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  #1  
Old 03-30-2011
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Controller/regulator for small solar panel

I have a 30W panel that I currently, er, "manually regulate". I tie it to the rail when I want to charge, and take it down when I want to stop charging. It's tied in a vertical position and so only gets sun half the day. When it's plugged in, it's wired to the battery, no regular or controller or anything.

Anyway, I'd like to leave it up permanently, and understand that the way I'm doing things would have to stop. I understand that if the rated amperage is at least 1% of the battery's amp-hour capacity, I need a regulator to prevent overcharging.

My two batteries (identical in make, size, and age, each a group 24, I think) have a capacity of 150 Ah, and the peak output of the panel is about 2 A, so I guess I need a regulator (or something) to be on the safe side. So far I have not seemed to have problems, but I figure the panel was rarely outputting at its peak.

My question therefore is, what sort of gadgets do I have to install to make it okay to leave such a panel permanently mounted in the horizontal position?

I understand that a "regulator" just turns the panel on or off depending on the battery's voltage.

And then there's a "controller" which I understand has a microprocessor that measures battery voltage and chooses among two or three "stages", like bulk, maintenance, etc.

Then there's PWM controllers which seem the same but a bit "smoother" in that they don't choose from a discrete set of modes.

Then there's MPPT controllers which do some math and figure out the max power output of the panels for the current state of the battery, and maybe also do the multistage control thing that the PWMs do as well.

Whew. That is about my capacity to handle the options. I'm assuming that each of those options supercedes (i.e. does the job of) the ones above it. Is that correct? So if I get an MPPT controller, do I still need a regulator?

Furthermore, is it worth it to get such expensive stuff? An MPPT controller is probably more expensive than the panel itself, which it was hard enough convincing the admiral to let me buy.

My usage is modest. My energy budget tells me I'm unlikely to use more than 22 Ah per day, and I rarely go on trips longer than three days (most drips are daysails), and I'm slowly switching over to LEDs to cut more Ah out. My main goal is to never hook up my portable battery charger again; I have an outboard and no permanent shore-power system.

Anyway, as always, looking forward to hearing your opinions. Thanks!
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Old 03-30-2011
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Adam

An MPPT controller is a regulator. But I don't think you need an expensive controller for your panel, just a basic controller that protects your batteries from overcharging. MPPT controllers will consume more of the panels output for themselves than a more basic controller as well. Your panel is not producing much more than a float charge for your batteries. As long as you don't add panels a controller like this will do a good job.
Morningstar SunGuard SG4 Solar 4.5 amp Regulator
If you add a panel a controller like this has more capacity.
Morningstar SunSaver SS-10 10 amp Regulator : WeGo Solar, Wind and Microhydro for Canada
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Old 03-31-2011
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Hm, good point about the controller consuming some of the power; hadn't considered that. The BlueSky 1524iX consumes 600 mW as compared to 130 for the Morningstar SS-10. Still, if the BlueSky increases my panel's output by 6 watts, it can eat 10% of that and I'm still getting a noticeable decrease in charging times. That could make a big difference on a day with only a little bit of sunshine. On the other hand, Morningstar also claims that I can "get 20% to 30%" more energy" from my panels with their PWM controller, so it almost seems like it's the same benefit as MPPT.

Okay, thanks for this info; will continue researching.
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Old 03-31-2011
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Battery

Do you have one battery?

I have two batteries and was doing the same (manually hooking them up). I first bought the
ss-6
Morningstar Corporation » SunSaver

I called Morningstar about my type of batteries etc (2 Optima red tops) and my planned usage.
They suggested that I buy the SSD-25 because the SS-6 might actually overcharge my battery since most of the time it's just sitting on the trailer and little draw. (I have a 12 volt muffin fan running 24hrs - .8amp) The SS-25 has an additional cycle that limits the charging further. Since I have 2 batteries, it's also better suited as well. I also bought the one including the meter. Works better than my old analog voltmeter to keep an eye on both batteries. Also has other functions.


