Meet Mitul Chandrani – Xantrex Guy From Day One

Mitul Chandrani-Xantrex

A Conversation With Mitul Chandrani, Sr. Marketing Manager, Xantrex

With vision and purpose, Schneider Electric in 2008 bought a Canadian company called Xantrex. They were interested in the renewable division because of its market potential, which was rebranded under Schneider Electric. But Xantrex’ mobile unit (boats, RVs, and trucks) remained independent.

“Xantrex was one of those fortunate acquisitions” where the business benefited while still retaining its core teams and values, said Mitul Chandrani, Sr. Marketing Manager. “There was no bureaucracy or red tape you normally associate with a global company.”

In essence, Xantrex enjoys the autonomy of an entrepreneurial arm within a large but supportive organization which speaks to the strength and confidence of Schneider leadership in leaving a well-established brand alone.

Xantrex Guy From Day One

Mitul was a “Xantrex guy” but didn’t miss a step when Schneider Electric acquired the company. In fact, there was virtually no change in his day to day or with the people in charge. The General Manager,  the head of Product Development, the OEM sales manager and Mitul are all still with Xantrex today, 10 years later.

Trained in civil engineering, Mitul uses his master’s degree in marketing to design and conceive solutions for dealers, serving more as an outside sales person than a traditional marketer. He thrives on being on the front line understanding how Xantrex can help its partners, like Newmar, Keystone, Highland Ridge, Jayco, and Forest River.

For example, they just launched at the OEM level a new electrical system for Class B motorhomes called Freedom eGen as an option for the end user which eliminates a generator altogether.

Why an Inverter Upgrade Just Makes Sense

Mitul’s enthusiasm for Xantrex solutions was evident as he told me about projects he’s been working on. One major marketing campaign over the past couple of years has been to encourage consumers to “Upgrade to an Inverter Charger.”

He detailed impressive statistics while explaining market opportunities.

Most of the RVs sold from the factory come equipped with a converter which is an AC to DC charger. It charges the batteries. That’s all it does.

Conversely, not only does the inverter/charger charge the battery it also provides an AC power source. So any AC-powered electronics and appliances in an RV can be powered easily using an inverter.

Xantrex makes inverter/chargers. They don’t make converters. Hence, the “Upgrade to an Inverter Charger” campaign targeted to RV dealers.

Instead of replacing a broken converter, Xantrex recommends the dealer offer a choice to upgrade. While an inverter/charger is slightly more expensive than a converter, it offers two distinct features: (1) a two-year warranty vs. a one-year warranty on many converters and (2) an AC power source, which is not available in a converter.

The campaign has worked so well that sales for inverter/charger models they’ve targeted to promote for the aftermarket have more than doubled, Mitul said.

Another campaign which has enjoyed great success is called “Your Gateway to Worry-free Dry Camping.”

The goal of running a print campaign in Trailerlife and Motorhome was to educate RV end users to the limitations of relying on a converter. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, an inverter/charger

  • Lasts longer.
  • Charges the battery better.
  • Powers any downstream loads while plugged into shore power (which you can’t do with a converter).

Everyone has a smartphone these days, but you can’t plug in your phone charger into a converter. You need an AC power source to do that. In educating dealers, Xantrex is not only offering end users a practical solution to their connectivity needs but also improving the bottom line for dealers with incremental revenue and improved customer satisfaction!

Freedom X for the Win

xantrex-freedom-x
Xantrex expands the Freedom Series with new sine wave inverters.

“Freedom is like a Corvette. It’s so strong it’s become a sub-brand across multiple industries,” Mitul said. There are more boats, trucks, and RVs with the Freedom product than any other make or model. Almost every class of RV built in the U.S. between 1980 and 2004 has a Freedom product on it. The majority of boats over 50’ built in the late 90s and early 2000s have a Freedom installed.

Like any technology, Freedom has evolved. In 2017, Xantrex launched the Freedom X. Their marketing message needed to speak with one voice across the various market segments. What symbol would communicate the same thing to different audiences? They decided on the horse because of its strong connotation of Freedom and Power. In using the stallion, they were able to tie everything under one brand. (Freedom SW was launched in 2011 for the marine market.)

Power Technology Market Trends

Inverter Service Center’s Ray Barbee and Xantrex both agree that lithium-ion and solar are two areas where consumers will see rapid growth over the next five years.

