The four primary components for producing electricity using solar power, which provides common 120 volt AC power for daily use are: Solar panels, charge controller, battery and inverter. Solar panels charge the battery, and the charge regulator insures proper charging of the battery. The battery provides DC voltage to the inverter, and the inverter converts the DC voltage to normal AC voltage. If 240 volts AC is needed, then either a transformer is added or two identical inverters are series-stacked to produce the 240 volts.
The output of a solar panel is usually stated in watts, and the wattage is determined by multiplying the rated voltage by the rated amperage. The formula for wattage is VOLTS times AMPS equals WATTS. So for example, a 12 volt 60 watt solar panel measuring about 20 X 44 inches has a rated voltage of 17.1 and a rated 3.5 amperage.
V x A = W
17.1 volts times 3.5 amps equals 60 watts
If an average of 6 hours of peak sun per day is available in an area, then the above solar panel can produce an average 360 watt hours of power per day; 60w times 6 hrs. = 360 watt-hours. Since the intensity of sunlight contacting the solar panel varies throughout the day, we use the term “peak sun hours” as a method to smooth out the variations into a daily average. Early morning and late-in-the-day sunlight produces less power than the mid-day sun. Naturally, cloudy days will produce less power than bright sunny days as well. When planning a system your geographical area is rated in average peak sun hours per day based on yearly sun data. Average peak sun hours for various geographical areas is listed in the above section.
Solar panels can be wired in series or in parallel to increase voltage or amperage respectively, and they can be wired both in series and in parallel to increase both volts and amps. Series wiring refers to connecting the positive terminal of one panel to the negative terminal of another. The resulting outer positive and negative terminals will produce voltage the sum of the two panels, but the amperage stays the same as one panel. So two 12 volt/3.5 amp panels wired in series produces 24 volts at 3.5 amps. Four of these wired in series would produce 48 volts at 3.5 amps. Parallel wiring refers to connecting positive terminals to positive terminals and negative to negative. The result is that voltage stays the same, but amperage becomes the sum of the number of panels. So two 12 volt/3.5 amp panels wired in parallel would produce 12 volts at 7 amps. Four panels would produce 12 volts at 14 amps.
Series/parallel wiring refers to doing both of the above – increasing volts and amps to achieve the desired voltage as in 24 or 48 volt systems. The following diagram reflects this. In addition, the four panels below can then be wired in parallel to another four and so on to make a larger array.
A charge controller monitors the battery’s state-of-charge to insure that when the battery needs charge-current it gets it, and also insures the battery isn’t over-charged. Connecting a solar panel to a battery without a regulator seriously risks damaging the battery and potentially causing a safety concern.
Charge controllers (or often called charge regulator) are rated based on the amount of amperage they can process from a solar array. If a controller is rated at 20 amps it means that you can connect up to 20 amps of solar panel output current to this one controller. The most advanced charge controllers utilize a charging principal referred to as Pulse-Width-Modulation (PWM) – which insures the most efficient battery charging and extends the life of the battery. Even more advanced controllers also include Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) which maximizes the amount of current going into the battery from the solar array by lowering the panel’s output voltage, which increases the charging amps to the battery – because if a panel can produce 60 watts with 17.2 volts and 3.5 amps, then if the voltage is lowered to say 14 volts then the amperage increases to 4.28 (14v X 4.28 amps = 60 watts) resulting in a 19% increase in charging amps for this example.
Many charge controllers also offer Low Voltage Disconnect (LVD) and Battery Temperature Compensation (BTC) as an optional feature. The LVD feature permits connecting loads to the LVD terminals which are then voltage sensitive. If the battery voltage drops too far the loads are disconnected – preventing potential damage to both the battery and the loads. BTC adjusts the charge rate based on the temperature of the battery since batteries are sensitive to temperature variations above and below about 75 F degrees.
The Deep Cycle batteries used are designed to be discharged and then re-charged hundreds or thousands of times. These batteries are rated in Amp Hours (ah) – usually at 20 hours and 100 hours. Simply stated, amp hours refers to the amount of current – in amps – which can be supplied by the battery over the period of hours. For example, a 350ah battery could supply 17.5 continuous amps over 20 hours or 35 continuous amps for 10 hours. To quickly express the total watts potentially available in a 6 volt 360ah battery; 360ah times the nominal 6 volts equals 2160 watts or 2.16kWh (kilowatt-hours). Like solar panels, batteries are wired in series and/or parallel to increase voltage to the desired level and increase amp hours & paneles solares
The battery should have sufficient amp hour capacity to supply needed power during the longest expected period “no sun” or extremely cloudy conditions. A lead-acid battery should be sized at least 20% larger than this amount. If there is a source of back-up power, such as a standby generator along with a battery charger, the battery bank does not have to be sized for worst …