only going on what I have been reading on a blog on canal world forum.
Regards Neil.

Reply
    Ralph - March 7, 2018

    Agreed! I have de-sulphators running permanently and regularly (monthly-ish) equalise.

    Reply
    Paul Smith - March 7, 2018

    That sounds like a good idea Neil. How the hell do it do it though?

    Reply
      Neil - March 7, 2018

      You need a charger that will charge at least 15.5 volts, there is lots of advice and videos on google.

      Reply
        Paul Smith - March 8, 2018

        Good stuff Neil. I’ll have the charger checked and possibly changed.

        Reply
Michael Zwicky-Ross - March 7, 2018

New software Paul? FYI, I was halfway through reading the post when a pop up box appeared inviting me to subscribe (I’m subscribed) when I clicked on “go away” I was returned to the top of the post.

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    Paul Smith - March 7, 2018

    Sorry about that Andrew. I’ll try to keep my innovations to a minimum!

    Reply
Ralph - March 7, 2018

I have a 500Ah bank of 2V traction batteries, installed 20 years ago. Still going strong. Charging is by two, 400W solar arrays and, when it’s on-line, the alternator. They’re not sealed and require regular top-ups, which I carry out with a simple, syphon procedure using auto-fill plumbing only.

Happy days 🙂

Reply
    Paul Smith - March 7, 2018

    So you have 800W solar in total Ralph? I think that that would be enough for me, if I could fit it all on the Hymer’s roof.

    Reply
    Neil - March 8, 2018

    That is similar set up to mine 6x2v 560ah bank with auto watering system but only 300w of solar, only 2 years old so still loads of life left if I carry on looking after them.

    Reply
Alan Cranford - March 7, 2018

Here is a link to the best RV lithium battery system cost I have found: https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/rv-modifications-technology AND here is a link to WHY they chose lithium batteries on their new sailing adventure: https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/sailboat-tech-why-lithium-batteries BUT the sailboat had a $14,000 battery cost!!!
I think Neil could well be correct. You have had repeated electrical issues and know that your Hymer “brain” isn’t working correctly or wasn’t….which may have allowed for crazy, unregulated charging… that has caused the battery issues you are now experiencing. You added one battery… but kept the old one… that also could be an issue… although minor…one other item that you could benefit from is a portable inline surge protector. Due to voltage fluctuations in RV parks across the US and Mexico EVERY knowledgeable RVer uses one… the little “card” in your refrigerator which controls the electric use runs about $1,000 and gets “fried” very easily from an electric surge… less than required voltage can do the same type of damage as to much incoming voltage.
I’d go with the AMG batteries and TRY to add a third… maybe “relocate” the battery bank or locate the third in a different outside compartment… maybe even with a marine type battery switch so I could turn it completely off [while allowing it to charge and maintain the charge] so I ALWAYS have a full battery when rough camping!

Reply
    Paul Smith - March 7, 2018

    Relocating the battery bank may be possible on your big US rigs Alan, but mine are in the largest space I have; the garage. Even then, there isn’t much room. There’s room enough for a third battery, so we’ll consider adding one.

    No, I didn’t keep one of my batteries. One failed towards the end of last year. They were both lead acid. I replaced both with two 90Ah AGM batteries. We’ve now been sitting in a car park for an hour. The voltage reading should have stabilised for now. After two days on EHU, the batteries appear to be behaving themselves. The voltage is 12.7, which I understand equates to 90% capacity.

    Reply
adrian fielder - March 7, 2018

I’d like to know more about the solar systems, there’s so many out there and I covered it briefly in my degree but its a mine field.

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    Paul Smith - March 7, 2018

    There’s a useful guide to solar power on my narrowboat site here. Tim Davis from Onboard Solar wrote it six years ago. He keeps threatening to update it to reflect new technology, but he’s too busy installing solar arrays on what appears to be most of the boats on the inland waterways network.

    Reply
john - March 7, 2018

Paul,
Your recently purchased battery charger which says, on the box anyway, that it’s good for 12v and 24V (?motorhome voltage) has a battery repair mode – manual says do an ordinary recharge first before repair and not to do repair too often. For some reason repair mode not available for 24v batteries so hope you don’t have them.

john

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    Paul Smith - March 7, 2018

    Thanks for the advice John. I almost look forward to staying overnight at an aire so I can plug my charger in and give my battery bank a little TLC.

    Reply
Nick - March 7, 2018

Paul, here is a link to a narrow boat chap who had just converted to Lithium. You may find it interesting.

https://youtu.be/CIVBpSs2ma0

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    Paul Smith - March 7, 2018

    I’ve watched the video already Nick. It kind of proves my point. He appears to be a very knowledgeable chap who has done plenty of research. The problem is that he, to my knowledge, hasn’t been able to prove that Lithium batteries will last as long as the manufacturers claim. Do you know of any narrowboat or motorhome owners who have had a set of Lithium batteries installed for ten years, or even five years?

