Upgrading to Lithium Batteries: Part 2

In Part 2, we describe our van’s "house" electrical system both before and after upgrading from AGM batteries to Lithium batteries along with the steps we took to transition from one to the other and how much it cost us. Our previous post, Part 1, describes why we are switching to Lithium and why we chose the Lion Safari UT 1300 batteries. Although we probably could have just done a straight battery replacement, other components and changes needed to be made to have the system work properly and efficiently.

DISCLAIMER: These are not how-to instructions. We are not experts. Do your own research. Consult experts. Don’t do anything outside of your comfort zone or skill level. Be safe!

Our Electrical System Before the Upgrade

Let’s start by explaining what our Red Tail Lodge (our van) electrical system was before the upgrade, as best as we understand it.

Ford installed an initial base electrical system as part of the 2018 Ford Transit passenger van. This base system (like that of any other vehicle) is responsible for power for the vehicle's computer, power windows, radio, heater and AC operation, headlights, and the like. VanDOit added an additional electrical system as part of the camper van conversion that they completed for us in 2019. We'll refer to this as our "house" electrical system to distinguish it from the Ford "base" electrical system. There are several ways power comes into our house electrical system and several ways that power is consumed from that system. The three 100Ah Interstate AGM batteries that VanDOit installed are charged from three different sources, from a VanDOit connection to the Transit’s alternator, from the solar panels on the roof of our van, and from plugging the van into shore power at a campground or a house. The AGM batteries power a couple of VanDOit added DC sockets that are active when the engine is off, 120V AC outlets to plug household appliances into, and rocker switches that allows us to turn power on and off to things such as the lights and water pump (paid link) that VanDOit installed. In addition, the batteries power other devices that VanDOit installed such as the MaxxAir fan. (paid link)

The alternator converts the mechanical energy of the crankshaft into 12V DC electricity. The electricity is used to recharge the starter battery and meet the other power needs of the Ford Transit, such as the headlights, the radio, the backup camera, and the fan for the Ford’s heat and air conditioner. When the engine is not running, the alternator cannot generate any electricity. Therefore, when the engine is not running, devices are powered from the starter battery. Devices will not run indefinitely with the engine off, like the 12 V sockets on our dash or the radio, as Ford has a time out to try to prevent you from draining the starter battery. If you drain too much power from the starter battery, you won’t be able to start the engine.

Typically, when driving down the road, the alternator generates more electricity than is needed by the vehicle’s electrical system. VanDOit took advantage of this by using the alternator to charge the house batteries. The house batteries were connected by a very large 2/0 gauge cable to the alternator through a Blue Sea Systems Automatic Charging Relay (ACR). (paid link). The ACR ties the house batteries to the starter battery and disconnects them when the voltage drops too low. This allows the alternator to charge both the starter battery and our house batteries at the same time. 

Our two 170 W Go Power! Solar Panels (GP-PV-170M - unpaid link) were connected to the AGM batteries through a Go Power! Solar Controller (GP-PWM-30-UL - paid link). The controller uses pulse width modulation (PWM) technology to charge the batteries from the power being generated by the solar panels. The controller prevents the overcharging of the batteries.

Because shore power is 120V AC (alternating current) and the house batteries are 12V DC (direct current), the shore power needs to be converted to DC before it can be used to charge the batteries. VanDOit installed the Go Power! IC 2000 Watt Inverter Charger (GP-IC2000-12 - paid link) to perform that function. 

While the starter battery and alternator power the electrical devices and DC sockets that came with the original Ford Transit passenger van, the house batteries (and sometimes the shore power directly) provide the power for the electrical devices and outlets that VanDOit installed.

In addition to charging the batteries, the Go Power Inverter Charger also performs two additional functions, as an inverter and as a transfer switch. The Inverter Charger is what provides 120V AC power to our van to activate our AC outlets and power our Dometic roof top air conditioner. The inverter function converts the DC power from the house batteries into AC power.  If shore power is connected, the transfer switch function allows the shore power to directly power the AC outlets without going through the batteries first. This is more efficient since there is some power loss converting AC to DC and then more power is lost converting DC back to AC power. The inverter, charger, and transfer switch functions work in coordination with each other. If more power is available via shore power than is currently being used in the van, then the extra power goes into charging the batteries. Likewise, if the AC load in the van is more than what the shore power can provide, then the additional power needed is drawn from the batteries. If shore power is not connected, then all of the AC power for the van is coming from the batteries through the inverter.

