Tested: The quintessential 12V setup from Victron Energy

By Josh Leonard 14 Min Read

Images by Chris Burns Photography 

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If you’re an adventurer with the need for bulk energy and don’t know where to start, this is the article for you!

You’re not alone. I too have sat in front of my laptop for what felt like days on end trying to find a complete 12V solution for my Ranger. 

Having practically just only learnt to spell. There was no way I was going to be able to work out every component I would need to achieve what I wanted; A reliable 12V system that’d keep me powered no matter where I was. 

I crunched the figures: researching the system and every single component I needed would be a 12-beer job. With only a 6-pack in the fridge, I did what any sane bloke would do and called the experts. 

I gave Tom from Marine Battery Co a buzz and explained the issues I was having. After he assured me that 6-beers would be enough and I had nothing to worry about I told him I needed a 12V system that’d keep me going off-grid for more than a few days, with enough energy to power a 2000W induction cooktop, a coffee machine (don’t judge me), an air-fryer oven, the fridge and charge all my gear: laptops, cameras, drones, lighting, soundbar, heated blankets (hey, I said don’t judge me) and some other odds and ends.

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The most important part of this whole exercise was reliability. Where I travel it’s not uncommon to go days without seeing another vehicle. The system needed to be proven and it needed to be sturdy. 

“Where I travel it’s not uncommon to go days without seeing another vehicle.”

Tom suggested running with gear from Victron, explaining that their products are used all over the world in almost every configuration and application you could imagine, from patrol boats and super yachts to tiny homes and everything in between. I figured if defence forces are willing to run Victron gear in their patrol boats, they’d be up to the torture I was going to put them through. 

I let Tom take the lead on deciding what gear I’d need, I knew I was in capable hands… And I still had three beers that needed attending to. 

Here’s the list Tom got back to me with: 
  • Victron Cerbo GX
  • Victron GX Touch 50 
  • Victron SmartShunt Battery Monitor 
  • Victron Orion-Tr Smart 12/12-18 DCDC Charger 
  • Victron SmartSolar MPPT 100/20
  • Victron Multiplus II 12/3000/120-32
  • 175W Solar Panel
  • 3 X V-LFP-12-100 Lithium Batteries from Fusion Lithium 

When I was researching systems that would fit my needs one of the things I struggled with was finding a complete package. I was stoked to have a comprehensive list of products provided to me. Now, I know like I was, you’re sitting there thinking that’s just a bunch of confusing names and numbers so let me break it all down for you. 

VICTRON CERBO GX AND GX TOUCH 50

Think of the Cerbo GX as the brains behind the whole operation. In essence, it’s a communication centre that allows you to have complete control of your entire system. It also allows users to quickly ascertain exactly what their 12V system is doing. 

You can instantly monitor the state of charge, power consumption, and solar input. You can even check the levels of auxiliary tanks and take temperature measurements. The other added benefit of the Cerbo GX is its ability to run diagnostic checks and resolve issues remotely.

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The GX Touch 50 is a touch display that gives you a birdseye view of exactly what your 12V system is doing at any given time. My favourite thing about the GX Touch 50 is how easy it is to understand and use. From just one tap of the screen, you can see exactly how much power you have. How much you’re using. How much you’re making, and how it’s been generating. 

It’s worth mentioning that you don’t need the GX Touch 50 to use the Cerbo GX. I just got one because I’m a millennial. You can choose to connect to the Cerbo GX through your phone, iPad or laptop.

VICTRON SMARTSHUNT BATTERY MONITOR

Battery monitors are a must-have in every 12V setup. The SmartShunt does everything you’d expect a normal battery monitor to do and then some. Working in harmony with the GX Touch 50 the SmartShunt provides all the parameters that are being monitored like the state of charge, the amount of time left before the battery requires charging as well as a bunch of other info.

Just like the Cerbo GX, you can go without the Cerbo GX Touch and opt to use your phone or iPad to act as the display for the SmartShunt. One thing I particularly liked about the SmartShunt is the way it’s designed, Victron has configured the SmartShunt for an easy install. The smart design also means you can monitor everything you want while using considerably less wiring than a traditional BMV battery monitor. Less wiring means a tidier install and more money for mods, I’m about that. 