“Manufacturers are way more open to lithium-ion than they were two years ago,” Mitul said. In the next few years, he believes that “a lithium-ion option will be standard on almost all RVs and boats.” That’s why the new Freedom X and Freedom SW are both compatible with lithium-ion batteries.

In addition, Coachman and Midwest, two massive RV companies, already have endorsed and are offering Freedom eGen. After extensive testing, they’ve decided to offer it as a factory option.

Of course, solar is big, Mitul said. Every RV wants solar panels on it. It’s also becoming popular in the truck and marine industry. Xantrex manufactures solar-charged controllers which work with the solar panel and inverter/charger and helps capture this market. The Freedom SW and Freedom X also integrate into a solar power system.

Finally, Mitul sees Bluetooth integration allowing for one single control panel managed from one place. Soon you’ll be able to control all instrumentation and accessories through your phone or tablet.

Personal Relationships Matter

Mitul works closely with everyone at Inverter Service Center and enjoys a strong relationship. “If they don’t hear from me for a week or two, they shoot me an email or Jordan will give me a call or PJ would say ‘where the hell have you been,’” Mitul said with a laugh. “That’s the kind of close relationship we have.” He credits PJ Gonzalez, ISC Manager, for cultivating a family atmosphere.

Inverter-Service-Center-Repair-Technicians
PJ Gonzalez, Jordan Hall and Ray Barbee

The team at ISC is also direct about issues that need fixing. PJ is very clear and transparent about his expectations and doesn’t hold back. He gives Xantrex a chance to make changes.

“Xantrex had some issues early on and after working closely with PJ the turnaround has been amazing,” Mitul said.

“Now we are so strong I think ISC is the closest partner we have.”

Thank you Mitul for being an equally great partner!

Comparing Rechargeable Battery Technology

lithium ion battery chemistry

The most common rechargeable battery chemistry by far is the lead-acid battery (LAB), also known as the Planté battery, which dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. But, before delving into the details of this battery type, let’s first discuss an increasingly popular newcomer, the Lithium-Ion battery, or LIB.

LIBs have seen considerable development and application growth over the past several decades. Their energy density — meaning the amount of power stored versus the physical size — is relatively high compared to LABs, and they too are available in several varieties, each with its pros, cons, and optimal applications. Popular LIB applications include personal electronics, cordless power tools, and electric vehicles.

A newer LIB technology is Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP or LiFePo), and it’s experiencing growing attention in marine, RV, and solar applications. LFP batteries offer high energy density, high current ratings, withstand deep discharges, and deliver long cycle life. On the other hand, they are sensitive to over- and under-charging, they typically require a battery management system between the charging source and the batteries, maintenance and replacements are not yet readily available, and the initial investment is very expensive. However, their compatibility, availability, and cost should all improve in the next few years.

The Most Popular Battery Type: LABs

Despite LIB inroads, LABs currently remain the most popular battery type for automotive and recreational use. LABs are dependable, their sizes and attachment points are reasonably standardized, new and replacement units are widely and readily available, there’s an established network for returns and recycling, and pricing is competitive.

LABs all operate essentially the same way: the internal lead plates and sulfuric acid (hence the lead-acid moniker) interact to create lead sulfate, diluted sulfuric acid, and direct current electricity when discharging. When recharged, the lead plates are restored (mostly) and the acid re-concentrated. The battery is once again ready for use.

LABs are generally available in two construction types: flooded-cell and sealed. Within each of these types, there are three application versions: starting-lighting-ignition (SLI), deep-cycle, and hybrid. Regardless of type or version, they share similar architectures, with three nominal 2.1V cells connected in series to form a 6V battery and six cells arranged to form a 12V battery. Batteries of the same size, type and version can be wired in series to increase voltage, or in parallel to increase Ampere-hour (Ah) capacity.

Flooded-cell LABs are the most well known. SLI versions are the starting batteries found in most vehicles. These versions excel at delivering the short bursts of high current needed to start an engine – particularly useful at low ambient temperatures – but their plate structure renders them unsuitable for deep-cycle applications.

Deep-cycle flooded-cell LABs are very good at delivering hundreds of moderate current discharge cycles when the batteries are well-maintained and discharges are limited to ~50%. Essential maintenance requires a four-stage smart charger, temperature compensation of target charging voltages, and periodic watering. Flooded-cell batteries can out-gas potentially hazardous concentrations of hydrogen gas while being charged, so adequate ventilation is a standard safety requirement.

Flooded cell hybrid LAB’s are a kind of battery “jack of all trades but master of none.” These are popular for marine engine starting applications when temperatures do not typically fall below freezing, yet they can still power a trolling motor or smaller marine or RV-type “house loads.”