The AC output of the Inverter Charger goes through a circuit breaker panel that VanDOit installed before going to the AC outlets and Dometic air conditioner. We have four circuit breakers in our panel and thus four separate AC circuits in our van for isolation and safety in case of an electrical short. Our Dometic roof top air conditioner is on one circuit. The second circuit is for the AC power strip inside our electrical cabinet and the AC outlet on the side of the electrical cabinet. The AC outlets along the driver side wall is on the third circuit. We used those outlets for the power strip on our kitchen pod, our Dometic 28 liter fridge (paid link), and the water heater (paid link). The fourth circuit powers the AC outlet on the passenger side of the van in the back by the rear doors. Other things we typically plug into the AC outlets are our Instant Pot (paid link), our laptops, our camera battery recharger, and our electric tea kettle (paid link). 

The DC power that VanDOit installed in our van comes from the house batteries. From the AGM batteries the DC power either goes through a Blue Sea Systems fuse panel or through the Data Panel that is controlled by a HED CanLink (CL-305-103) before reaching the devices that are powered by DC.

The fuse panel has separate fuses for the power awning, the Dometic air conditioner controller, the Espar heater (that we installed - Espar Heater Installation: Campervan Project #6), the Espar heater controller, the Battery Remote Switch for the ACR, the Solar Controller, the carbon monoxide detector, and one fuse for each of the two 12V sockets that VanDOit installed for us. 

The CanLink and Data Panel allow the rocker switches to control some of our devices. The things we are able to turn on and off using the rocker switches are the accent lights, the LED dome lights, the cargo lights, the water pump, and our Weboost cell signal booster (paid link) that we installed (weBoost Installation: Campervan Project #7). The MaxxAir fan also runs on DC, but it is not powered by the fuse panel or controlled by the rocker switches. We believe it is connected to the Data Panel somehow and always powered, but are not sure where its power connection is. The fan has its own fuse and on/off switch.

We use both the 12V sockets that were originally installed by Ford, the two installed by VanDOit, or the USB outlets in our AC outlets and power strips to plug in our USB devices. Obviously, we only use the Ford ones while we are driving, but they are convenient for plugging in the TPMS monitor (paid link), the Bluetooth audio adapter, and our phones. Other devices we plug into USB are a bug zapper, two small DC fans (paid link), an electric toothbrush, a Bluetooth speaker (paid link), Verizon Jetpack Hotspot (paid link), and a Garmin Inreach Mini (paid link). One of the 12V sockets that VanDOit installed is near our kitchen pod. Since both our previous Dometic fridge (paid link) and our new Isotherm fridge (unpaid link) can run off either AC or DC, we could use that socket to plug our fridge into. It would probably be more efficient to run the fridge from DC power, but we have not calculated how much the energy savings would be.

Our Electrical System After the Upgrade

So what changes did we make to our electrical system to upgrade to lithium? The obvious change is swapping in the Lion Safari UT 1300 lithium batteries in place of the AGM batteries.

The next change was to replace the ACR with a Redarc DC to DC charger (BCDC1250D - paid link). The ACR linked the starter battery and AGM batteries together. This works great when the starter battery and the battery bank are similar types of batteries, but is not recommended when the house batteries are lithium. AGM and lithium batteries have slightly different charging voltages and different characteristics. Lion recommends using a DC to DC charger. We chose the Redarc DC to DC charger. The charger can handle charging a battery bank that requires a different voltage than the starter battery. Redarc recommends placing a 60A fuse between the charger and the starter battery and another one between the charger and the battery bank. Therefore, we also bought the recommended Redarc 60A Fuse Kit (unpaid link) which contains both of the fuses we needed.

We decided to also use the Redarc DC to DC charger as our solar controller. Our Go Power! Solar controller is an older model that only has profiles for AGM, flooded, and gel batteries but no profile for lithium. Also, the Go Power! controller used the older PWM (Pulse Wave Modulation) technology while the Redarc charger uses the newer and more efficient MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) technology (What is the Difference Between MPPT and PWM Charge Controllers?). The Redarc charger manages charging the lithium batteries from both the alternator/starter battery and the solar panels at the same time, giving priority to using the power from the solar panels. If the power coming from the solar panels is not sent to the battery bank, then it goes to waste. On the other hand, reducing the load on the alternator may allow the starter battery to recharge faster. An additional advantage of removing the Go Power! Solar Controller is that it gives us a place in the electrical cabinet to  mount the Redarc DC to DC charger. 