Morningstar Corporation » SunSaver Duo

Quote:
Originally Posted by AdamLein View Post
I have a 30W panel that I currently, er, "manually regulate". I tie it to the rail when I want to charge, and take it down when I want to stop charging. It's tied in a vertical position and so only gets sun half the day. When it's plugged in, it's wired to the battery, no regular or controller or anything.

Anyway, I'd like to leave it up permanently, and understand that the way I'm doing things would have to stop. I understand that if the rated amperage is at least 1% of the battery's amp-hour capacity, I need a regulator to prevent overcharging.

My two batteries (identical in make, size, and age, each a group 24, I think) have a capacity of 150 Ah, and the peak output of the panel is about 2 A, so I guess I need a regulator (or something) to be on the safe side. So far I have not seemed to have problems, but I figure the panel was rarely outputting at its peak.

My question therefore is, what sort of gadgets do I have to install to make it okay to leave such a panel permanently mounted in the horizontal position?

I understand that a "regulator" just turns the panel on or off depending on the battery's voltage.

And then there's a "controller" which I understand has a microprocessor that measures battery voltage and chooses among two or three "stages", like bulk, maintenance, etc.

Then there's PWM controllers which seem the same but a bit "smoother" in that they don't choose from a discrete set of modes.

Then there's MPPT controllers which do some math and figure out the max power output of the panels for the current state of the battery, and maybe also do the multistage control thing that the PWMs do as well.

Whew. That is about my capacity to handle the options. I'm assuming that each of those options supercedes (i.e. does the job of) the ones above it. Is that correct? So if I get an MPPT controller, do I still need a regulator?

Furthermore, is it worth it to get such expensive stuff? An MPPT controller is probably more expensive than the panel itself, which it was hard enough convincing the admiral to let me buy.

My usage is modest. My energy budget tells me I'm unlikely to use more than 22 Ah per day, and I rarely go on trips longer than three days (most drips are daysails), and I'm slowly switching over to LEDs to cut more Ah out. My main goal is to never hook up my portable battery charger again; I have an outboard and no permanent shore-power system.

Anyway, as always, looking forward to hearing your opinions. Thanks!

Last edited by mdbee; 03-31-2011 at 12:01 PM.
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Old 03-31-2011
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mdbee: do you have a house and a starter bank? I do have two batteries, and an off/1/both/2 switch that I pretty much only ever use in the off or both positions. Each is a flooded lead-acid deep cycle battery, 75 Ah.

Two recommendations for Morningstar already... I guess it's a reputable brand. Perhaps I should give them a call.

I'm noticing that some of the Morningstar controllers have an L in their designation, for "low voltage disconnect". Does that mean it disconnects the panel when the panel voltage is low, to prevent reverse current? I.e. so you don't need a diode?
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Old 03-31-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AdamLein View Post
mdbee: I.e. so you don't need a diode?
A Diode (Blocking or Rectifier type) is needed between the Solar panel and Charge controller/battery no matter what setup style you use.

DO NOT put a Diode between the battery and controller since the controller needs to "see" the battery voltage to work properly.

Diodes also use a bit of current to work so the OP can just put a 1.2-1.5 Amp Diode on ea. panel and wire it to a controller or direct to the battery w/ the 15 watt panels and it should be fine.

I have a 45 watt (3.6 Amp) setup w/ a controller and it really needs to be shut off or it chews up .6 AmpHr the 12+ hrs. a day w/ no sun. A 100+ watt setup would compensate for the draw via the extra charging amps. Also remember that "Peak Sun" is only 3-4 hrs. a day unless you have a tracking setup.

Panel/s------Diode->|+ ----- Controller or battery = done!
(The striped end of the Diode goes to the + side of Batt./Controller)
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??

I believe you are wrong about needing another diode. The Morningstar site shows:

electronic Protections
• Solar Short Circuit • High Temperature
• Solar Over Current • Lightning
• Reverse Polarity • Reverse Current at Night

I can also verify that it will not flow voltage from the batteries to the solar panel. Long story but it won't.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MacGyverRI View Post
A Diode (Blocking or Rectifier type) is needed between the Solar panel and Charge controller/battery no matter what setup style you use.