Give Inverter Service Center a call at 615-285-1734. We’ll help you find a battery solution tailored to your specific needs. Or visit www.inverterservicecenter.com.


About the Author – Jim Goodnight – also known as “crewzer” — is a retired solar industry application engineer, product manager, and forum moderator and has previously written for Home Power and Solar Professional magazines.

Demystifying Solar Module Temperature Coefficients

temperature-effect-solar-panels

Many do-it-yourself system owners and even expert solar panel installers struggle with calculating temperature coefficients for a PV module. What they really want to know is “What do these specifications mean to my systems’ performance?” This article explains how ambient and cell temperatures affect solar module behavior and offers suggestions on how to improve performance.

Clarifying Module Output Power, Voltage & Current

A PV module consists of an array of individual cells, typically 36 or 60. A PV module’s temperature coefficients are mathematical expressions of how cell temperature affects module output power, voltage, and current. They describe how temperature affects module performance, and the negative coefficients for power and voltage help explain why your PV system may not meet performance expectations.

Power production may be lower than expected, particularly in high ambient temperatures, and depending on system architecture and configuration, a PV system may not be able to achieve target charging voltages.

PV module data sheets contain key performance specifications and other useful technical data. Rated electrical specifications are based on Standard Test Conditions (STC) – including the 25°C cell temperature reference – using a solar simulator in a laboratory environment.

STC specifications allow for useful comparison of PV modules, but they’re not necessarily an accurate indicator of real-world performance. Under optimal operating conditions (i.e., clear full Sun around noon and a well-aligned PV array), a module’s cell temperature will measure roughly 30°C (+45°F) above ambient. For the cell temperature to be about 25°C (77°F), the ambient temperature is typically about -5°C (23°F). That’s a cold operating condition!

Everything else being equal, a module’s power- and voltage outputs drop as cell temperature increases. The module’s temperature coefficients algebraically describe these reductions. The table below is an example of how ambient temperatures can affect optimal performance:

Ambient
Conditions
Ambient
Temp (°C)
Ambient
Temp (°F)
Cell Temp (°C) Performance
Loss
Example Power from
a 300 W Module
Very Cold -5 23 ~25 ~0% 300 W
Cool 10 50 ~40 ~6% 282 W
Moderate 25 77 ~55 ~12% 264 W
Hot 30 86 ~60 ~14% 258 W
Very Hot 35 95 ~65 ~16% 252 W

Optimizing PV Module Performance

Fortunately, there are several ways to optimize PV module performance in both hot and cold conditions. Two universal recommendations are to (1) increase PV array size by ~20% to compensate for hot temperature performance loss, and (2) not surface-mount PV modules. Instead, install them with a several-inch gap under the modules to allow for air circulation to help cool the modules and improve their performance.

Here are some architecture-specific suggestions for 12V and 24V systems to improve performance (verify compatibility of module and controller specification):

(A) For 12 V (nominal) systems using “12V modules” (36 cells) and 12V series (PWM) or basic MPPT controllers:

  1. Select PV modules with a relatively high STC MPP voltage specification (18V range). The high voltage will help achieve target charging voltages in hot temperature
  2. Connect individual modules in parallel to increase array current
  3. Use heavy-gauge wire to connect the module to charger and charger to the battery. This reduces voltage loss in the overall charging systems
  4. Consider using AGM batteries, which don’t use the high equalizing voltage required by flooded-cell batteries

(B) For 24 V systems using “12V modules” (36 cells) and 24V series or PWM controllers:

  1. Generally the same as (A) above, but connect two modules in series for each “24 V” string before connecting strings in parallel

(C) For 12 V systems using “12 V modules” (36 cells) and advanced MPPT controllers:

  1. Generally the same as (A) above, but connect two modules in series for each “24 V” string before connecting strings in parallel. The string voltage will be high enough to meet target charging voltages, and the MPPT controller can convert ‘excess’ voltage into additional charging current. This is especially helpful in cold ambient temperatures when module voltage can be relatively high.

(D) For 12 V systems using “grid-tie modules” (54 or 60 cells) and advanced MPPT controllers:

  1. Connect individual modules in parallel to increase array current
  2. Select controller nominal 12V output voltage (some controllers do this automatically)
  3. The module voltage will be high enough to achieve target charging voltages for common types of 12V battery banks (e.g., flooded or AGM), and the MPPT controller can convert ‘excess’ voltage into additional charging current. This is especially helpful in cold ambient temperatures when module voltage can be relatively high.

