Using Victron Smart Lithium Batteries vs. Drop In Replacement Batteries

Using Victron Smart Lithium Batteries vs. Victron SuperPack Batteries

We love Victron electrical components and often recommend them for van builders. We even feature them in our example electrical system and sell them individually and in a discounted bundle. However, it’s important to understand that Victron sells two types of lithium batteries. They have their Smart series do NOT have an integrated battery management system (BMS). In contrast, their SuperPack batteries do include this feature.

In short, the BMS protects the battery from being overcharged, overly discharged, too hot or too cold and it limits the maximum current when discharging (powering loads) or charging.

So, for most camper van builds, we recommend using the SuperPack batteries or a similar “drop-in replacement” type battery with the built-in BMS (Battleborn, Renogy and others). However, if you have a reason to use the Victron Smart series batteries that do not have the built in BMS, the rest of this article details how this works.

Using A Victron Smart Lithium Battery

The main consequence of using a battery that doesn’t have an integrated BMS is that wiring up your camper van electrical system becomes more complicated. First, you have to have an external BMS device. If you’re using a Victron MultiPlus inverter/charger, they recommend the Victron VE.Bus BMS which can control the inverter/charger through the VE.Bus. You’ll also need additional devices like the Victron Smart BatteryProtect between your batteries and any “dumb” loads (things that don’t have VE.Bus or VE.Direct communication) such as between your battery bank and your 12 volt load center where all your 12 volt DC loads are connected (lights, refrigerator, etc.). The BatteryProtect can receive a signal from the BMS to disconnect these loads when the voltage of the batteries drops to low. That covers the “discharge” side of things but then you’ll also need to protect the batteries on the charging side (solar, DC-DC chargers, etc.). That might require another BatteryProtect or connections between the VE.Bus BMS and “smart” Victron devices. There is a promising new device called the Lynx Smart BMS that should be shipping soon and looks like a nice alternative to the VE.Bus BMS which integrates with the other Lynx components like the Lynx Distributor.

Sound like a headache? Yes, we agree. DIY van builders struggle enough with electrical systems and this add unnecessary complexity in my view. Keep in mind that all these devices add both more expense and more wiring to connect them up.

In addition to all that, if you’re using a Victron MultiPlus inverter/charger you’ll have to do additional configuration to enable the VE.Bus BMS. I’ll detail that later in the post.

Wiring Diagram

If you take a look at this wiring diagram from Victron for a camper van, you’ll see these components at work – the VE.Bus BMS and two BatteryProtect units. I’ve highlighted each with a green outline. If this system used Victron’s SuperPack batteries (or any other drop-in replacement battery with a built-in BMS) those components (and their wiring) wouldn’t be needed and the system would work just the same.

If you are wiring up a system with Victron lithium batteries, this video (in French) is a good overview of the connections between the various devices/components.

Wait, But Why?

Why did Victron design their Smart series lithium batteries this way? I spoke to a product expert at Victron and he shared a few advantages that apply to larger or more complex systems but are not really helpful in a camper van.

  1. More flexibility with voltages. If you want to serial connect more than one battery for a 24 volt (or higher) system, you need the external BMS. In this Victron tech talk video they discuss this.
  2. Users can fine tune the configuration of the BMS, charging and discharging when necessary compared to the “fixed” behavior of a built-in BMS
  3. The batteries themselves can be smaller in their physical size. So, in larger systems with lots of batteries, externalizing one single BMS instead of having them in each individual battery can save a lot of space.
  4. The peak and maximum continuous discharge current of the SuperPack products is not as high as the Smart products. You can check out the SuperPack battery specs in this PDF.

Programming a Victron MultiPlus Inverter/Charger With a VE.Bus BMS

I recommending using the VictronConnect app to program/configure your Victron MultiPlus inverter/charger. We detail how to do that in this post. So, you can go through that process and then come back here for one additional step required when using a VE.Bus BMS – the addition of an “assistant” for the BMS.

This BMS “assistant” is specifically for Victron lithium batteries using the VE.Bus BMS. It allows the BMS to control the MultiPlus inverting and charging. If you have a remote control panel it will work like normal but can be “overridden” by the BMS.

Unfortunately, at this time, you cannot add assistants with VictronConnect. Instead you’ll need to use the older, VEConfigure app for Windows. However, just like configuring with VictronConnect, you’ll use the same MK3 to USB interface for connecting your computer to the MultiPlus.

This video from Victron is a great overview to using VEConfigure and setting it up with your computer. I recommend checking it out before proceeding.

Once you’re connected to your MultiPlus with VEConfigure you’ll want to navigate to the “assistants” tab and then click on the “add assistant” button which will open a menu of available assistants. Choose the “VE.Bus BMS” assistant from the menu.

Next, you can press on the “start assistant” button and use the “next arrow” button to proceed through the screens as they are shown below.

Once you receive that final confirmation screen you can dismiss it with the “OK” button and you’re done!

Note, after you’ve added the BMS “assistant”, the red “low battery” led will flash when the unit is powered on and won’t work until it “sees” the VE.BMS on the VE.Bus. Also, you will not be able to use VictronConnect after you’ve added the “assistant” – instead you’ll have to use VEConfigure.

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