Is a solar charge controller necessary?

By Matt •  Updated: 05/09/22 •  7 min read

As more solar PV system equipment is being introduced, it gets so hard to understand what you need and what you can do without. Most standard PV system kits comprise a solar battery, solar panels, inverter, and charge controller. 

With the different methods of installation, you might find your installer foregoing either of the equipment.

Solar Inverter
Solar Inverter

In this article, we are going to discuss instances where you can use or not use a charge controller. Stay tuned.

Is a solar charge controller necessary?

Charge controllers regulate the charging process of solar batteries. They ensure the solar battery does not overcharge or discharge. Controllers also ensure your battery charge even when the sun is not available. 

So, if you know how expensive solar batteries are, you would install charge controllers to your PV system. 

There are two types of charge controllers: MPPT and PWM. 

Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) detects when there is alight sunlight energy and charges the battery. This charge controller does not balance the current and voltage sent to your battery and the output. If the solar battery is almost drained, it sends more charge to it. 

MPPT is mainly used in large solar PV system settings  

Pulse With Modulation (PWM) balances the current and voltage produced by the solar panel and that released by the solar battery. If your solar battery needs 12V, PMW sends the exact amount of voltage to the solar battery. 

PWM is used in sa mall solar PV system setting. 

As seen, these two charge controllers cannot be used in the same situation. Before installing this device consult with your provider. We will however discuss instances you can use and not use charge controllers. 

When should you use a solar charge controller?

Before installing a charge controller, you can test your PV system to test if it is necessary to install the controller. 

Take your solar battery Amp Hour capacity and divide it by the maximum power amp rating of your solar panel. If you get an equivalent of 200 and above, you do not need a charge controller. If you get something below 200 then you need a charge controller. 

For example ,if your battery is 100 amp hour and a solar panel is 10 

 you will divide the 100 amp hour and divide it by 0.6

100/0.6=166.6

In this case, since the quotient is below 200, you need a charge controller. 

If yyoursolar battery is 100 amp hour and the solar panel is 5 watts, you will find the quotient by dividing;

100/0.3=333.3

In this case, the quotient is above 200, you , therefore,don’t need a charge controller. 

The two cases demonstrated above are possible theoretically. Furthermore, these figures are created in the lab. Some variations might affect your solar battery.

  • All solar batteries regardless of the quality starts to deteriorate after some time. For this reason, they might start discharging too fast. 

Charge controllers regulate the discharging rate of solar batteries by holding some charge when the sun is not available. Your solar battery is therefore protected from being completely drained. 

  • The sun might be too hot which ends up sending more charge to the battery. If the solar battery is not connected to a charge controller, it will overcharge which might cause a fire. 
  • If you have several solar bbatterybackups, you might store some of them for emergencies. Solar batteries even when not in use will still discharge. 

To prevent these batteries from running dry, it would be better if you connected them to the charge controller. 

Generally, even if your solar PV system can sustain itself without a charge controller, to ensure your batteries are well protected, pair it with a charge controller. Solar batteries are very expensive.

What are the alternatives to solar charge controllers?

Charge controllers have specific roles in your solar PV system: To protect your solar battery from overcharging or over-discharging 

No other device can fulfill the same purpose unless you pair solar PV with an all-in-one hybrid Inverter. An all-in-one hybrid Inverter has an inbuilt charge controller and still performs the role of an inverter. 

How to use a solar charge controller?

A charge controller works by regulating the voltage of the solar battery. There are two types of charge controllers: MPPT and PWM. These two charge controllers can be connected tin he same way. The only difference is where you use them. Below is a step-by-step process of connecting a charge controller. 

Step 1: Choose your charge controller

There are a few things you should consider before buying a solar charge controller;

  • The sizing of the controller
  • Does the charge controller offer an online status monitoring option?
  • Does your solar charge controller have built-in GFT and arc fault.?
  • Can you use the charge controller manually or automatic EQ?
  • Is your charge controller capable of charging a 12-72V solar battery?
  • Can you use your charge controller wind, solar or hydro mode?
  • Does your charge controller hyper VOC extend the VOC limit? 

Any quality charge controller should have the features mentioned above. 

Step 2: Connect a fuse to the solar battery

Each charge controller brand has a specific way of installation. Check the user manual provided by the manufacturer. 

You will however need a;

  • Hot glue gun
  • Wire crimper and
  • A screwdriver

The first connection is placing the fuse in the positive cable of the solar battery. You should use a fuse calculator to size the right fuse for your connection. 

Step 3: Connect the solar battery cables to the charge controller

The positive cable of the solar battery should be connected to the negative plug of the solar charge controller. And, the negative cable to the positive plug. 

Step 4: Connect the solar battery cables to the solar battery

Connect the positive cable to the positive terminal and the negative cable to the negative terminal. 

Once the connection is complete, the charge controller light will turn on provided the solar battery has some charge.

Solar charge controller settings

Different solar charge controller manufacturers list the settings of their devices on their websites or their user manual. These settings include the charge voltage and current.

 These settings parameters are listed to help you utilize the charge controller capability to the maximum. They also help you protect your solar batteries. Some of these critical settings of a charge controllers include;

  1. Float voltage,
  2. Absorption voltage,
  3. Equalization voltage,
  4. Absorption Duration,
  5. Re- Bulk Voltage offset,
  6. Maximum Absorption Time,
  7. Equalization  current percentage,
  8. Tail current,
  9. Automatic Equalization,
  10. Equalization stop mode,
  11. Low-Temperature cutoff,
  12. Temperature compensation
  13. Maximum Equalization Duration

If you can’t interpret these settings, send an email to your manufacturer with the description of the battery type, battery voltage ,and the number of solar panels. 

Conclusion

Solar batteries are very expensive and once they go bad, the only option is to replace them. To prolong the life of solar batteries, connect your batteries to solar charge controllers. 

Charge controllers protect your solar battery from overcharging or over-discharge 

To find the full capability of your charge controller, use the manufacturer setting parameters provided on their website or the user manual. These parameters can also be used to protect your solar battery from excess current and temperatures. 

The guide above provides all the information needed to install and use your charge controller. 

Matt

I’m Matt, a computer and electronic embedded system developer. Currently, working as an electronic engineer. In my leisure time, I do love to blog about technology stuff. Specially, new advance high tech devices. Portable solar systems are one of topic that I love to investigate. They are becoming more powerful day by day which keep me alert.