Who are the folks that Make Outback Inverters?
Outback Power Technologies got its start in 2001 manufacturing integration hardware for housing electronics used in solar installations. Soon, sine wave inverters were added which have been followed in the recent years by MPPT charge controllers, communication/network products and a full line of integration products.
Outback is located in Arlington, Washington and is privately held. We are actually impressed that they have not launched an IPO, gone public and the original founders are now relaxing on the white sand beaches of an island they purchased with their stock earnings. Actually, to round out the story of Outback, some of the original founders of Outback had previously been involved with Trace which was later sold to Xantrex. So, the Outback owners are no strangers to transferring company ownership to interested parties and key people moving to other ventures. Midnite Solar was the result of Robin and Bob Gudgel leaving Outback for a new challenge.
While a publicly traded company is not necessarily a bad thing, remaining private can sometimes allow the company to respond to market challenges swifter than a management layered, shareholder pacifying organization. That is a good thing in the rapidly changing renewable energy market where we find ourselves today.
So far Outback Power Technologies seems to have remained on track as a reliable supplier of electrical conversion equipment for alternative energy systems. The equipment is well thought of in the off-grid marketplace and they dare make improvements to proven products such as the former solar charge controller MX60, now the FM60.
As for staying on track, their products are coherent. Speaking for the off-grid segment of products, the integration of a solar energy system starting at the PV combiner box to the charge controller, to the system enclosure’s DC breaker box, passing through the inverter and finally out the AC breaker box, it all makes sense. There is not a lot of hunting and pecking for components and wondering where they are compatible. In our opinion this is without question a strong point for the Outback brand.
Another positive aspect of Outback is the customer service and technical support. They are the most service oriented company we have dealt with in the renewable energy field so far. We could throw out all kinds of glowing reports from our personal experience and others, but a simply drawn conclusion is, if there is a major problem, within reason it will most likely be taken care of.
Our reviews and discussions will only be directed to the Off-Grid inverter series.
The Outback inverter selection is simplified by the fact that they have a rather narrow line of inverters from which to choose. On one hand some buyers may be put off by not having a vast array of choices. On the other hand we find this refreshing to not have to wade through numerous items in various product lines to make us feel like we are smart enough to pick just the right combination of goods to make the most wonderful and unique off-grid system ever cobbled together. This limited choice approach is actually quite user friendly for us non-engineer people who want to plug DC into one side and have AC come out the other side.
The inverter line is real easy to understand. They all produce a clean sine wave and for each voltage you only have to pick a vented or sealed model. True enough, you have to decide if your application falls under “Off-Grid” or “Mobile” but I think most of us are smart enough to figure that one out. For either mobile or off-grid use, the inverter designation is the FX/VFX Series Inverter/Charger.
The Outback M-Series mobile inverters would be used for RV and marine applications. The M-Series appear to have a higher degree of corrosion resistance components incorporated in the circuit boards for protection in environments exposed to salt water. They also have a ground/neutral switching which is used where there is not a permanent ground, but may alternate between shore power and the vehicle/boat where the inverter is located. Otherwise they look similar to the regular Off-Grid line.
The model numbers of all the FX/VFX Outback inverters are easy to understand. The sealed units will start with FX and be followed by a number representing the VA and system voltage. As an example, the FX3048T has a continuous power rating of 3000 VA and is for a system with a nominal 48 volt DC input. In the case of the (T), this would designate the turbo, or fan, which is used to assist in cooling the sealed unit. The vented model used in a 48 volt DC system is designated VFX3648.
SEALED OR VENTED
For each line of inverter there are two choices for each DC system voltage. You can get the same basic inverter in either a sealed or vented model.
The vented VFX model is the most likely choice for applications where the inverter is indoors and not exposed to a highly corrosive atmosphere or high humidity. This inverter has a fully screened bug-proof air intake that uses a fan for cooling the internal components. The vented model benefits are:
- rated for a higher continuous output
- longer AC overload capacity
- higher battery charger output
- suitable in a hotter climate
The sealed FX unit also has a cooling fan but it is not as effective as the vented unit. As a result the sealed inverter has a few areas of lower output.
- the continuous power rating is lower
- reduced AC overload capacity is reduced for durations over 5 seconds
- reduced battery charger output
The sealed units are slightly heavier at 62.6 pounds compared to the vented models weighing in at 61 pounds. They both share the same die-cast aluminum bodies for efficient heat dissipation. Comparatively, the specifications such as Idle Power Consumption, Typical Efficiency, Total Harmonic Distortion and Output Voltage Regulation are the same whether vented or sealed.
We find the most significant divergence in performance between the sealed and vented inverter is in the continuous battery charging output. The vented models have a much higher charger output (see chart). The lower rating on the sealed inverters could very well require the installation of additional inverters or a supplemental battery charger such as the IOTA or Xantrex Truecharge. If your location does not require the use of an Outback FX sealed inverter, this may be a good reason to go with the VFX vented model.
The FX/VFX battery charger has five stages. The first stage is the “BULK” charge. It raises the voltage until it reaches the maximum voltage set by the user. The second stage, “ABSORB” holds the batteries at the maximum charging voltage for the amount of time set by the user. The third stage is the “SILENT” mode where no charging takes place until the battery voltage drops to the fourth stage “FLOAT” setting. The Float voltage also has a user adjustable time period. After the Float voltage time has been satisfied the charger goes into the Silent mode until the voltage drops to the fifth stage “REFLOAT” setting. The Refloat stage will start another Float charge.