The fourth change we made was to add a Victron Energy SmartShunt 500 amp Battery Monitor (paid link) to the lithium battery bank. This change was optional. It really has nothing to do with switching to lithium. The shunt measures the current and voltage of the batteries. We also purchased Victron's Temperature Sensor for BMV (paid link), so the shunt will also measure the temperature of the batteries. There is a VictronConnectApp that we downloaded to our phones that allows us to connect to the shunt via Bluetooth and see all the battery data including the amount of charger going into the batteries and the power usage going out of the batteries.

The fifth change is to our electrical cabinet. To give us access to the batteries, we added hinges and a latch to the panel in front of the batteries to turn it into a door we can open. Lion batteries have a reset button on top that we might need to access.

The rest of the changes are setting the appropriate parameters in the Go Power! Inverter Charger and the Redarc DC to DC charger. Our Inverter Charger does not have a lithium profile, but you can set a custom profile where the absorption, float, and equalization voltages can be set. The Inverter Charger has several stages of charging. In the first stage, bulk charging, the Inverter Charger keeps the current constant until the absorption voltage is reached. Then it keeps the voltage constant for two hours in the absorption stage. After that it enters the float stage where it tries to maintain the float voltage on the batteries. For Lion’s lithium batteries, Lion recommends setting the absorption and float voltages to 13.9 V. It is OK to set it higher, such as 14.1 V or 14.4 V since the batteries can handle a voltage as high as 14.6 V, but 13.9 V will fully charge the batteries. Lion also recommended setting the equalization voltage to 0 or as low as it will go and to never activate the equalization. The BMS (Battery Management System) in the Lion batteries will equalize the charge during the charging cycle. The setting we missed the first time around was that the Final Charge setting also needs to change from "Multi-stage" to "Float". We're not really sure what this does, but the batteries seem to charge better when it is set to Float.

The Go Power! Inverter Charger can monitor the temperature of the batteries and adjust the charging voltages accordingly. VanDOit did not install the temperature sensor of the Inverter Charger for the AGM batteries. Lion recommended not connecting the temperature sensor to their lithium batteries. Therefore, we did not need to purchase the temperature sensor.

The lithium profile on the Redarc DC to DC charger uses 14.5 V as the absorption voltage and 13.6 V as the float voltage for the batteries. This should work fine with the Lion batteries. To set the charger to the lithium profile, we connected the green and orange wires together. The Redarc charger has charging stages similar to the Go Power! Inverter charger except it adds an additional stage before the boost (bulk) stage called Soft-Start. The Soft-Start stage is where the charger ramps up the current to the full rated current which takes about 30 seconds. The blue wire of the charger is used differently depending on whether the vehicle alternator is standard or smart/variable voltage. We were not sure which type of alternator we have in our Ford Transit and were having troubles figuring that out. We ended up taking a voltage reading at the positive access terminal in the engine compartment, both when the engine was off and when the engine was running. The readings were 12.44 V with the engine off and 14.42 V when the engine was on. According to the Input Trigger Settings table in the charger manual, we should be using the standard Input Mode. This means that the blue wire should be left disconnected. For Standard mode, the charger will start charging the battery bank when the starter battery voltage goes above 13.2 V and will stop charging the battery bank when  the starter battery voltage drops below 12.7 V. This way, the charger will only charge the battery bank from the alternator while the engine is running. Perfect.

To aid you in your own research, here are links to the manuals of the devices involved:

Our Installation Steps

These are the steps we took to perform the upgrade. Right or wrong, it was the sequence that made the most sense to us. Remember that these are not instructions.

Step 1. De-energized the system.

To keep ourselves safe and to avoid damaging any equipment, we tried to disconnect all power sources as close to the source as possible.

a) Disconnected from the alternator. First we had to figure out where the ACR was connected into the alternator/starter battery. We followed the large red 2/0 gauge cable from the ACR, through the van floor, running underneath the van and up to positive access terminal in the engine compartment. After disconnecting the cable from the positive access terminal, we covered the metal connector on the end of the cable with electrical tape and zip-tied it to a nearby bracket so that it wouldn’t flop around the engine compartment. 

