Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Discussion about OutBack Inverters in Off Grid Applications

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Surfpath
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Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by Surfpath » Wed Mar 27, 2019 8:37 am

So,
I bought my Outback Flexpower 1 system (VFX3048, FM80, 230v, 48v, Mate2) in part because I read that it was user field serviceable. I live remote and it is extremely expensive & difficult to have anything shipped to me.

The system is now 6 years old. Everything is fine (just a fan replacement 2 years ago for the FM80) and I am very gentle with it (no generator charging, highest starting/running loads are 1,500/900w). I anticipate more years out of my system. My only concern is, perhaps, a rare thing here: lightning.

Is there any sense re. purchasing spare outback parts (boards, fans?) just to have on hand (I could pick these up in the US). What parts do you recommend?

I am aware that outback has moved on to new inverters, Mates, etc. so I am also hoping that these old parts will also still be available (maybe this is another reason to "prep" a little now). Suggestions appreciated....

SandyP
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by SandyP » Wed Mar 27, 2019 10:29 pm

If you rely on your Outback system (and have no real backup option) and have the money then it seems a wise choice as long as you can store the spares in a way that their electronic components will not degrade.
Heat (and dust) as well as operating the electronics near their capacity seems to be the main factor in shortening the operational life of components.

JRHill
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by JRHill » Thu Mar 28, 2019 8:49 am

First, a hat tip to you for getting into a serious consideration of spares. For my part, I have procrastinated on the subject for too many years.

When I planned my system I was confident of the supplier AND the piece parts from Outback in terms of durability and support. But realistically, things change. I did a few upgrades and additions but the major components remained the same. Then some new things came out and my VFX3648 is on a countdown for support. Seriously, I believe there are so many of them out there that Outback would do serious injury to their reputation by forcing upgrades do to end-of-support/parts so I don't think that's an issue right *now*. But it could be down the road. In the same way that Outback combined the off grid and grid connected models into a single unit, think about how much it costs to support outdated models....

So back to the subject: I have determined NOT to buy spares for the VFX for now. When out-of-budget hits quit happening I will buy the latest and greatest equivalent to the VFX and hope I have some neighbors around to help lift/mount it when the dreaded day comes. Next, yes OB stuff is field serviceable. But as a few recent threads testify, ya gotta know what yur doin and do it right or you'd be better to have a *whole* known good spare to swap out. So that's where I'm at in my procrastination. Your circumstances are probably different but you might consider a full replacement instead of piece parts.

Best,
Jim

Surfpath
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by Surfpath » Thu Mar 28, 2019 12:31 pm

Thanks Sandy and JR,
In answer: Yes I depend 100% on my system. In case the FM80 goes down I have a spare (Tristar45 PWM) Controller (I would have to reconfig my panels to strings of 2) and a Honda briefcase generator as backup. I would buy a new FM80 and fly it in personally in my hand luggage.

It's be more of a PITA if my inverter goes. If I could not field service it, it would take 3-5months to get a new one sent to me by boat. In the interim I would probably get a 12v or 24v 'Samlex type' inverter fairly quickly (locally). But I would have to rewire my bank (and completely rewire my Flexpower system) ](*,) .

So, you see why the discussion about how to protect my current outback inverter. My one fear is a random nearish lightning strike......

I have a Midnite DC Surge Protector that is mounted on my roof at the combiner box. My house & my solar array is also grounded at the same copper pole.

I now realize that I probably need an AC surge protector (I remember someone on this forum saying that if an inverter gets lightning zapped it usually comes through the AC side).

Should this surge protector be mounted to my house breaker panel, or on the FP1 housing itself?
Cheers,
SP
ps. Again, to go back to my initial post, does anybody recommend any spare parts - especially if the VFX's are on their way out.

JRHill
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by JRHill » Thu Mar 28, 2019 1:31 pm

You can't predict the damage from a lightning hit. Worse, there could be latent issues to come back - you just don't know for sure.

You can help with surge protectors, etc., but if a hard hit, your're probably screwed. You can't protect against literally millions of volts.

Go to church.

