Solar Panel Regulators
A solar panel regulator (charge controller) is a crucial component in solar-powered systems, which sits between the panel and the battery (or the panel and the appliances). The other parts of the system will include solar panels to harness the sunlight, batteries for power storage, or an inverter to convert the generated DC power into AC electricity and feed it into the grid. Solar panel regulators are commonly used in standalone solar power systems (grid fed systems require an inverter instead).
The role of these small and lightweight devices is to measure and control the charge that enters the battery from the PV panel, and to prevent harmful overcharging or deep discharging of the batteries.
A solar panel regulator is like an on and off switch for the battery. Solar regulators also help to improve charge quality. It is generally recommended to use charge controllers with solar panels with the rated output of 5W or more. Furthermore, you can also bypass the battery and directly connect your appliances to the solar panel regulator in order to run them.
What is the size of the regulator that you'll need? To calculate that, add up the ampere ratings of your PV panels. For instance, let's say that you have three 140W panels at 8 Amps each. That means that the regulator will need to handle 24 Amps. To be safe, consider purchasing a 30 Amp solar panel regulator. It's important to consider your future needs in order to save money if you decide to upgrade your system.
Note that linear series regulators can cause voltage drops, and that's why most photovoltaic panel regulators are shunt regulators. The simplest shunt regulators are pulsing ON-OFF regulators with a switch. Their main disadvantage is fluctuating voltage output, which may reduce the lifetime of a battery by as much as double. Safer linear shunt regulators can be used instead to keep output voltage constant, and possibly also to double the lifespan of your batteries. You can either build a good charge controller yourself using an instructional manual with diagrams, or purchase a commercial unit.
Commercial charge controllers are obviously more costly than homemade ones (commercial controllers may cost up to a few hundred dollars). However, commercial controllers do have some pleasant advantages, such as an LCD (liquid crystal display) to show the current or voltage. LCD display eliminates the need to check the batteries with a multimeter, as the numbers are always on display.
While permanently connected PV panels will overcharge batteries and boil them dry, you can safely connect the same panels permanently to the battery through the solar panel regulator. Relays will disconnect the panels when the batteries reach full charge, and the liquid crystal display will indicate this condition. Series diodes will prevent the batteries from discharging through the panel when there is no sunlight. Commercial 12/24 Volt regulators usually have diode protection, charge L.E.D., auto switching, and low voltage disconnect.
Solar regulators are maintenance-free. All you need to do is regularly
check the connections, ensure normal air flow to the device, and avoid
placing it in direct sunlight.
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