Monday, July 17, 2017

Living with the IOTA

About a month ago I wrote this post about dumping the wounded TripLite inverter/charger (The inverter part was dead but the 40 amp charger still worked.) and replacing it with a puny little 15 amp IOTA charger with 4-stage smart-charge module.

Now that I’ve had some real-world experience with it, the IOTA that is, this follow-up post is about the realities of living with it. At least in my experience.

Truth be told, with the solar on the roof propping the battery up every day, at least to some degree, and my style of camping where I have shore-power available to run the IOTA infrequently, (I just did a quick tally of the last 32 nights on the road and I had shore-power 8 of those, the other 24 were dry-camps. And 4 of the 8 shore-power nights were because the only sites available were water/electric and 2 more of those 8 nights were because I was visiting people that were staying in a private, full-service campground.) so I’m not exactly giving the IOTA much of a workout, but I have used it enough to know what it’s capable of.

First and foremost, getting rid of a 40 amp charger in favor of a 15 amp charger has, as predicted, been no hardship at all. By the time I do hook up to shore-power the solar has usually had a good chunk of the day to shove some juice into the batteries so it’s not like I’m asking the IOTA to carry the full burden of my electrical consumption of about 30 amp-hours a day. In fact normally, even on moderately cloudy days, the solar has fully charged the batteries sometime between lunch and late afternoon. But even on the couple of occasions I turned the solar off for the day to give the IOTA a chance at a decent workout, in the twelve or so hours I’m hooked up to shore-power the IOTA has had plenty of time to shove a full charge into the batteries.

Both the TripLite and the IOTA use a thermally controlled fan to keep the innards cool, but there's a big difference between the two! First the TripLite, even when throttled down to ‘slow-charge mode’, put out nearly 30 amps of charge current which is much hotter work than the IOTA’s 15 amps, (In reality my IOTA is putting out just over 16 amps at full bore.) so its fan kicked in more often. And when it did kick in it was on like right now, loud, proud, and balls-to-the-wall! The services of the IOTA’s fan are not needed quite so often and when it does run it starts up slow and mostly unnoticed then runs proportionally so if only a little bit of cooling is needed only a little bit of fan-speed is used. In other words it’s not nearly as obtrusive or noisy as the TripLite fan was.

But the reality is that normally, even when shore-power is available, I leave the IOTA off and let the solar take care of the batteries.

In these days of smart houses, web-access, and blue-tooth connected devices (Yep. There’s an app for that!) turning the IOTA on and off by plugging and unplugging it seems like a pretty archaic way of doing things, but it works for me, and since there’s not much that can go wrong with a plug and socket it will likely work trouble free for a long time. (How many times have you plugged and unplugged your coffee-maker with no problems?)

And as you can see in the photos above, the plug for the IOTA is easily accessible yet tucked out of the way under the edge of the gaucho, whether plugged in or not, and when in the stowed position, the first photo, it stays put even when I’m driving some pretty ratty roads.

But I have to admit that not everything about the IOTA has been peaches and cream.

The internal smart-charge module installed in mine has an external LED. You’re supposed to be able to tell what mode the charger is in by the rate this little green light is flashing. I guess it’s better than nothing as long as the charger is mounted where the LED can be seen (And how often does that happen? These kinds of things are usually buried in out-of-the-way corners somewhere. Yet another example of a desk-bound jockey with no field experience doing the design work.) but turns out that this LED is doing its thing whether the charger is plugged in or not! It clearly operates off of battery voltage and not directly off of charger output.

Now you might think this is no big deal. After all, my IOTA is buried under the gaucho so who cares what that tiny LED is doing, right?  Well – wrong.  Go back to the first or second photo for a moment. See that big vent-cover I have over the only slightly less big hole in the side of the gaucho? I put that there because the TripLite would get hot, especially during a Texas summer, so I wanted to give it all the ventilation I could.  Now that LED seems pretty small doesn’t it? But at night, with the lights off and me trying to sleep, it still manages to throw a whole lot of light through that vent cover and I end up with a magazine sized patch of glowing green light there on the floor next to the vent, a patch of pulsating glowing green light.

Now I can sleep through truck engines, both idling and pulling in/out of truck-stops, through a row of 6 screaming 150 ton screw-compressors driving the data center air-conditioning, (For ten years I lived in The Van behind the data center during the week.) through cars pulling in and out around me in Walmart or rest area parking lots, (Yet I have no trouble hearing an alarm which is kind of weird.) but for my entire geekish working life I’ve been conditioned to various indicator and warning lights, so, like I’ve had to do with smoke, CO, and LP detectors, with charging devices and laptops, with TV’s, microwaves and modems (Yes, those last three are only at the house but remember that we live in a single room so all that stuff is right there with us at night.) if I want to get any sleep I’ve got to do something about the stray lights that technology has been insidiously slipping into our lives. (They say blue is the worst and, of course, that’s the color of the only LED on my phone that I can’t turn off, so I have to make sure the phone is laying on its face to hide that little sucker.)

Fortunately ‘doing something about the lights’ is usually as simple as cutting off a short bit of electrical tape and slapping it over the offender, which is what I’ve done to the IOTA.

If that turns out to be the worst thing about my IOTA experience I think I have a winner on my hands.


  1. My trailer battery system became all solar charged about six years ago. The converter to charge the batts from 120 volt has been disconnected from 120 volt and has been used only once since then during a seven day stretch of rain and heavy clouds.

  2. The thought entered my over active brain that maybe an air gap between the IOTA and the carpet could be a good thing. How important is it? I have no idea. My Progressive Dynamics unit has about a quarter inch gap from the floor it is installed on inside a kitchen cabinet. It is vinyl flooring and not carpet.

    1. It sort of looks like carpet but what I have is a marine-grade vinyl, the kind you find in the bottom of fishing boats. Very durable but the pebbly surface is a bit hard and bare feet, hence the rug-runners where I walk. The IOTA normally mounts flush to the surface but I've used a couple stacked washers to lift it about an eighth.