We also threw the ACR disconnect switch and measured the voltage across the red and black cables coming in through the van floor to the electrical cabinet to make sure the voltage was 0 V. This gave us confidence that we had disconnected the proper cable.

The large black 2/0 gauge cable coming in through the van floor is connected to the van chassis underneath the van. On most vehicles, the common ground for the electrical systems is the metal chassis of the vehicle.

b) Disconnected from the solar panels. Because it is not recommended to disconnect the solar panels while it is under load, we first covered the panels so they wouldn’t generate any electricity. First we laid two layers of blue tarp across the panels, but the solar controller was still measuring 0.5 amps of input. After adding an old queen-sized mattress pad and a double thickness of canvas tarp, we were able to bring down the input to 0.0 A. We were hoping we could disconnect the panels at the connectors on the van roof, but our hands would not fit under the solar panels enough to manipulate the connection. 

Not wanting to unmount the solar panels, we disconnected the solar panel inputs at the solar controller inside the van. This required us to unmount the solar controller first. After disconnecting the solar panel wires from the controller, we covered the ends with electrical tape and labeled the wires. Then we uncovered the solar panels as a thunderstorm was approaching. 

c) Made sure the inverter/charger was turned off and our external shore line was not connected. In other words, our van was not plugged in.

d) Turned off all four of the 120V AC breakers.

e) Pulled all the fuses from the fuse panel. We were careful to note which fuses were in which positions so we could put them back in the proper place as they are not all the same. This was a good time to make sure we knew which fuses controlled which circuits or devices. There were two fuses which we previously did not know what they were connected to. We managed to figure out that one of them went to the carbon monoxide detector. We still don’t know what the other one is for. Also, there are two fuse blocks that have wires connected to them, but no fuse installed. We’re assuming these are wired for some options that we did not purchase for our van build.

f) Disconnected all devices from the AC outlets and 12V sockets and turned off the AC power strip inside the electrical box. We did this as an extra layer of protection and to prevent a surge when we go to re-energize the system.

Step 2. Opened up the electrical cabinet as much as feasible. 

We wanted to make sure we had plenty of room to work. We disconnected the lights that are mounted inside the cabinet. We labeled all the wires with tape as we disconnected them so we wouldn’t lose track and make it easier on ourselves when putting it all back together. We familiarized ourselves with all the connections inside the electrical cabinet to make sure we understood how everything was wired. 

The way that the battery bank is connected to the other power inputs and outputs is through a 12 VDC bus bar and a ground bus bar. The large black cable coming in through the van floor is connected to the ground bus bar. Likewise, the data panel, the fuse panel, the inverter/charger and the battery bank each have a ground connection to the ground bus bar. 

There are no direct connections to the 12 VDC bus bar. The battery bank, inverter/charger, and ACR are each connected to the 12 VDC bus bar through their own separate fast-acting Class T 300 A fuse. The fuse panel and data panel are both connected to the 12 VDC bus bar through the same ANL 50A fuse. These fuses keep the systems isolated and prevent a short in one system from affecting the other systems.

Step 3. Disconnected the AGM batteries and removed them from the cabinet.

Now, assuming we did everything correctly, there should be no electricity in any of the wires inside the electrical cabinet. For curiosity sake, we weighed the AGM batteries and the lithium batteries. The AGM’s weigh 65 lbs each. The lithium batteries weigh 23 lbs each. That’s quite a difference!

Step 4. Removed the devices and wiring that is no longer needed.

a) Removed the ACR. In addition to removing the ACR, we also removed the associated red battery remote switch along with its wiring to the fuse panel. That also means that we do not need to put the fuse for it back into the fuse panel.

b) Removed the Go Power! Solar Controller. Again, we removed the wiring from the solar controller to the fuse panel and noted that there is another fuse we do not need to put back.

Step 5. Mounted the new devices.

a) Mounted the Redarc DC to DC Charger. We mounted the charger over the hole in the plastic panel left by the solar controller that we removed. The wire bundle coming out of the DC to DC Charger is rather stiff, so we did not try to feed it back through the plastic panel, but routed it around the side of the panel instead. 