An Equalize mode is also available. This mode must be manually initiated by the user. The Equalize mode also has user adjustable parameters.
The Mate is the controller for the outback inverters. It has an LCD display with a backlit screen and buttons. The Mate is required to adjust charge input amount, as well as Bulk, Absorb, Silent, Float, Refloat, and Equalize set points. The mate is also required if you are going to stack multiple inverters.
Outback, unlike most other brands, has chosen to keep their product line simple by only offering inverters with one output rating. If you need more AC output you just add inverters until you are happy. And Outback does make it easy to stack inverters. There are options for various series and parallel connections so you can get the desired 120/240 volt output.
Outback inverters can be configured for a single 120 volt AC output , parallel multiple inverters for 120 volt AC or series connect them for 120/240 volt AC. A three phase 120/208 volt AC connection is also possible. The X-240 Autotransformer can be added to multiple inverter systems for a 120/240 volt AC split-phase output with the ability to provide full power on either 120 volt AC leg of the system.
The X-240 Autotransformer option is rated at 4000 VA and consumes 12 watts. With the use of cooling fans the output is increased to 6000 VA continuous output.
It is nice to have these stacking options and the ability to kick out 7.2 kW or 14.4 kW. However we do have one thought on large inverter capacities. For many residential off-grid systems, one inverter is probably adequate. Large loads powered by the inverter are not typical unless you have a substantial battery bank and a hefty renewable energy system that allows you to utilize the inverters capacity.
While four stacked FX/VFX inverters may seem extreme for many applications, two inverters could be handy. The load sharing between two inverters should increase the life span over a single unit. The capacity of the second charger can also come in handy when charging a large battery bank with a petrol generator. This will reduce the battery charge time and run time on the generator. This alone may be a sufficient enough reason to justify two inverters with the added bonus of a backup unit in case of a failure.
Being field serviceable is a very positive aspect to the Outback inverter. Though very reliable, parts do break. When there is a problem we find in some cases that Outback is not shy about offering the option of replacing parts in the field. There are three main cards in the inverter and if you need to replace one you can get easy to follow, step by step instructions.
This is actually an important aspect to grasp. While the company’s motivations are not ours to know we get a feeling they are not trying to nickel and dime a customer to death by demanding that only their special staff of trained workers can do the repairs. Replacing a card or cable is not rocket science to someone with basic skills and the patience to follow instructions.
Please note that this field service may not apply to warranty work but rather out of warranty issues. Also, we may be reading the company wrong in this regard but for the unit to have field serviceable parts is important from our point of view.
The Outback FX/VFX series Inverter/Charger is a solid product. We have also heard comments from some dealers and installers who are not fond of the Outback inverters. However, when pressed, they have expressed one of three possible motivations:
- They are more familiar with Outback’s closest competitor, Xantrex. Since they know their way around the Xantrex controls they are comfortable providing remote troubleshooting and giving operating instructions to a homeowner via phone or email.
- Customers preference for Brand X
- This is rather a subjective observation but, they feel like Outback has developed a cult following and they would rather not be a follower. This has only been the impression from a limited number of dealers but we found it a most odd viewpoint.
We are very interested in your opinions and experiences with the Outback Inverter and would like to hear from you whether you are a dealer, installer or the system owner. Please visit the Forum and join our Community.
Interestingly we have never had anyone just outright say the Outback inverter is an inferior product. Certainly someone has to have that opinion or Xantrex would not be in business today. Either we have not crossed paths with them yet or it has not been expressed in such terms. Also remember that our experiences and discussions about the Outback inverter are limited to the FX/VFX series in off-grid applications. We offer no opinion on the Outback grid-tie GTFX or GVFX inverter.
Companies continually change and modify their material procurement and product assembly locations. As of this writing the most current information on the Outback inverter indicate they are assembled in the USA from imported parts. This is subject to change from time to time so if it is a serious factor in choosing a brand, you should verify this information at the time of your purchase. As stated earlier, Outback is a privately held company. This too could change at any time as well as the friendly, helpful atmosphere currently experienced .
As companies grow and expand, changes are inevitable and Outback has been in that stage for some time. Even with the maturing of the company, we still see their inverter as an excellent choice for a general household system. It would be hard to go wrong with the FX/VFX series in an off-grid application.
What’s your experience using Outback inverters?
We would love to hear about your experience – both good and bad. Does it perform as advertised? Have you had any component failures? Is their tech support helpful and fast?
What Other Visitors Have Said
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page…
Outback Radian and Mate 3, should we expect more?
We have owned an Outback Radian and Mate3 as part off our off-grid system for about two years now. We have owned other brand name inverters, dating …
I got a used outback fx unit and the cover was off when I got it, I can’t get it to do anything when adding power, no light no beeps nothing. I would like …
Homeowner in Louisiana Not rated yet
One of our Outback inverters (6 y old) started making a rattling sound when it started up. The technical service rep took at least 30 minutes to walk …
Dave’s A/C Not rated yet
These inverters are tough, reliable, and easy to repair. I had a FET rail go bad, I got great support, they immediately shipped a fet board, and a control …
Alabama off grid Not rated yet
I researched for 8 months before I purchased the Outback VFX 3524 inverter/charger. I needed something very very dependable. Everyone recommended the Outback …
I sunk my inverter!!! Not rated yet
I bought an Outback FX3048, reconditioned, for about half off. I left it in it’s shipping box in the rain, outside, thinking it was a sealed unit…