“Less wiring means a tidier install and more money for mods”

VICTRON ORION-TR SMART 12/12-18 DCDC Charger

This nifty little unit is an adaptive three-stage battery charger designed specifically to be used in harsh environments on vehicles with ‘smart’ alternators. Like most Victron products it can be programmed and monitored using your smart device. 

The Orion-Tr Smart goes through three individual charge stages to optimise each recharge cycle and extend the life of your batteries. 

For something that looks relatively unassuming, it’s packed with features. These bad boys are suitable for both 12V and 24V systems. And you can connect as many of them as you like in parallel to lead acid. AGM. Or lithium batteries to increase your power output. 

You can also utilise other charging stages for different situations. If you’re parking up for a few weeks you can set the ‘refresh’ cycle and the Orion-Tr Smart will prevent slow self-discharge while the vehicle isn’t being used. It will automatically go through a one-hour ‘absorption’ cycle every week or at an interval of your choosing. 

VICTRON SMARTSOLAR MPPT 100/200

You’ve probably noticed that a lot of Victron’s products have the word ‘smart’ in them and it’s for good reason. In simple terms: an ordinary MPPT gathers the energy generated by your solar panel and stores it in the batteries.

But, this is no ordinary MPPT. The Victron SmartSolar MPPT uses intelligent software that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never understand. 

With its photovoltaic wizardry the SmartSolar maximises the energy it’s harvesting and drives it to your 12V system in the fastest possible way. That means your batteries are topped back up in the shortest possible time. Like the Orion Tr-Smart, the SmartSolar also goes through three stages of charging that ensure a quick and safe top-up and will prevent costly mistakes like overcharging. 

By far though, the most clever thing the SmartSolar does is assess the weather. The SmartSolar will attempt a 100% recharge every day. If it can’t, such as would happen in periods of poor weather – it increases the disconnect voltage, daily, until it can get the battery back up to fully charged.

VICTRON MULTIPLUS II 12/300/120-32

The MultiPlus II is both an inverter (in this case, a 3000 Watt inverter) and a charger, so there are two things we need to tackle here. But first: let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, this is the third charger in the system, and no, it’s not because I collect them.

The charging function gives you the ability to connect to shore power, which is an extremely handy option. The inverter option is what you use when you want to cook your steaks on the induction cooktop; and be judged by every other camper.

The beauty of having both of these things in one neat package together is more than just ease of installation and space-saving. It’s also, ahem, cue my best Jeremy Clarkson voice: speed and power. 

Say you’re hooked up to shore power and for whatever reason, that power fails. In less than 20 milliseconds the Multiplus II will activate the inverter and have it start supplying the required loads so that none of your equipment turns off or gets interrupted. The MultiPlus II also has features called Power Control and Power Assist. In extremely simple terms, the Power Control function will prevent a generator or shore power connection from being overloaded while still letting you run the gear you were intending to use. The Power Assist function boosts the amount of power, compensating for an insufficient generator or shore power connection. 

The inverter works much like you think it would and there’s just no other way to say it. It’s an absolute beast. I’ve asked a lot from it and it’s never flinched. There are no smarts there, just a robust inverter that performs. 

“there’s far too much technical jargon and it’s the same on their website”

THE VERDICT

I think this system might be bulletproof. Seriously, I reckon if you shot the MultiPlus II it’d probably stop a bullet. That’s the thing that struck me when I first looked at all of these bits of gear. They are miles ahead of their competition when it comes to build quality. It’s proven not only by their construction but by how they’ve handled every single corrugation they’ve been over: without issue. 

They’re competitively priced with other market-leading brands. But dare I say it, other market-leading brands offer nowhere near the configuration, usability, versatility or smart options that Victron does. 

That’s not to say there aren’t things I’d change. The MultiPlus II is quite bulky for instance. And, unless you’re an auto sparky I doubt you’ll understand all the terms in the instruction manuals. Or the configuration settings, there’s far too much technical jargon and it’s the same on their website. 

Victron would do well to simplify the meanings of things to help users on the ground who may be relying on a manual and nothing else to get them back online. When configured correctly the system will run like a well-oiled machine. But getting it configured correctly isn’t as easy as it could be. I feel like Victron may know this though. One other feature of this system is that someone way more qualified than you or I can log in and configure the system for you. 

Minor complaints aside, the simple fact is: all of these products alone are top-notch. When combined they create a 12V setup that’d be extremely hard to beat. 

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