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  #1  
Old 03-04-2013
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solar charging problem - troubleshooting help please!

I have been noticing that my two 65w solar panels have been increasingly unable to charge my batteries. The batteries seem to charge fine with the alternator and hold a charge well (they are less than 2 years old). I am thinking that perhaps there is a corroded connection somewhere between the panels and the batteries. Before I start looking at every possible culprit, perhaps someone with more experience might know where to start looking first. I'm not exactly a McGyver with things electrical ...

Thanks in advance!
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Old 03-04-2013
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Re: solar charging problem - troubleshooting help please!

Do you have any monitoring capability that can tell you/us specifically how much the panels are making?

I'm going to assume you've cleaned the panels, but you'll also need to do the eyeball check on all the connections coming from them. You'll need to take a crash course in what's what on your system.
If you don't have an installed monitor that says specifically what the panels are making regarding voltage and amps you'll have to find the leads coming from the panels and take a voltage reading during normal sunlight, it should be over 14.3 v, if not they are defective.
If you don't know where to start, the place to start is taking LOTS of pictures so we can tell you what's what.
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Old 03-06-2013
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Re: solar charging problem - troubleshooting help please!

I have experience with solar systems and am willing to help you out.
I have some questions.
1 - Are you charging through a solar charge controller?
2 - Is your system properly protected with fuses or DC Breakers?
2 - Do you have a way of measuring voltage and amperage?
3 - Is the wiring clean and corrosion free?

Also if you wish to learn about this (and a ton of other maintence things) There is a good book out there by Nigel Calder - Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual. (McGraw Hill)
I will send you a PM with my e-mail adress if you want to get back to me quicker.
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Old 03-06-2013
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Re: solar charging problem - troubleshooting help please!

I recently had a loss too. It turned out to be some corrosion on the panel connections. I have kyocera panels they are a watertight box, but the holes you punch through must also be watertight or it is worthless.

First, throw a blanket over your panels and block ALL the light. I usually throw a few heavy things on top of that to make sure I don't get bit.

Disconnect the charge controller. I have a switch. Not sure what you have.

Open the box and pull a reading on the output. It should be zero. Next, polish up all your terminals. I usually use some emory cloth 220 wet/dry paper. Remember to clean both sides of the Ring terms and the terminals on the panels where they connect.

Next, just to make sure, I took the blanket off and took an OCV (Open Circut Voltage) across the panels (basically where your two ring terms connect). You need to read your panels theoretical output, but it is likely close to 17-20v. THe open voltage should be pasted to the bottom of your panel. If the panels are not putting out, you either have a bad panel or a bad blocking diode. The blocking diodes on my panels are inside the box so you can jump around them if you want to (I do not). If that is the case, check the open side of the diodes for open voltage. You may see some voltage gain if you don't run through the diodes. If you still have no voltage, time to buy new panel(s) though I would be curious why...

If you are getting the proper voltage, re-cover each panel with the blanket and coat each side of the ring terms and the connections with dielectric grease and tightly connect them. I wouldn't use any connection outside without using dielectric, but that is just me. I also prefer heat shrinking everything, but you may not want to.

Take everything off and see what you are putting out. If you still are not getting the correct V/A, you know the problem is after the panels. I am assuming you looked for a fuse to start off with, so assuming that is ok, I wuold go to the charge controller and take an open voltage reading. Depending on how you wired your panels, you should see no less than a panel puts out to all of them in series. Again, without knowing how they are wired, hard to say. Also, if you did not properly size your wiring, you will see V loss there, but should still work.

If you are getting the right voltage there, you know the problem is after that (charge controller - batteries). Make sure your charge controller is putting out the proper voltage to your batteries. Also check the connections to your batteries and see what they are receiving. If you are getting everything to your battery terms that it is rated for, you know the problem lies with your batteries.

Anyways, it is a process to figure these things out. I suspect your problem lies in corrosion at the panels as that is the most common issue. If you are getting corrosion there, you have not properly installed your panels. The dielectric will help, but you need to run water tight conduit and connections between the panels and to the boat. I used LeakTight conduit and connectors from Home Depot. $2/connector and probably $15-20 for the conduit. Make sure to get the all plastic ones and avoid the crappy galvanic metal rings as they never seem to last in a marine environment.

My opinions!!!

Brian
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Old 03-06-2013
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Re: solar charging problem - troubleshooting help please!

Quote:
Originally Posted by norahs arc View Post
I have experience with solar systems and am willing to help you out.
I have some questions.
1 - Are you charging through a solar charge controller?
2 - Is your system properly protected with fuses or DC Breakers?
2 - Do you have a way of measuring voltage and amperage?
3 - Is the wiring clean and corrosion free?
Hello Norah and thanks for the PM. I'll get back to you with more data when I get back from the boat in about 12 days.

To answer your questions:

1) Yes, I have a charge controller (regulator), but for the life of me, I can't remember the brand and model!
2) I have a switch and fuse on my main panel. I checked the fuse and the wiring at the switch. All OK.
3) Yes, I have a decent handheld voltmeter, but no way of measuring amps such as with a battery monitor. I also have a fishfinder that also gives the voltage of the battery and it's all over the place measuring 10v and then 12.5v and oscillating like mad. When I start the engine and the alternator is engaged the voltmeter gives me a steady reading of 13v to 14v (in my mind showing the batteries are being charged and the voltmeter function of the fishfinder is working properly).
4) I have checked the battery terminals, battery switch connections and connections at fuse panel. These all check out OK. I suppose my next step is to look at the panels and all other connections between there and the batteries (diodes, regulator etc).

I should add that the batteries charge fine with the alternator and hold a charge normally. They seem to almost discharge when hooked up to the panels.
norahs arc likes this.
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Last edited by Faster; 04-08-2013 at 01:23 PM. Reason: fixed quote
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Re: solar charging problem - troubleshooting help please!

Thanks for the thoughtful advice Cruisingdad. I'm going to print your post and take it with me to the boat on Friday. I'm going to be about 12 days cruising on the coast of Rio with my brother who is visiting so I'll have some time to troubleshoot the problem. I suspect you're right about the problem being a corroded connection somewhere. Hopefully it's something simple.
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Re: solar charging problem - troubleshooting help please!

dialectric grease is an INSULATOR. Don't use it.
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Old 03-07-2013
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Re: solar charging problem - troubleshooting help please!

What about using white nautical grease? That's what my local boat electrician told me to use on connections to help prevent corrosion.
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Re: solar charging problem - troubleshooting help please!

Re your solar system - info is helpful, almost sounds like something may be connected wrong. Check that the connections on the charge controler are proper. If they are ok then you seem to be feeding back into the panels when they are not chagring. Also one more point - some charge controlers have to be connected in the right sequence when installed. You could always try disconnecting all the wires at the controler and reconnecting them in the following order.
1 battery negative
2 battery positive
3 solar negative
4 solar positive
5 if your controler has a load circuit leave the wires off until sorting out the charging problem and then re-connect the load and see if it affects things.
This is the most common sequence and may solve your problen. If not then you will have to get a clamp on amp meter and go from there. Let me know how the reconnecting works out please.
Also the brand and model of controler will help me out.
Luck 2 you
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Re: solar charging problem - troubleshooting help please!

Norah, thanks for the tips. I believe everything is connected properly as it has (had) been working fine for years. In any case, I'll check the connections as you suggest. I'm going to the boat tomorrow morning and I'll start putting this advice into practice. I'll let you know how it goes when I get back from sailing!
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