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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by sodamo » Thu Mar 28, 2019 4:29 pm

Being off grid and not n the mainland I also share your concerns and JimÔÇÖs insight.
Having 4 inverters and FX80s does giveme some built in redundancy. A few years back i had a problem withone inverter that wasnÔÇÖt resolved by board swaps. Outback advised I would have to send back for major rebuild (likely transformer). As it was out of warranty, shipping costs both ways etc made this ahigh cost decision. Luckily I found a fair priced demo replacement on ebay.
When I upgraded from MX60 to FM80, I kept on as a spare. Also kept original Mate when upgraded to Mate 3. Unfortunately, eventhough OB support has been awesome, I fear the end of support for my FX inverters is sooner than later, so I am attempting to save enough to replace and have discussed a bit on the forum. Still canÔÇÖt decide weather to stick with FP4 or go Radian, but I keep going back to idea of redundancy, so favor the FP4. I intend to repurpose my FX3048s to dedicated charger status, but keep thinking I might try to wire for emergency AC.
Of course I have backup generation, but fuel costs makes that a very short term solution for 24/7 power.
David
Please visit http://vacation.ninolehawaii.com

Surfpath
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by Surfpath » Fri Mar 29, 2019 2:39 pm

Hi JT and Sodamo,
Thanks for the feedback. Agreed, it's hard to predict which gear I may need(plus some of those boards are pretty expensive from the looks of it). However it may become harder to source parts for the VFX's. I am still torn between.

Also, it is a matter of timing. I am due for a battery bank change in 2019 (hopefully nearer the end of the year). Realistically I would hope to get another 6.5 to 7 years out of a new pair of L16 REB's (or a little longer-10? if I get industrial Trojan SIND's).

That would make my inverter ~15 years old. Anything more would be bonus time. Plus by then battery technology should have upgraded.

In the meantime, I think I will get a few more surge protectors, and continue the policy of system low stress.

JRHill
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by JRHill » Sat Mar 30, 2019 1:42 pm

I really like and have pondered David (Mr Somamo's) idea of using the 'ol VFX for 2nd ops/backup and battery charging. They would be really good battery chargers in their 2nd life. But I have wondered about the failures - if when they fart-out on inverting then how do they do with charging?

It depends, I suppose....

JeffinthePeace
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by JeffinthePeace » Sun Mar 31, 2019 6:38 am

In your shoes, I would not try to guess which parts might fail and I would just save my money.
The most often mentioned parts bring replaced seems to be boards. It may not be statistically accurate to say that those are the parts which fail most often but I do read it often. And theyÔÇÖre expensive.
I too have an aging system: dated VFX3525, Mate and battery. Who knows what if anything will crater next.
It would be great to have a Mate 3 and an FNDC, but one thing that has kept me from buying things here and there - a second inverter, for example - is component compatibility. Some things just do not play well with others.
So if you start envisioning scenarios where you might keep this piece long-term and upgrade another piece to the new ÔÇÿXÔÇÖ, just be sure to keep component compatibility in mind.
J

raysun
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by raysun » Sun Mar 31, 2019 10:19 am

JRHill wrote: Next, yes OB stuff is field serviceable. But as a few recent threads testify, ya gotta know what yur doin and do it right or you'd be better to have a *whole* known good spare to swap out. So that's where I'm at in my procrastination. Your circumstances are probably different but you might consider a full replacement instead of piece parts.
I just went through a 'simple' upgrade to my FP1 based system - adding a 2nd Charge Controller.

I'm fairly good at integrating electrical components and wiring, and saying wiring is tight inside an FP1, (and a bit messy) is an understatement. I definitely would not want to unwire the inverter in order to replace parts. These units are field-servicable, but not easily field serviceable.

If spares were a consideration, I'd consider buying an entire pre-wired FP1 to keep as a spare.

Offgrid
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by Offgrid » Sun Mar 31, 2019 10:43 pm

Surfpath:

My 2 VFX3524's have been humming along for about 15 years now. I have them well protected from lightning and other surges and even with some close strikes, they have not failed, yet.

I use them to run my entire house with a refrigerator, AC water pump, air compressor, a small window air conditioner and even sometimes an arc welder not to mention I charge my batteries with a generator on a cloudy day.

Maybe 5 years ago, I noticed my lights would "blink" when the refrigerator or some other minor inductive loads would turn on. I have a 1/2 hp water pump and that would always blink the lights but the minor loads had me worried a bit.

I figured that one or more of the 60 FET's on the FET board were failing so I went and bought a spare FET, Control and AC board in case I need them if (when) there was a failure.

I will soon be getting another VFX3524M inverter as a swap out spare so if (when) I have a failure I can swap out the whole inverter without too much down time and repair the failed one at my leisure. Outback discontinued the VFX3524 but they have a VFX3524M (mobile) that will work for me.

The 3 inverter boards cost about $1000 USD and a new inverter about $1600 USD. If you are handy with a screwdriver and have the time to repair the inverter, the boards are cheaper but if you need power without too much downtime, get a replacement inverter. You can always fix/send out the failed inverter later.