DO NOT put a Diode between the battery and controller since the controller needs to "see" the battery voltage to work properly.

Diodes also use a bit of current to work so the OP can just put a 1.2-1.5 Amp Diode on ea. panel and wire it to a controller or direct to the battery w/ the 15 watt panels and it should be fine.

I have a 45 watt (3.6 Amp) setup w/ a controller and it really needs to be shut off or it chews up .6 AmpHr the 12+ hrs. a day w/ no sun. A 100+ watt setup would compensate for the draw via the extra charging amps. Also remember that "Peak Sun" is only 3-4 hrs. a day unless you have a tracking setup.

Panel/s------Diode->|+ ----- Controller or battery = done!
(The striped end of the Diode goes to the + side of Batt./Controller)
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Old 03-31-2011
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"l"

"L" :

Low Voltage Disconnect (LVD)
The automatic load disconnect is an option. If the battery
falls below 11.5 (or 23.0) volts, the load is disconnected from
the battery to protect against harmful deep discharges. A
2-second delay prevents load disconnects from transients.
The load is automatically reconnected when the battery
voltage recovers to 12.6 (or 25.2) volts

Quote:
Originally Posted by AdamLein View Post
mdbee: do you have a house and a starter bank? I do have two batteries, and an off/1/both/2 switch that I pretty much only ever use in the off or both positions. Each is a flooded lead-acid deep cycle battery, 75 Ah.

Two recommendations for Morningstar already... I guess it's a reputable brand. Perhaps I should give them a call.

I'm noticing that some of the Morningstar controllers have an L in their designation, for "low voltage disconnect". Does that mean it disconnects the panel when the panel voltage is low, to prevent reverse current? I.e. so you don't need a diode?
I don't have an electric start, so both batteries are the same type. I usually run with one battery and when needed, will switch over to the second battery. The charger I purchased can be switched to charge both batteries at one time, or one until it's fully charged, then the second.
You can also select one of the batteries as priority:

Standard battery charging programs:

DIP Switch 3 – Battery Charging Priority
Select the percentage of available charge current to each battery.
9 The 90% / 10% priority setting allows Battery #1 to receive 90% of available
charging current, while Battery #2 receives 10% of charging current. This setting
is ideal for RV and boat systems where a “house” bank requires most of the
available charge current and a separate engine starter battery requires only a
“trickle charge” to remain topped-off. When Battery #1 reaches full charge, more
charge current will be diverted to Battery #2 as needed.
The 50% / 50% priority setting splits available charge current equally between
two battery banks. This priority setting is ideal for systems with two equal-sized
battery banks that require simultaneous charging. If one battery bank reaches full
charge before the other, more charge current will be diverted to the lower stateof-charge battery.
DIP Switch 3 OFF: 90% / 10% Priority (factory pre-set)
DIP Switch 3 ON: 50% / 50% Priority

Last edited by mdbee; 03-31-2011 at 09:26 PM.
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Old 03-31-2011
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At 11.5 volts you would only have 20% of a charge left and it would take about a week @ 2.2 amps going in to recharge it fully.

A fully charged battery is 12.6+ volts. (see voltage chart)

Shutting off the controller is the only way I've found to keep it fully charged.
(my controller w/ avg. mid day sun is the other pic and 14.1 is peak)
Attached Thumbnails
Controller/regulator for small solar panel-voltchart1.gif   Controller/regulator for small solar panel-solarcharge1.jpg  
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Old 04-01-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MacGyverRI View Post
A Diode (Blocking or Rectifier type) is needed between the Solar panel and Charge controller/battery no matter what setup style you use.
You don’t need a blocking diode all the solar regulators will prevent reverse current flow.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MacGyverRI View Post

I have a 45 watt (3.6 Amp) setup w/ a controller and it really needs to be shut off or it chews up .6 AmpHr the 12+ hrs. a day w/ no sun
High consumption is a problem with some regulators , particularly the MPPT type. There are regulators with low power consumption however. Mine uses 0.01A
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