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Go Back   SailNet Community > On Board > Gear & Maintenance > Electrical Systems
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Old 08-27-2011
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Mysterious Loss of Electrical Power

Here's my problem, I'm loosing power. 12 volt system, I have 2 alternators on the prop, 3 solar pannels and 1 wind generator. Have 2 banks of batteries which are fairly new and service them regularly. Have 2 regulators, 1 for panels and 1 for wind g. Presently in Spain, where the sun and wind is abundant. With the power produced I can run 2 fridges, the electronics, illumination, motor ignition and everything else that I have on board making marinas a thing of the past. The charge usually runs 13,4V. Instead for the last 2 days, I've had to turn off 1 of the fridges to be able to have enough power. I've disconnected the batteries and they are good, checked the charge regulators and they are working. Where should I look next??? Barbara
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Mysterious Loss of Electrical Power

It's me again. I'm not totally clueless, I installed the panels and the wind g myself, put in the batteries and connected the regulators. I know that I need an electrician to resolve the problem, but the guy that I've found here in Spain wants 40euros and hour plus a 200euro fee to come on the boat. If anyone can help me save the costs it would be appreciated. Thanks, Just a woman on her boat.
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It's going to be awfully hard to diagnose over the internet. Generically, I would check for corroded connections, maybe a bad regulator or a short somewhere. The batts were my first guess, but you say you know them to be in good shape.

Best of luck. Sometimes you can save a bundle by having a pro keep you from throwing money at guesses.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Maramu46 View Post
Where should I look next???
Hi Barbara! I agree that this will be very hard to troubleshoot over the Internet. However; some thoughts that may help (depending on what you have already done).

Given what you have said, it sounds like the batteries are ok but the charge equipment is not keeping up. This may indicate that one of the devices is not working as it should be. I would measure the output from each piece of equipment and confirm that it is producing appropriate to it's design and the conditions. Be very care doing this as the voltage levels may be quite high on some of the devices - if you don't have the tools and or skills for this, do not do it.

Another thing to try is shutting down your electrical load and letting the batteries fully charge. Then disconnect, let them rest for 30 minutes, and then measure the voltage. It should measure around 12.6 volts. If it does not, you may have a battery problem. This is a pretty crude test so don't run out and buy new batteries based on the result.

Just some ideas....

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Maramu46 View Post
Here's my problem, I'm loosing power. 12 volt system, I have 2 alternators on the prop, 3 solar pannels and 1 wind generator. Have 2 banks of batteries which are fairly new and service them regularly. Have 2 regulators, 1 for panels and 1 for wind g. Presently in Spain, where the sun and wind is abundant. With the power produced I can run 2 fridges, the electronics, illumination, motor ignition and everything else that I have on board making marinas a thing of the past. The charge usually runs 13,4V. Instead for the last 2 days, I've had to turn off 1 of the fridges to be able to have enough power. I've disconnected the batteries and they are good, checked the charge regulators and they are working. Where should I look next??? Barbara
Running 2 fridges can draw a lot of power. The most common answer to loosing power is just that the power output is not able to be replaced by the charging sources with nothing broken.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maramu46 View Post
The charge usually runs 13,4V.
If you mean the maximum voltage seen during charging is 13.4V this is much too low. Its unlikely that all your charge sources would have failed at this low voltage. This also suggests that maybe your output is just greater than the input the charge sources can produce
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Barbara, the advice you got above is great. You probably already know that tracking down electrical problems requires a higher level of organization as the complexity of the system increases. Good plans and good record keeping as you make your way through the steps of the plan are important.

The first step I would take if all my equipment is relatively new and newly installed would be to check connections, especially those recently made, to make sure they are sound and tight and not overheating, especially crimped connections, which are frequently at fault.

Then, if I had not found my problem and I were you, I would strip every load from the system that I could by isolating them...make sure that both the ground and the power sides are interrupted. As this is done, keep that record mentioned above and check the connections being disconnected, making note if there are any that are "suspect" because the problem may be found as you do this. Especially note any connections that are hot or warm to the touch.

After isolating as many loads as practicable, split the charging and regulating equipment to isolate each one from the batteries. If it were me, I would disconnect and isolate both the wind and solar systems. Then I would use the engine/alternator or gen set if you have one to top up the battery banks, one at a time.

I would then start adding loads isolated earlier, one at a time, noting the system response using installed or portable volt and ammeters. Observe the voltage at the instant loads are started. Any that draw an unexpectedly high current will cause a larger than expected voltage drop on the battery bank. After checking a load, re-isolate it before moving to the next load. Continue to do this until all loads are evaluated. Re-charge the battery banks in use for this as required when their capacity is reduced to about half.

If I hadn't found the problem at this point, I would top up the batteries, and place one of the heavier loads that I have already checked on them. After the battery bank is discharged a bit, place the wind generator on the system, and evaluate its performance. Repeat for the solar charging system.

Barbara, it is late August, and temperatures in late August can cause fridges and freezers and coolers to run more than normal. You mentioned a couple of fridges as some of your heavier loads. Before I started troubleshooting anything, I would make sure the low voltages aren't due to higher cooling loads due to high ambient temperatures. Have you recently changed your shading plan for your boat (awnings, etc), or have the awnings been hung the same way, but the boat's heading (attitude relatively to sun) different, especially in the afternoons? Has the water temperature of the sea around you gone up appreciably? All these things can increase the loading on your systems radically.

Good luck.
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Barbara, you cannot fix this unless you "divide and conquer".

Like fry says, you must isolate everything. Disconnect everything, stick some dry ice or block ice in the boxes for the day. Then start by testing each battery with a hydrometer to look for a bad cell or bad battery. If they are good, clean the terminals, check the cables, connect one power source to charge them.

See if that one power source puts out the correct power and charges them.

Then disconnect that power source and hook up another one, test each one, one at a time, isolated. Check each set of cables as you go.

Sooner or later you will find one defective part, or one overload. But there's no shortcut, each piece needs to be tested and compared to the spec for it.

If you don't have a multimeter and hydrometer and know how to do the testing, it might be worth calling in the electrician (the hourly price is not high by US standards) and paying him a little more to take his time and explain things to you.
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13.4 V is only the float stage of charging.

Also, 99 44/100th % of all electrical problems have been connections.

Good luck.
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Smile Mysterious Loss of Electrical Power

Well, All of your replys were very helpful and I thank you all. It took me about 12 hours to figure out the problem and looks like I'm on track.

The batteries are good, the regulators are doing their jobs, but of the 2 alternators that I have, 1 has a low output. This one needs to be operating at least for 12 hours before I can get a decent charge. The other one after 1/2 hours of operation performs well. Second problem, the voltometer on the dash board control gives a false reading, usually 0.6 lower than voltometer inside motor room. Meaning instead of thinking that I had 13.4V, actual I have only 12.8. And adding to the problem, the anchor light was left on for 2 days and 2 nights. Thus batteries too low and too much consumption. With 2 fridges working, my system is running on a fine line, I have to decide to either improve my producing capabilities or shut down a fridge.

I'm feeling quite pleased with myself, and I owe it to all of you. Thanks for the advice. B:
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I would recommend replacing the defective voltmeter with one of the battery monitors. As well as volts this will count amp hours in and out. Show you how much current things are drawing and producing etc. Essential information for boats especially with more complex DC systems such as yours.
It would also be worth changing your anchor light to LED, saving as much power as possible is vital if you want to get away from marinas
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