As for lightning protection, that gets a little more complex. I will assume that you are offgrid. Since I do not know your setup, here are a few things I would do:

1: Use more than one ground rod. Start with the existing one you have and connect 2 or 3 more with the largest wire you can find, 6 AWG or larger would be fine. Place the new rods 10-16 feet away from the existing rod in a star configuration and connect each new rod to the existing one. Keep 10-16 feet spacing between the new rods.

2: Get a small piece of copper plate, or other metal and connect that to the existing ground rod, again with the largest wire you can, this is where you will ground everything else to, it's called a single point ground, (SPG).

3: Get the appropriate surge protectors, one for the AC output of the inverter, one for the input of the charge controller and if you want some overkill, a surge protector on the inverter input.

4: Ground the solar panel frames, the combiner box protector, house breaker panel and all other protectors to the SPG.

Any other grounds should go to the SPG. Without going into a lot of detail, everything should be grounded to the SPG because when a lightning strike happens and everything is grounded to the same point, there is minimal voltage differential between your equipment and the surge protectors can do their job better.

I hope this helps.
OffGrid

Surfpath
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by Surfpath » Tue Apr 02, 2019 12:13 pm

Offgrid,
Than you for the good grounding advice. I currently only have one ground rod (5" long embedded in wet clay soil) with all my grounds (panels, FP1, House AC ground) going to that single ground.

After reflection, I think it's prudent for me to, first, enhance my grounding and surge protection first before buying a bunch of expensive boards.

Second, instead of buying boards, I think I need a cheap back up inverter. I will have to get new batteries sometime in the next 12 months. If I am shipping batts, it's not all that difficult to add other gear to the order. So I may just order a back up 48v/240v inverter for now. This backup is just in case the inverter goes unexpectedly-to give me 2-3 months (the time it'll take to ship a new inverter/FP1/? to me).

So I am now in the market for a cheapish ~1000watt 48v input / 230v output pure sine wave back up backup inverter. It seems like it's a rare item. This was the only one I could find (600watts/1000w surge), which is a bit small:

https://www.amazon.com/Samlex-PST-60S-4 ... B07N1P7546

I just need it big enough to handle the 800w laundry machine (~1700w surge) :wink:

raysun
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by raysun » Tue Apr 02, 2019 2:33 pm

The whole issue of spare parts is complex. I'd say half of all money spent on spares is wasted - the problem is to know which half.

Re.: Inverter spare. I looked into the same options. The Chi-Comm inverters are cheap enough. A 1500VA 48V Samlex/Cotek brand are about US$600, Ames about the same. The main issue I've had testing these is the AC Out is bound to 15A GFCI circuits (unless you can find a hardwire model). Having a GFCI outlet feed another GFCI circuit is a complexity that can lead to annoying fault conditions, tripping the outlet on the inverter unnecessarily.

Another issue is a backup battery charger. Unless you have a 48V external charger (spendy as they ware) you might be caught short on cloudy days. Quality chargers are as expensive as inverters. I "punted" on this issue and bought a 4 bank, 12V @ 10A Noco Genius charger. I can wire each bank to a 12V battery in a 48V string to.chsrge. With 2 strings, each needing to be charged separately, it would work, but be a royal pain. Hope I never have to resort to it.

I noticed the Outback GFVX1548 inverter is around US$1100. While it's not labeled for use in the US, it's still quality Outback, and would be a "wire-in" replacement for a faulty main unit. Added bonus is the built-in 48V charger, too.

Other than that, a spare fan for the inverter and for the charge controller might be wise. These parts will fail eventually and it's a simple replacement.

Surfpath
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by Surfpath » Fri Apr 05, 2019 11:44 am

Hi Raysun,
Really good advice. I like the idea about the GFX (being discontinued so on sale now). In my case the GFX1448E would be the right unit for our specs, and I believe it should play fine with my Flexpower1 if we ever needed a replacement.

We have an inverter fridge which draws, at most, 360 watts. 99% of the time it is at 150watts. The only big start up surge is our clothes washer (~1800watts?). Normal run consumption ~800watts. We really don't use our VFX3048 capacity much these days. I did not see the surge specs for the GFX but I would guess that it would handle it the washer - yes, I just read the brochure and it should be fine. We just may have to keep our eyes out on some of the other loads while we wash.
https://www.solar-electric.com/lib/wind ... nglish.pdf

The only real issue may be that the GFX is a sealed unit and we have hottish average high temps here (25-29 degrees C, or 77f-85f)? Also we'd be limited in the long term if we wanted to add more appliances.
Last edited by Surfpath on Fri Apr 05, 2019 12:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

raysun
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by raysun » Fri Apr 05, 2019 12:00 pm

The 1548 will handle the startup surge of the washer I'm sure.

