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Solar Charge Controllers

Solar Charge Controllers

Solar charge controllers do two basic things within a solar power system - they optimize the charging of your valuable deep cycle batteries by the solar panels and prevent the electricity from the batteries from going through the panels when there is no sun. Many of the controllers we offer have more additional features, such as the ability to automatically turn DC powered loads off or on, such as lights. Others can be used with relatively high voltages of strings of solar panels, provide you with monitoring of your batteries' voltage and amp-hours left and even connect to your home data network for remote monitoring.

Quick Tutorial Videos on Solar Charge Controllers


 
How Do Solar Charge
Controllers Work?

 
How to Size a
Charge Controller?

 
What is
PWM & MPPT?

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More Info on Solar Charge Controllers

The Basics of Sizing a Charge Controller

Before perusing our solar charge controllers below. You'll notice that solar charge controllers are specified by both amperage and voltage. You will need a solar controller that can support the voltage of your solar panel array, and then output to the battery bank's voltage (usually 12, 24 or 48VDC). Next, you'll want to make sure the solar charge controller has enough capacity to handle the current (in amps) from your solar panel array. Take the wattage of your solar panels and divide it by the battery bank's voltage to get a rough estimate of how many amps the controller needs. Check out the video above for a great overview on how to size one properly.

Another Basic Way for Determining the Controller Needed

The basic formula for sizing a solar panel charge controller is to take the short circuit current (Isc) of the array, and multiply it by 1.56. (What is short circuit current? TBD & Why 1.56? See TBD and TBD). Be sure that the solar controller you select can handle at least that many amps.

Please protect this important part of your system with appropriate overcurrent protection before and after the solar controller (see Enclosures, Electrical & Safety for options).

Solar Charge Controller Types

Now that you know what size solar controller to look for, identify which type of solar charge controller is right for your application: MPPT or PWM Charge Controllers. A PWM (Pulse Width Modulated) solar charge controller is the traditional style. They are robust, inexpensive and widely used in solar panel applications. PWM shunt controllers are used less often and mostly in applications where electrical interference is an issue. The MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) solar controller is the shining star of today's solar systems. These controllers actually detect the optimum operating voltage and amperage of the solar panel array and match that with the battery bank. The result is additional 15-30% more power out of your solar array versus a PWM solar controller. Although the MPPT solar charge controller is more expensive than its PWM counterpart, it is generally worth the investment for any solar electric system over 200 watts.

Features and add-ons for Solar Controllers

Once you have decided on a type of solar charge controller, you'll want to identify what features you need. There are many basic-no-frills solar charge controllers that work well. In addition, there are some great features that will make your renewable energy experience even better. An important addition to your system: Battery Temperature Sensors. Battery capacity depends on temperature, therefore proper battery charging can be significantly enhanced with a temperature sensor.

Additionally, some solar controllers offer adjustable control voltage set points, low voltage disconnect, overload protection and displays and metering. If you plan to run a DC load, you can connect it directly to the solar charge controller. If the solar controller is equipped with a low voltage disconnect (LVD), then the solar charge controller can detect when the battery is low and shut off the DC load until the battery is charged. Is all of this still confusing? Give us a call and let us know the short circuit current of your solar panel array (or at least the brand and size of your solar modules) and the system voltage (12, 24, 48 VDC) and we'll be glad to help with a recommendation.

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