Our goal for being off the grid has been to produce all of our power from renewable sources (solar, hydro, wind, wood gas, steam, hydrogen, etc) and not rely on fuel sources that must be purchased (gasoline, diesel, propane, etc). But particularly in northern climates, it takes time to achieve that unless one has a bundle of money up front to invest in a very large renewable energy system. Because of this, many people getting started with renewable energy begin with a small basic system and build up from there as budget allows. Many times this initial system is not "renewable" energy but rather "alternative" energy as it involves the use of a fuel powered generator, to a greater or lesser extent.
In my years of experience living off the grid (since the late '90s), I have found batteries to be the most expensive and troublesome component of a renewable energy system over the long run. With that in mind, I knew there must be a better solution than the standard "go-to" batteries such as Trojan L-16's and T-105's or even the high-end Surrette's or super high-end Solar One batteries. While the high-end batteries mentioned often work very well, they are quite expensive. So for years, I have kept my eyes open for a better solution.
This last spring, we were away from home for a few months on a seminar trip. In preparation for the trip, I pondered how best to prepare my battery for such a long period away from my watchful eye. There were two main concerns I had about leaving it home alone for months and gaining an understanding of these has helped me in fine tuning my charging settings:
For the last 6 years I have lived with an Outback VFX inverter. That may sound like a pretty close relationship and it is! When you live off the grid and need good clean electricity for work, the inverter play an important part in one's life. But a truly fine inverter is so hassle free that it demands attention only when you require it to do something different than it has been doing (i.e. turn it off while on a trip, equalize, etc). After getting married and moving into a rental homestead (temporarily until we build our own), I found myself using a spare modified sine wave inverter I had owned for some time...and wishing I wasn't!
For a comparison, see Inverter comparison: Magnum MS series vs Outback VFX series.
If there is one word that could summarize the Magnum MS series inverters, it would be "simplicity". That can be a good thing as long as its not so simple and automatic that necessary customizations are impossible. I think Magnum has done a good job of balancing this simplicity with their MS Series inverter. Initial programming took all of about 5 or 10 minutes but yet I can adjust or customize the items I really need to. While I personally don't mind dealing with a lot of options, this could be a real blessing to some.
Any recent inverter worth it's salt has the capability to automatically start a generator. At least one that is equipped with electric start and remote control capabilities. Of course there are a number of pieces of criteria to be met. Things like battery voltage below a certain point, battery state of charge below a certain level, regularly scheduled generator exercise, etc. Depending on which inverter you have it can do a number of different things. It is capable of starting the generator, can let it warm up for a given period of time, run a complete charge cycle, and run cool down time before turning the generator off. So the question is, would this be a useful feature to take advantage of?