    Reply
Nick Green - March 8, 2018

I don’t know of anyone who has used Lithium batteries long term Paul. I think, like you, the Jury is still out in respect of Lithium batteries.

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    Paul Smith - March 8, 2018

    And we don’t want to rely too much on a defendant who may well be found guilty and sentenced to a life of hard labour with no chance of parole.

    Reply
Matt Bauer - March 8, 2018

The thing with Lithium batteries is, well, you have a laptop. It has lithium batteries which have a well-designed smart charger built in. If it’s still holding 50% charge after 8 years, go and buy a lottery ticket, because that’s quite some luck.

They have a finite life and it’s nothing compared to a decent AGM. They also burn like a localised apocalypse if damaged or shorted.
I don’t know where they’re installed in your motorhome, but the idea of being rear-ended in a non-armored battery compartment doesn’t bear thinking about.

Lithium cells’ advantage is weight and energy density, whereas your need seems to be more power coming in to charge the ones you have.

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    Paul Smith - March 8, 2018

    Thank you, Matt. Another nail in the coffin of my future lithium battery use. We don’t have lithium batteries installed in the Hymer. Which is just as well after reading your comment. Our two AGM batteries are installed in the Hymer’s garage two feet from the rear bumper.

    Reply
kevin plant - March 8, 2018

Hi Paul, this guy on youtube canal boater has change his battery’s to lithium have a look sites below
Journey with Jono
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIVBpSs2ma0 or I’m changing to Lithium Batteries, What Type and Why – 38(on YouTube)

Kev

Reply
    Paul Smith - March 9, 2018

    Thanks, Kevin. Yes, I’ve visited his site and watched this video. My view is that he is adopting a new technology (as far as narrowboats are concerned) which is only suitable for those who really know what they are doing, or those who are lucky enough to find an expert to fit the system for them. There isn’t yet any data to support the advertised life expectancy of Lithium batteries, especially lithium batteries either fitted in a boat on England’s inland waterways or in a motorhome. Another commenter likened Lithium batteries to ‘fine china plates’. Not much use to me. I know I would drop them.

    Reply
Malc - March 9, 2018

There seems to be masses of very sensible and well informed advice for this and your previous posts. The horse has been led to water.. not to see if and what it drinks 🙂
We can all appreciate that buying lithiums is a very expensive investment, but trying to live off grid in winter in Europe with 2 x 90Ah old batteries and a simple charger and expecting to not have to recharge them for days on end is somewhat optimistic.
I have 4 x 220Ah Trojan AGMs, an Advert 3 stage smart charger, 200Amp Alternator, 250 watts of Solar (in the tropics), and 30A wind generator… but i still need to run the engine or plug in at a marina occasionally. Nothing in this life is free – except the sun and wind.
Personally I also cannot afford to buy lithiums and the associated chargers but the only alternative for off grid motorhomes is AGM (or Gel) which are heavier and need a lot more care charging than any other type of battery. Do not shove the same voltage into AGMs that you would put into Lead Acids.. it destroys them.. i wrecked 2 of mine that way.
Suggest Adverc (http://www.adverc.co.uk/) or Sterling (https://sterling-power.com/pages/united-kingdom) are best people to talk to dead set on AGMs. or get a 6Kva genset and annoy the neighbors.

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    Paul Smith - March 9, 2018

    You’re very kind to suggest that trying to live off a 180Ah battery bank is ‘somewhat optimistic’. ‘Bloody stupid’ would probably be more accurate in hindsight. Sometimes I like to think of myself as reasonably intelligent. The evidence often indicates otherwise. I have the bit firmly between my teeth now though. I’ll get it right, just as I did on the boat. There’s a limit to the number, size and weight batteries I can fit in the Hymer’s limited space, but I can shoehorn another couple in, and I have a decent amount of space on the roof for more solar panels.

    Reply
Pete - March 11, 2018

Hi Paul, these guys have been living with lithium batteries for a while. http://www.technomadia.com/lithium/

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    Paul Smith - March 12, 2018

    Thanks for the link Pete. I’ve read several of their posts. They are clearly both knowledgeable and tech-savvy. They pointed out, several times, that lithium battery installations are only suited to those who know what they are doing, and that the motorhome electrical system must be completely lithium technology compatible. They also pointed out that early pioneer adopters are the like the pioneers who often ended up with arrows in their backs. My fear is that I (A) don’t have the knowledge to manage such a sophisticated system, (B) don’t have the money to both buy a lithium battery bank and change my current system to make it Lithium friendly and (C) won’t be able to find a skilled surgeon in the south of France to repair the damage resulting from being frequently impaled by arrows! I noted that these guys also have an 800W solar array to help keep the batteries charged. That’s probably three times the size of the array we can fit on our little roof.

    Reply

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