There are LED’s on the end of the DC to DC Charger that indicate the profile being used, the charging status, and the error status. Mounting the charger on the plastic panel allows us to view these LED’s easily.

b) Mounted the power distribution block. We used a 300A Bus Bar Power Distribution Block (paid link) for connecting the 2/0 gauge cable coming from the alternator to the Redarc 60A Fuse holder. The 2/0 gauge cable is too large to fit into the fuse holder directly, so it will be connected to the power distribution block and a 6 gauge cable will connect the power distribution block to the 60 A fuse holder. We mounted the power distribution block in about the same location as the ACR.

c) Mounted the 60 A fuse holders. We mounted one of the fuse holders just above the power distribution block. One end of the fuse holder will be connected to the power distribution block and the other end will be connected to the red wire of the DC to DC charger. The other fuse holder was mounted just above the 12V bus bar. One end of the second 60A fuse holder will be connected to the Class T 300 A fuse that was used for the ACR. The other end of the second 60A fuse holder will be connected to the brown wire of the DC to DC charger.

d) Mounted the Victron SmartShunt Battery Monitor. This needs to be close to the negative terminals of the battery bank. We mounted the shunt on the t-track next to where the lithium battery bank will be. We also plugged the Victron power and temperature sensor wires into the shunt. The pin of the red cable pushes into the “Vbat +” terminal on the shunt. The pin of the black cable pushes into the “Aux” terminal on the shunt.

e) Secured the lithium batteries in the electrical cabinet. The Lion lithium batteries have a slightly different footprint than the AGM batteries. We mounted some aluminum angle to the floor to keep the lithium batteries from sliding around inside the electrical cabinet.

Step 6. Figured out what cables and wires we needed and had cables made.

The position of the lithium batteries allowed us to re-use most of the battery cables. However, there were three adjustments we needed to make. First, the connector on the end of the big red cable coming through the van floor from the alternator, which used to be connected to the ACR, was oriented in the wrong direction for connecting it to the power distribution block that we installed. The other two adjustments had to do with the shunt. The large black cable coming from the ground bus bar now needs to go to the shunt instead of directly to the batteries. So the cable needed to be shortened. Then we needed another cable made to go from the shunt to the batteries.

We do not have the proper tools nor a supplier of 2/0 gauge cable to make these adjustments ourselves. Finding someone who was willing to make these for us turned out to be a challenge. One auto repair shop was going to charge us $401 and they would have to order the cables because they don’t keep them in stock. A van conversion company that we contacted said it would take them a couple of months before they had time for us. Then we contacted Matt at AVC Rig (Adventure Vehicle Concepts) in Berthoud, Colorado. Not only could he work us in the very next day, he would only charge us $25. Score! We drove up to Berthoud and Matt spent almost an hour with us, making our cables, changing out the connector, and answering our questions. A big shout out to Matt! AVC Rig is a small adventure van conversion company that works with Ford Transits. Thank you Matt for helping us!

The manual for the Redarc DC to DC charger does not state what gauge wire is used for the red (for the alternator input), brown (for the battery bank output), yellow (for the solar panel input), and black (ground) cables that come with the charger. Since the manual does recommend using 6 gauge cable for lengths from 3 to 16 feet and 4 gauge cable for lengths from 16 to 30 feet, we’re assuming the cables coming out of the charger are 6 gauge cables. Finding 6 gauge cables was also a little challenging. We were able to find some 6 gauge and 8 gauge cable at McGuckin Hardware in Boulder.

In addition to picking up some 6 gauge cable lugs, we ordered a crimping tool (paid link) from Amazon in order to make the remaining cables/wires that we needed. We decided that having an easy way to disconnect the solar panels would be a good idea, so we also ordered a quick connect/disconnect wire harness plug (paid link).

Step 7. Made the cabinet panel modifications.

While we were waiting for our ordered items to arrive, we made the front plastic panel by the batteries into a hinged door. Since the panel originally fit into the slots of the t-track, we trimmed off the panel in both dimensions with a table saw. This would allow for a panel that could swing open. A 2" hole saw was used to cut the large hole for mounting the door latch. The holes for the hinge screws were drilled with a standard 6mm drill bit. Since we wanted the hinges at the top of the panel so we wouldn't stub our toes on them, we made sure that they were spaced to not interfere with the hinges of the panel above it since they both mounted to the same t-track. Left Buddy (LB) cut and ground down some of the aluminum angle to make a latch catch and a couple of door stops so the panel would be properly supported when closed.