(E) For 24 V systems using “grid-tie modules” (54 or 60 cells) and advanced MPPT controllers:

  1. Connect two modules in series for each string before connecting strings in parallel
  2. Select controller nominal 24V output voltage (some controllers do this automatically)
  3. The string voltage will be high enough to achieve target charging voltages for common types of 24V battery banks, and the MPPT controller can convert ‘excess’ voltage into additional charging current. This is especially helpful in cold ambient temperatures when module voltage can be relatively high.

As operational temperature increases, PV module voltage and power decline. A module’s temperature coefficients mathematically express this behavior. However, careful system architecture and component selection can help mitigate or even eliminate the impact of these losses on system performance and your expectations.

If you’d like help optimizing your PV system’s performance, give us a call at 800-621-1271. We’ll be happy to review your requirements and design. Visit www.inverterservicecenter.com.


About the Author – Jim Goodnight – also known as “crewzer” — is a retired solar industry application engineer, product manager, and forum moderator and has previously written for Home Power and Solar Professional magazines.

Meet Ray Barbee – Inverter Pioneer

lightning strike

Early in the development of the solar power era in the U.S., everyone knew everybody. Ray Barbee found himself on the ground floor of a new industry. A small manufacturing company, Trace Engineering, had designed a product which advanced inverter technology making it accessible to the average person. Ray became an early employee. He parlayed his aviation electronics experience gained in the Marine Corps into a 10-year career with Trace.

Ray Barbee Inverter Pioneer
Ray Barbee’s early days in the solar/renewables industry

But that was just the beginning.

After only a few short months, the company promoted Ray to Customer Service Manager. Within a year he was also given the opportunity to start their Mobile Division, (boats, RVs, & mobile power). Early in 1993, he crossed paths with Marysville Marine Distributors (MMD) who became one of Trace’s wholesale distributors. When Matt Harvey opened the Nashville location, he became Ray’s advocate. (Matt is now President of MMD.) As he was growing the Middle Tennessee branch, Ray was growing the Mobile Division for Trace, and MMD became Trace Engineering’s largest East Coast distributor.

More on Ray’s new role with MMD later in our story.

The Solar Pioneers Get Their Start

In fact, when anyone in the solar/renewables industry wanted to know something about inverters, they would call Ray. The industry was small and tight-knit. Recently, when industry veterans formed The Solar Pioneers to document and honor those early solar industry people, they invited Ray to join. The two founders, Jeff Spies and Jason Vetterli, wrote and directed a documentary, Solar Roots, inviting Ray to be a part, given his history within the industry as an “Inverter Pioneer.”

The film debuted November 2017 and “tells the story of how a small group of backwoods engineers and business hippies brought solar photovoltaic technology down from space into homes around the world.”

Solar-Pioneers-Jeff-Spies-and-Jason-Vetterli-interview-Cully-Judd
Jeff Spies & Jason Vetterli interviewing Cully Judd | Photo courtesy of Aur Beck

You can read about the evolution of the industry and the history of the project here.  They hope to release the film for distribution within a year.

Ray’s Excellent Inverter Adventure Continues

By the time Ray left Trace Engineering, he held the title of Director of Customer Service. He was also the managing director of the mobile division.  Ray was now part of a thriving business, managing more than 60 people within a multi-million dollar company. He continued his journey in the inverter industry when Trace sold to Xantrex in 2000.

It was the beginning of the renewable energy market. Both Outback Power and Magnum Energy emerged as startups founded by former Trace employees.

Ray’s five years at Xantrex took him all over the world, establishing backup power in third world countries.

Ray left the solar industry for a few years to lead a company to build houseboats. When Schneider Electric bought Xantrex, they tapped Ray to head up their battery-based products (mobile, RV, marine, backup, renewable) group. He left Schneider in early 2015 then spent a brief time working with Outback Power.

Coincidentally, Matt Harvey called about the same time. (We told you it was a small tight-knit community.) He laid out plans for a Florida expansion of Marysville Marine and Ray was on board.

Leading the Charge for Inverter Services Expansion

Here’s where Ray sees the industry headed and why he wants to lead the charge in our expansion:

I see true growth potential in distributed generation combined with some type of power storage technology. Typically, we assume this is solar, maybe wind, small-scale hydro, or some type of biomass, tied to storage or batteries.

