We decided to install electrical components that would talk to each other as a system, so that we can control everything from one location rather than crawling around in the back of the van.
Victron Energy make a series of products that are sturdy, well engineered, and have been proven in home and marine installations for several years. They are a Dutch company but they sell worldwide.
The Color Control GX (CCGX) is the control panel for the system. In the picture above you can see a virtual image of the connected components. The real-life wires actually follow a very similar schematic.
From the CCGX you can change settings for the inverter (top center of the screen) and solar controller (bottom right of the screen) through a series of menus. The CCGX also reads from the battery monitor. Not every setting is accessible from the CCGX, but enough to stop you from having to crawl around the devices to perform everyday tasks.
The CCGX is also a gateway to Victron’s VRM Portal, where you can remotely check how the system is performing and even update system firmware.
This could all be a nightmare of incompatible interfaces designed by engineers rather than human factors people, but Victron have done a good job of hiding the complexity behind a relatively simple user interface.
Sure, under the surface there is some scariness. The solar controller uses a different communication protocol than the inverter and the battery monitor. Some of the settings are pretty technical. Some of the error messages are cryptic. But overall the company has done a great job of making things understandable.
The other benefit of using components from the same manufacturer is that you can set the system up to do clever things. In combination, these devices can act as an uninterruptible power supply or even be configured to push excess solar power back to the grid.