I just did a "simple" upgrade to my FP1, adding a 2nd charge controller. I'm here to say mucking around in the FP1 guts is no easy task.

I'd get the 1548 as an offering to Murphy's Law, and pray it never needed to be put into service.

Surfpath
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by Surfpath » Mon Apr 08, 2019 9:58 am

Yes, I have heard before that the FP1 enclosure is a small and challenging space. Fortunately, my wife has very nimble fingers, a sharp mind, and loves that sort of thing. She is an assembly addict of sorts.
I am lucky.

Surfpath
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by Surfpath » Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:07 am

Update: I'm about to purchase a new GFX1448E inverter for a little over $1k, as a backup. A back up inverter makes sense to me. Where I am at 48v inverters are not available, it takes a month+ to get one shipped, and the installation of a non-outback inverter connected to my Flexpower system would be a challenge (plus would it also come with a battery charger?). I wonder, in say a few year's time how difficult would it be to buy an 'old' FX inverters/parts?

If I were to buy a new VFXR (or similar) inverter as a back up (~$1950) I'd have to also buy a new (~$500) Mate.

The GFX would limit my peak loads somewhat (basically when I run the washing machine I would have to also keep an eye on what other items were running), but no big deal.

Again, this is all just a back up solution based on my circumstances. My current inverter is doing fine, I may get a back up fan (~$25) for it. I will also order the MNSPD-AC-300 and slightly improve my grounding.

Thanks for the good tips, esp. Raysun.

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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by jponathanstarr » Sun May 05, 2019 5:43 pm

We've always run 2 inverters on our system, primarily so we had a second one ready to go if the primary glitched. That occurred a couple of times in the years we were running Trace gear up till around 2006.

We've never had an issue in years with the FXR3048's, and over time have added some 220v loads for water pumping, woodworking saws and planer, air compressor, welder etc.

Seems to make good sense to have built in redundancy, just need to move a couple of wires to shift the primary loads, and next time I strip out the inverters I may just make room for a 4-inverter system. Being 20 miles from the power lines, I couldn't imagine not having the two.

The large system expense these days are the batteries. We run big forklift batteries, and battery cost per year exceeds the price of inverters and charge controllers. I've long ceased buying L-16's. They are over $400 each here on our island, and 6-7 years is the most I've ever seen from them. I just bought a new GB 12-127-17 for our second system, 24v @ 1500AH that cost a thousand bucks less, including truck and sea freight, compared to 12 L-16s. I get around 15 years of good life out of large forklift batteries, currently running 4 x 1600AH @ 12v HUP Solar Ones in series at my house, that replaced a similar bank of Trojans in 2008. They are still very efficient, and the big Trojans lasted from 1993 to 2008. Of course, having a tractor around to lift the ton batteries into place is helpful. And treating the batteries really well.

I'm currently replacing my 26 year-old BP 75w panels with Hyundai 290's and new racking. Amazed at how affordable and easy it has become.

Raysun, I strongly encourage you to find a way to get that second VFXR to match the first one.

Aloha,
Jonathan

raysun
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by raysun » Sun May 05, 2019 7:02 pm

"Raysun, I strongly encourage you to find a way to get that second VFXR to match the first one."

I have an older FX3048T, and don't expect to find an exact replacement.

Though I live in the remote south end of Hawaii Island, off-grid solar is prevalent here, Outback equipment well thought of, and readily available from many suppliers.

Were I to have an inverter failure, I have a small Chinese inverter I could "ghetto" into the system until I could make a run to Hilo.

Surfpath
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Re: Is it wise to buy spare Outback 'parts' - just in case?

Post by Surfpath » Thu May 09, 2019 2:03 pm

Update: Raysun and JP,
My backup (GFX1448) Inverter was ordered from Outback. It was discontinued stock, so was on sale. I will keep it in dry storage for now after it gets shipped.

I agree with you on my faith in outback gear, it's just hard to get stuff sent in time. So I think a back up is prudent at this point (~7 years on my current OB gear).

Plus I worry a little about lightening, it seems like many folks on this forum experience relatively far away strikes that damage their equipment. The cost in board replacements can be significant, up to the cost of a new inverter (which would not be compatible with my mate2 anyways).

Working on the additional surge protectors as well.
SP

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