But it could also be other technologies scaled to fit the local need, being created and used in the same place. You would need to define ‘local’ in this statement – perhaps a single home, or a village. But it would not include a public utility using a distribution web of wires to bring it to a needed location.

The electronic/power side of technology can  –  and is  –  advancing at an incredible pace, and will easily keep up with the development of new storage technologies. But the most used storage technology today is some variation of the same lead-acid technology that we’ve had since the early 1900’s.

Lithium is now gaining ground quickly and will probably overtake lead-acid at some point, but there is still a lot of development required for that to happen on a larger scale. There are also things like zinc-air being advanced for that type of use, as well as many other potential technologies.

Some of these new technologies can produce AC power, but most produce DC – and, remember that you cannot ‘store’ AC power for use later. Storage only happens with DC power, so there will always be a need for some conversion technology, i.e. inverters – and the advancement of the pacing item in development of all of this today is the storage. We need better batteries.

Why Choose Inverter Service Center

“What Inverter Service Center offers that not a lot of other companies can is to provide both stock on the shelves and technical expertise. There are a lot of electricians who understand AC; there are a lot of mechanics who understand DC well. Not many people understand both. Our service technicians do,” said Ray.

And we are always happy to take the time to assist our customers in understanding their systems better. If you need help with power inverter repair or systems design advice, just give us a call.

Meet PJ Gonzalez – Hands-On Expert Inverter Technician

hands-on-tools-inverter-technician

From a young age, PJ Gonzalez, Manager, Inverter Service Center, had an aptitude for fixing things. Anything having to do with tools or technology inspired his curiosity. “I was the type of kid who would take the phone apart.” (Just ask his Dad.)

pj gonzalez grade school picture
PJ showed a technical aptitude at a young age.

As you would expect, he’s a hands-on kind of guy. Each day brings something new. From handling IT issues to working on a van or taking online orders, PJ prefers to be doing a variety of things.

He started in the marine and RV industry in the mid-90s, getting to know electrical systems inside and out. Over time, he naturally gravitated toward inverters and generators. He found working on entire electrical systems more gratifying than handling a number of non-electrical smaller repair projects.

While running his own service business, PJ started doing warranty work for Marysville Marine Distributors (MMD) South. Matt Harvey, Branch Manager (and now President), liked his work ethic and hands-on know-how and offered him a job!

So in January 1999, PJ left self-employment behind and became part of the MMD family.

Inverter Services Grow Organically

The company sold inverters as well as marine parts and accessories. The inverter repair and service part of the business grew organically. They would sell an inverter and get one in for repair. Trace Engineering, based in Washington state, was the early market-leading technology, but it took at least 10 days to turn around most repair jobs.

Long lead times on repairs didn’t provide the best customer experience, so PJ decided to start testing the inverters that came in for repairs. Once he started testing, “the curiosity thing kicked in.” What he found were simple fixes and began making repairs in-house. When Trace learned what he was doing, they invited PJ out to their facility to be trained on their equipment. Thus, the first Inverter Authorized Service Center was born.

For those of you familiar with the early days of renewables and solar power, it was a tumultuous time. As the market dramatically increased and mergers and acquisitions became the norm, new manufacturers and products began emerging. All the products needed service and repair as well, and business quadrupled as a result. Within a year, PJ and his crew outgrew their space. Inverter Service Center was born.

Technology Advances Inverter Applications

While the inverter as a basic product hasn’t changed much since those early days, the technological advances have been massive, PJ said.

For example, “with renewables and grid interactivity, an inverter can take solar power and pump it back into the grid and basically sell it back to the grid. Or you can take solar power and offset what you’re using from the grid. Also, smart technology allows for that to happen ‘intelligently.’ Hubs with a GUI interface give you a way to access the system via a web browser and make changes to the system.”

Inverter Service Day In and Day Out

Inverter Service Center doesn’t engage in system design but instead has stayed laser-focused on their niche market. They repair and service inverters day in and day out. They’ve stayed true to doing what they do well, and it shows in their reputation.

What they will do is guide their customer in the right system design and supply the correct components, such as solar panels, breakers, wire, including an inverter.

PJ-Gonzalez-Jordan-Hall-Ray-Barbee-Repair-Technicians
PJ Gonzalez, Manager (l), Jordan Hall, technician (c), Ray Barbee, technician (r)

If you need help with backup power or creating a balanced power system for your home, business, RV, boat, specialty truck, or even your hunting cabin, give PJ at Inverter Service Center a call at 800-621-1271. He and his team are always happy to answer your technical questions.