Step 8. Made all the cable and wire connections except for the batteries.

a) Connected the alternator to the DC to DC Charger. We connected the big red cable (the cable that Matt at AVC Rig had modified for us) coming in the van floor to the power distribution block. Then we made a 6 gauge red wire to connect the power distribution block to the 60A fuse holder. The red wire leading from the DC to DC charger was long enough to reach the other end of the 60A fuse holder so all we needed to do was add a cable lug to the end of the wire. The black wire leading from the DC to DC Charger was also long enough to reach the ground bus bar so again we just needed to add a cable lug. After installing the 60A fuse into the fuse holder, we connected up all the wires. Note: the large red cable is still disconnected from the positive access terminal in the engine compartment at this point.

b) Connected the DC to DC charger to the 12V bus bar. Another red wire was made to connect one end of the second 60A fuse holder to the end of the 300 A fuse holder that was available due to removing the ACR. Yet another red wire was made to extend the brown wire from the DC to DC charger to reach the other end of the second 60 A fuse holder. Well, actually we only had black wire left at this point, so we wrapped it with red electrical tape to make it clear that it was a positive wire and not a ground wire. After installing the fuse into the second 60A fuse holder, we connected the wires.

c) Connected the SmartShunt to the ground bar. This connection used the cable that Matt at AVC Rig shortened for us. We did NOT connect the other end of the SmartShunt at this time.

d) Connected the DC to DC charger to the solar panels. First we covered up the solar panels again, this time in the rain. We connected the black wire from the solar panels to the ground bus bar. This reached without having to make another wire. The red wire from the solar panels was connected into the positive side of the quick connect plug. We connected the yellow wire from the DC to DC charger into the positive side of the other quick connect plug. We only used the positive portion of the quick connect plug, leaving the ground connections of the plug empty. At this point, we left the quick connect plug disconnected.

Step 9. Connected one of the lithium batteries to charge.

Lion recommends having a full charge on each of the batteries before connecting the batteries together.

a) Connected the SmartShunt to the negative terminal of one of the batteries. We used the cable that Matt had made for us.

b) Connected the positive terminal of the same battery to the 12V bus bar. We used the existing large 2/0 red cable from the 300A fuse holder that leads over to the battery bank. We also connected the M8 cable eye of the Victron temperature sensor to the same positive battery terminal.

c) Connected the VictronConnect phone app to the shunt via Bluetooth. This allowed us to start seeing information from the battery. In the app, we set the battery capacity to 105Ah (since we only had one battery connected at this point), the charged voltage to 13.9 V, the discharge floor to 10%, Peukert exponent to 1.05, and the charge efficiency factor to 99% as recommended by the manual instructions. We also set the auxiliary input function to Temperature. The app initially says the State of Charge is 100% (even though we knew it wasn't) and will synchronize over time as it learns what a full charge looks like (when the charging voltage is reached and the charging current drops below the tail current).

d) Plugged into shore power, turning on the inverter/charger.

e) Changed the profile of the inverter/charger. Using the inverter/charger controller panel, we set the profile to “custom”, setting the absorption and float voltages to 13.9 and the equalization to 12V (the lowest setting).

f) Waited for the battery to fully charge. We noticed that the battery was only drawing about 1A. This seemed too low of a current. After looking at the inverter/charger settings again and pushing the inverter and charger buttons a few times, the inverter/charger went into the bulk stage and almost immediately into absorption stage. The current was then about 25 A. That’s better. The Lion batteries should be able to handle a charging current up to 45 A. We’re not sure if the inverter/charger was stuck in the float stage (the display just said “Multi-stage”) or the new battery type settings had not taken hold yet (although it had been almost an hour). We’re also not sure what triggered the inverter/charger to start the charging cycle again. We considered the battery fully charged when all five LED's lit on the battery when the power button was pressed and the current reading on the inverter/charger display dropped below 1A.

g) Unplugged from shore power, turning off the inverter/charger.

Step 10. Repeated Step 9 two more times for the other two batteries. 

We did not need to set the profile of the inverter/charger again because it was set properly from the first battery. However, when we connected up the second battery, it was drawing only 1A again. We could not get it to go higher this time. After some Googling, we discovered another setting that was recommended by Go Power! for lithium batteries that we had overlooked before. After we changed the Final Charge setting from Multi-stage to Float, the current jumped up to around 40 A. Much better!

Step 11. Connected all three fully charged batteries together.

a) Connected the negative terminal of one of the batteries to the SmartShunt.

b) Connected all the negative terminals of the batteries together. We re-used the two short black cables from the AGM batteries.

c) Connected all the positive terminals of the batteries together. We re-used the two short red cables from the AGM batteries.

d) Connected the positive terminal of the battery at the opposite end of the battery bank to the big red cable coming from the 300A fuse holder and the cable eye of the Victron temperature sensor.

e) Updated the SmartShunt settings in the VictronConnect app from 105Ah for one battery to 315Ah for all three batteries combined.

Step 12. Tested that the batteries can power all of the AC and DC circuits.

a) Turned on each of the rocker switches and made sure the appropriate device was powered: dome lights, accent lights, cargo lights, and weBoost. We waited to test the water pump because we had not de-winterized the van yet.

b) Put each of the fuses back into the fuse panel and tested each device that it controlled: the awning, the air conditioner controller, the heater and heater controller, the carbon monoxide detector, and the two 12V sockets. To test the sockets, we used a USB adapter that had a power light on it.

c) Made sure all the AC devices worked. We turned on the inverter/charger and flipped on each of the breakers. For the 120V AC outlets, we plugged a light into each one. Then we turned on the air conditioner fan for a brief moment.

Step 13. Tested that the batteries can charge from each of the three sources.

a) Plugged in shore power and turned on the inverter/charger. Made sure the inverter/charger was reading the level of the batteries and was charging them from shore power. Then unplugged from shore power.

b) Reconnected the big red alternator cable to the positive access terminal in the engine compartment. Turned the engine on. Checked that the vehicle LED on the DC to DC charger lit up. Checked that the batteries were charging. Then we turned the engine back off.

c) Reconnected the quick connect plug for the solar panels. After plugging the solar connectors together, we removed the snow-covered tarps from the solar panels and made sure the solar LED on the DC to DC Charger lit up. Checked that the batteries were charging.

Step 14. Re-assembled the electrical cabinet.

It’s a good thing we took a lot of pictures and labeled everything when we took it apart. After plugging all the under-shelf accent lights back in, we tested turning on the accent lights one more time to make sure they were all connected.

Our Costs

So how much did this all cost? 

  • Three Lion batteries: $2,271.14 (Limited time sale price at Costco)
  • Redarc DC to DC charger: $486.87
  • Redarc 60A Fuse Kit: $56.95. 
  • Victron Energy SmartShunt: $136.14 
  • Victron Energy Temperature Sensor: $21.22
  • 300A Bus Bar Power Distribution Block: $37.42
  • New battery cables and adjustments by Matt at AVC Rig: $25.00
  • Cable lug crimping tool: $25.26
  • 50A quick connect wire harness: $9.35
  • latch and hinges for cabinet modifications: $18.71
  • wire, heat-shrink tubing, terminal lugs, aluminum angle, electrical tape: $76.98

Therefore, the upgrade set us back a grand total of $3,165.04. We considered adding in the cost of LB’s beer, but he did not drink more than his usual one beer in the evening, although he seemed to need and enjoy the beer much more than usual on the days we worked on the lithium upgrade.

Was it worth it? We think so at the moment. Lithium gives us more power, they charge faster, they should last longer, and we don’t have to worry about damaging the batteries if we drain the batteries too much. The BMS in the Lion batteries will protect the batteries. The lithium batteries also weigh a lot less than the AGM batteries, for a total weight savings of 126 lbs. Time may tell a different story. We’ll keep you posted.

Is it worth it for you? Only you can answer that question. It depends on your priorities, how much money you have, and your needs. Hopefully we provided helpful information to help you reach your own decision.

If you are interested in buying Lion batteries, you can use our Lion 15% discount link (Note: discount code 92 and the 15% is applied during check out and we receive a commission from Lion on your purchase).

Check out our related video: Upgrading to Lithium Batteries Part 2